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Other Names: Atoca, bearberry, bounceberry, craneberry.

General Description: Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are small, tart, bright red berries. Cranberries belong to a family of low, scrubby, woody plants that thrive on moors and mountainsides and in bogs and other places with acidic soil. The Pilgrims named the fruit “craneberry” due to the pink blossom’s resemblance to the head and bill of a sandhill crane.

Cranberries, along with blueberries and Concord grapes, are the only commercially grown native North American fruits. Because their waxy skin contains a natural preservative, they are especially long-keeping. American whalers and mariners carried cranberries on their voyages to prevent scurvy.

In winter, growers flood the bogs with water to freeze and insulate the vines from frost. The bogs are drained in spring and then flooded again to float the cranberries for harvest in September and October. Cranberry vines can survive indefinitely; some vines on Cape Cod are more than 150 years old.

Season: Cranberry season is in the fall.

Purchase: Buy cranberries at the peak of their season in November; they will be deeper in color and less bitter. Look for brightly colored cranberries. Cranberries are nearly always sold packed in plastic bags.

Avoid: Early-picked cranberries, light in color, tend to be pale and supersour. Avoid mushy or wet cranberries.

Storage: Store cranberries in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Preparation: Cranberries can be used directly from the bag, with no further preparation.

Note: The more sugar you use in cooking cranberries, the tougher their skins will be. Cook only till they pop, otherwise they become bitter.

Serving Suggestions: Add cranberries to buttermilk corn muffins. Use half cranberries when making apple cake or apple pie. Cook down cranberries with water and sugar to make a simple cranberry sauce.

Flavor Affinities: Apple, brown sugar, corn, cream, maple syrup, orange, pork, poultry, sugar, tangerine, walnuts.

from Quirk Books: