Wednesday, November 9, 2011

It's November - Cranberries Abound

Cranberries on the vine. Photo courtesy Google Images -
Common Names:  American Cranberry, Large Cranberry
Scientific Name:    Vaccinium macrocarpon
You know it’s November when you are in the grocery store and the produce section is well-stocked with fresh cranberries and Christmas music accompanies your shopping experience. Maybe I should say “Holiday music,” but I cannot seem to recall hearing “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” in the store recently. 
Cranberries are one of those native North American fruits that offer a magnitude of holistic health benefits. I love their tartness and vivid scarlet color. Preparing cranberry sauce is a cinch and makes me feel so “Early American colonial” or something. Let’s glance at a list of fun facts and powerful nutritional properties of the cranberry gathered from my Internet research:
1.    Pemmican was a blend of dried venison, cranberries, and fat and was an important food that sustained Native Americans’ health. They also used the cranberry to treat wounds and to produce dyes for blankets and rugs. 

2.    Rich in Vitamin C, cranberries prevented scurvy in colonial sailors. The berry was easy to keep fresh aboard ship in water-filled barrels due to its waxy coating and its ability to produce benzoic acid, a natural preservative.  

3.    In early North America (17th century), there are many recorded references to a special sauce made from the cranberry and learned from the Indians. It was prepared by boiling cranberries with a bit of sugar (maybe maple syrup) and then eaten with game.

4.    They were first called “crane berries” by the Dutch and Germans settlers because the flower of the vine resembled the head and bill of a crane.

5.    The European settlers started making cranberry juice in 1683.
6.    Tannin found in the fruit, proanthocyanidin, inhibits the bacteria responsible for urinary tract infections (UTI).
7.    Raw cranberries and cranberry juice are abundant in flavonoids which have anti-cancer properties.
8.    Cranberries are powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize particles in the body called "free radicals" which damage or kill cells. They score the highest points on the USDA’s measurement of Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) with a score of 9,584 units per 100 grams.
9.    Cranberry juice contains a material that inhibits the formation of plaque by Streptococcus mutans pathogens and consequently inhibits tooth decay. 
10. Back in 1917, Elizabeth Lee from Ocean County, N.J., a cranberry grower, took some bruised berries, boiled them with some sugar and spice, and the pectin-rich berries created a thick jellied sauce. It did not become a big seller. It took many years for cranberry sauce to become the iconic complement to turkey that it is today. Later, she merged with another company in MA; they formed a cooperative which is now known as Ocean Spray.

11. Cranberries plants are hearty! They are born on low-growing evergreen shrubs in bogs (an acidic peaty soil) near a good water source. They enjoy low temperatures even in the summer and last a long time, some plants are rumored to be 150 years old.

12. When harvesting cranberries, many growers flood the bog for easier retrieval of the fruit (called water-harvesting), which mistakenly makes many folks think they grow in water.

13. It was discovered that berries that are water-harvested and float on top of the water become exposed to more natural sunlight (in comparison to other harvesting conditions), and they are more likely to develop greater concentrations of anthocyanins, which mean greater health benefits.

14. Wisconsin is the leader in cranberry production, followed by Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Cranberries are also grown in the Canadian Provinces and as far west as British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.

15. Best pollinator is the wild Bumblebee (Bumble lifts his eyebrow) followed by the Honeybee.

16. Cranberry unit of measure is called a barrel and equals 100 lbs. 

17. Prices for cranberries peaked at $65 per barrel in 1996 and fell to $18 a barrel in 2001. This was due to classic economics - too much supply and not enough demand. 

18. Cranberries are related to blueberries (another super food) and huckleberries.

Whew, enough of that.
I enjoy pairing up certain meats with their common complimentary fruit (or herb) - pork with apples, lamb and mint, or poultry with cranberries. It brings a sense of balance and rhythm like Frank Sinatra crooned: Love and marriage, love and marriage, goes together like a horse and carriage. This I tell you brother, you can’t have one without the other. 
With that pairing in mind - you can't have one without the other - here is my recipe this week for a chicken dish that uses cranberries and a bit of red wine. The fabulous thing about November is that fresh cranberries are always stocked in the grocery store for Thanksgiving and red wines are often on sale in the liquor store. I try to have a Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, or Syrah in my wine rack most of the time. Bumble promised to renew his marriage vows after devouring the dinner. But maybe this was the result of drinking the wine.
Sauteing chicken with wine, cranberries and garlic.

Chicken breasts with cranberries, red wine and garlic

1 bag fresh organic cranberries prepared per instructions
4 "free-range" organic chicken breasts sliced lengthwise into strips (each about inch wide)
½ C. Flour
2 tsp. Salt and 1 tsp. Pepper (to taste) - sometimes I use Lemon Pepper
3 - 4 T. Olive oil or vegetable oil 
2 T. of butter (added to olive oil will reduce smoking)
4 or 5 cloves of fresh organic garlic – smashed or diced
1 C. of any red wine that you love to drink and have on hand
1/2 C. of freshly made cranberry sauce (or more depending on your taste)
Prepare a container or bag of fresh cranberries according to instructions which is usually 12 oz. fresh berries to 1 C. water (or orange juice) and  1 C. sugar or honey – Bring to boil and simmer until all the cranberries pop about 5-10 minutes. Set aside in bowl and allow cranberry sauce to thicken. Note: If you do not like the skins and pulp (I love them) then you can strain through sieve or use a food mill. 

Cut chicken in lengthwise strips (about 1 inch wide). In a shallow bowl or plate add flour, salt and pepper together. Dip and coat chicken strips with flour mixture. Sauté chicken in a deep pan (that has a lid) with a few tablespoons of olive oil (or vegetable oil) and butter until golden. Add the smashed/diced garlic and sauté for a few minutes more - the fragrance should be wonderful. Next, add about ¾ C. of the red wine to pan and stir - deglazing all the browned bits in the pan. Finally, add the cranberry sauce and stir. Cover, lower heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Check dish during cooking - the sauce may need additional wine added during the cooking process (or a little water) if too much evaporation occurs.  Sauce should be a rich creamy consistency with a brownish burgundy color. Chicken should be tender and cooked through (160-165 degrees F on meat thermometer).
Serve with rice or potatoes, more cranberry sauce, and a side salad. Oh, and drink the rest of the red wine.
Chicken with cranberries and red wine sauce served with organic potatoes.

1 comment:

  1. Is gorgeous ith the pics. Still have the taste in my mouth.