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Home » Food Trivia

Cranberries Related to Blueberries?

By Helen Brody (November 21, 2008)

BlueberriesTell a native New Englander that there is little difference between a cranberry and a blue berry and he would not only question your sense of taste, he might have some questions about your sanity. Tell a botanist, on the other hand, and he would think of you as a person with infinite wisdom and knowledge. So whatis the story?

In truth, both camps can take a bow. Both the blue berry and the cranberry are species of the genus Vaccinium. Both grow in the wild of Northern Europe and North America. And we would not have today’s supermarket blueberry if a cranberry grower had not cultivated it.

But, while blueberries were being bred to be plump, cranberries were being developed to meet the ever-increasing demand for Thanksgiving condiments. The upshot is that, genetically, the two fruits drifted apart. The blueberry became bigger and softer while the American cranberry, remaining hard and sour, became more prolific.

The Indians, who called the cranberry ibimi, were the first to discover that the red berries were not only a fine seasoning ingredient but, incidentally, a nutritious one. Pemmican, consisting of lean dried meat, with a little fat pounded together with cranberries, provided an easily transportable and unspoilable food. It was also vital element that the early Americans and settlers traveling west adopted. No scourge was feared more on those long treks west than scurvy and nothing was more effective in keeping that dreaded disease at bay. A more palatable Indian concoction than dried meat was crushed berries with honey or maple sugar – today’s cranberry sauce.

It was the American settlers who gave the cranberry its present day name as they pictured the blossoms of the cranberry vines as the heads and beaks of cranes traveling through the bogs. Less apocryphal, perhaps, but more to the point might be that the cranberries were a favorite food for the those long legged birds.

Although cranberry is the nomenclature of the present, it is certainly not the only one pinned on this versatile berry. Fog berry, bog berry, and bounce berry, for its tendency to bounce when dropped, are other variations of the theme.

In 1796, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, offers this country’s first published recipe for cranberry sauce. The recipe suggests that the cranberries be “stewed, strained and sweetened” and used as a pie filling.

Below is a recipe adpated from the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City. It is best made a few days in advance as it gets better over time. Make extra for Christmas presents.

Savory Cranberry Relish

1 large navel orange
1 lime
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
1 dried hot chili pepper
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 cups sugar
2/3-cup cold water
1-cup raisins
2 pounds cranberries, picked over

1. Cut the orange and the lime, with their skins, into ¼ inch dice.

2. Place sugar and water into a heavy saucepan and stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Add remaining ingredients and cook until cranberries pop open, about fifteen minutes. Remove chili pepper before serving. I prefer leaving in the vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks to give a variety of texture.

Yield: Approximately 3 pints

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