Cranberries: Not Just for Thanksgiving

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Just because Thanksgiving is over doesn’t mean you need to ignore cranberries. If you’re only familiar with eating cranberries in a sauce or gel from a can, give fresh cranberries a try. But, do it soon, because this is the only time of year that we see fresh cranberries in our supermarkets. They’re only there for a short time, so enjoy while you can.

In addition to being part of holiday celebrations, cranberries provide health benefits.
Research by Cornell University reported that cranberries ranked highest in total
antioxidant activity compared to 10 other commonly-eaten fruits, including apple, red grape, strawberry, peach, lemon, pear, banana, orange, grapefruit and pineapple. Only wild blueberries outrank them.

If you’re looking to buy fresh cranberries, most are sold already bagged. Be sure to
select the berries that are firm, deep red and glossy, not shriveled and with no signs of decay. While, it’s hard to do in the store with bagged berries, it’s fun to note that a simple way to tell if a cranberry if fresh is to “bounce” it. The freshest berries will bounce at least six inches.

Here are a couple of ideas from the folks at Produce for Better Health
( for using fresh cranberries—beyond cranberry sauce— as a way to add some cranberry flavor and nutritional goodness to meals and snacks.

Let’s start with a raw relish with oranges and cranberries that can be a perfect side to any meal or a great low-fat topping for sandwiches year-round. This recipe is adapted from one from Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Inc.

To prepare the orange, begin by washing the unpeeled fruit. Use a box grater,
microplane or vegetable peeler to remove the outermost layer of the orange skin. This is the zest. Then, completely peel the orange and with a sharp knife peel away the white layer. This is called the pith and it has a bitter flavor that you don’t want in the recipe. Remove any seeds. Use just the zest and the orange fruit in the recipe.

You don’t need to be really precise with the measurement of the celery. This is a great way to use up those little bits of leaves or leftover celery tops or sticks. Add what you have and avoid food waste.

Cranberry Relish

  • 4 oz. fresh cranberries
  • ¼ cup red onion
  • ¼ cup parsley
  • 3 Tablespoons agave syrup
  • ½ inch ginger root, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 orange (both fruit and the zest)
  • celery tops and leaves

With the food processor running, drop the ginger root into the bowl and process until it is very fine. If you have large chunks of the orange zest add it now and process till very small bits. Add cranberries, red onion and parsley. Pulse to begin processing the mixture. Add the orange, zest, agave, celery, salt and pepper and finish blending till you have a course, red relish. Don’t over process. Adjust seasoning as you like and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.

Another unique idea is adding fresh cranberries to guacamole. Not only does this give the guac a tart bite, it adds festive green and red colors to a holiday table. Use as a dip with chips or vegetables or as a topping for sandwiches and salads. Recipe adapted from Ocean Spray.

Cranberry Guacamole

  • 3 fully ripened avocados, peeled, seeded and cut in half
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh (or bottled) lime juice
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¾ cup fresh cranberries, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a bowl, scoop out the avocado and roughly mash with a fork. Mix in lime juice, honey, garlic, cranberries, salt & pepper. Top with a few whole cranberries for garnish and serve.

If you like these recipes and want to enjoy them when fresh cranberries aren’t available, freeze some cranberries now for later. Cranberries freeze very well and retain their health benefits. For best results, wash, drain and dry berries before freezing. Place in a single layer on a tray and freeze. Pack into freezer containers as soon as they are frozen. Seal and freeze.

References: Sarah Browning, Extension Educator, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Extension and National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center 910-253-2610 or by email at