Vaccinium macrocarpon are cranberries native to North America. They are in the heaths and heathers family along with lowbush blueberries, rhododendron, and mountain laurel. Tens of thousands of years ago, receding glaciers carved out cavities in the land where newly formed ponds filled with sand, clay, and organic debris, making the perfect environment for cranberry vines to grow. The Wampanog people of what is now Massachusetts have been enjoying “sasumuneash” for 12,000 years. In fact, cranberries were an extremely important food to all Native Americans living in the northeast. When the European settlers arrived, they were not surprised to see cranberries because Europe has its own native variety that grows in the boggy regions of Southern England and the Netherlands.
In North America, wild cranberries grow along the edges of bogs in very acidic soil (between 4 and 5.5 acidity) with lots of organic matter. The best way to find them in our area is by kayak or canoe, in pristine swamps unaffected by over development or pollution. The name “cranberry” comes from the dark pink flower with very distinctive reflexed petals, leaving the style and stamens fully exposed and pointing forward. These flowers resemble cranes, so the original name was “craneberry”. They are pollinated by bees, and the fruit develops from a light green berry to dark red when ripe.
Cranberries are unique because the berry is larger than the leaves of the plant. They grow close to the ground—4-inch to 6-inch high vines—and are evergreen. It is a common myth that cranberries grow immersed in water. The flooding of the cranberry plants is a technique developed by farmers as a means of harvesting. The berries float to the top of the water and are then scooped up. Dry harvesting takes longer and is done using hand rakes. Cranberries are sorted for ripeness by bouncing them. It’s said, a fully ripened cranberry can be dribbled like a basketball. Harvested in the fall, and because they have a naturally occurring waxy coating, cranberries can last for months in cold storage as long as they have ample air circulation. Ninety-five percent of all cranberries grown today are made into juice, with the others sold fresh or dried.
Cultivation of cranberries began in North America in 1816 by Captain Henry Hall, a Revolutionary War veteran, in Dennis, Massachusetts. “Cranberry Fever” struck, and by 1900, the industry boomed. Hall noticed that cranberries grow best when sand is tossed onto the plants. “Sanding” is now a common practice used by commercial growers, and is done every 3-5 years. The sand aids in pest control and is typically applied in the winter months when the ground is frozen and machinery can be driven through the bogs without damaging the plants. Today there are now over 100 varieties, and 40,000 acres of cranberries growing in the United States.
The history of European colonists consuming cranberries reaches back to the early 1600s. American whalers and mariners carried cranberries on board to prevent scurvy. The earliest records of cranberry juice being consumed were found in 1683 and in 1703 and cranberries were served at the Harvard University commencement dinner. Native Americans brewed cranberry poultices to draw poison from arrow wounds, used cranberry in tea to calm nerves, as well as for dyeing fabrics. Cranberries, high in vitamin C, aid in curing urinary tract infections and kidney disorders, help to lower cholesterol, contain anti-cancer properties, fight plaque on your teeth, and also high in antioxidants, are great for the respiratory system, and even helps clear your skin. Cranberries do contain vitamin K and can create problems for people taking Warfarin.
Pemmican is an energy bar-like food, which served as a vital source of nutrition for hunters and fur traders during the winter months in the northeast. It was made from dried cranberries mixed with chopped meat, melted animal fat, sweetened with honey or maple syrup, and pressed into patties and let to harden. I prefer the vegetarian option:
Preheat oven to 375
2 Cups mixed raw nuts and seeds (I use almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds)
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1 1/2 Cups dried fruits (cranberries, apples, apricots, cherries…whatever you like)
1 Tbsp flax seed
1/2 Cup maple syrup or raw honey
1/4 Cup water
In a large skillet, lightly toast nuts and seeds. Turn off heat and add coconut oil mixing to coat evenly.
Transfer to a food processor and pulse several times to coarsely chop. Add dried fruit, flax seeds, and a pinch of salt. Pulse again a few more times. With the food processor on low, slowly drizzle the maple syrup (or honey) and water. Blend until all ingredients are together,
Butter or oil an 8 x 8-inch baking pan, or line with parchment paper. Pour in the fruit and nut mixture and with clean hands, press firmly into the pan, being sure to get into the corners.
Bake 20-25 minutes until edges are dark golden brown. Allow to completely cool before removing from the pan. Cut into eight large pieces, or 16 bites.
1 Lb bag fresh cranberries
1/2 Cup diced apricots
1 Tbsp chopped, fresh ginger
1 Tsp orange zest
1 Cup of orange juice
1/2 Cup maple syrup
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (or more according to your taste)
In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, apricots, ginger, zest, juice, and maple syrup. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Stirring often, when it begins to thicken, take off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Serve warm or cold. Great with soft cheese, smeared on sandwiches or as an accompaniment to lentils and rice.
Cranberry Walnut Apple Cake
Preheat oven to 350
Butter sides and bottom of 9 x 9-inch pan
2 Cups flour (I like to mix 1 cup whole wheat with 1 cup white)
1 Cup sugar ( you can use less if you prefer)
2 Tsp of baking powder
1/2 Tsp salt
1 Tsp orange zest
1/2 Cup milk of your choice (cow, nuts, oats)
1/2 Cup greek yogurt (whatever you have—plain, vanilla, maple)
1 Cup cranberries—coarsely chopped
1 Cup apples—with peels, coarsely chopped
1 Cup walnuts—coarsely chopped
In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together, then stir in orange zest.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs with a fork. Stir in milk and yogurt. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until thoroughly incorporated, but don’t over mix. Fold in cranberries, apples, and nuts. Be sure they are evenly dispersed throughout the batter.
Spoon into a baking pan and spread evenly. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the toothpick comes out dry. Let cool completely before cutting.
This is a beautiful gift to give around the holiday season. It’s simple to make, and can be packaged in a fancy decanter or jar. Or just enjoy it yourself!
1 Lb fresh or frozen cranberries
1 750 ml of vodka (any kind will do)
2 Tbsp water
1 Cup sugar (optional)—I prefer to omit this ingredient because I like very tart cocktails, but if you like a little sweetness, you can choose to add up to 1 full cup.
Place ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Stirring frequently, let the mixture simmer for about five minutes or until the berries have burst.
Pour mixture into a large pitcher or jar and add the entire bottle of vodka. Cover tightly and place in the refrigerator for one full week.
After one week, strain the mixture through a small mesh strainer, keeping the berries in a separate jar. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Pour over ice and add a little seltzer or tonic and toss in a couple of the drunken berries, or shake it up with ice and serve in a martini glass. Use within one month.
Globalization has triumphed in the produce aisle. More than half the fresh fruits and one third of the vegetables in our supermarkets are imported from other countries. But anyone with taste-buds knows that just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it tastes good.
We are incredibly lucky to be living in one of the most fertile valleys in the Northeast. The soil in the Rondout Valley is called unadilla silt loam. It is a mineral rich, glacially deposited topsoil ideal for growing fruits, vegetables, and grains. Our region’s farms produce a wide variety of seasonal crops which are bursting with flavor and personality. Here is our Autumnal locavore’s dilemma.
We have so many varieties to choose from; butternut or hubbard? – or should we try kabocha, acorn, buttercup, golden nugget, delicata, pink banana, neck pumpkin, turk’s cap, Long Island cheese, cushaw, cocozelle, Rouge Vif d’Etampes and many, many other squash and pumpkin —which are technically in the same family “cucurbitaceae” varieties—in various colors, shapes and sizes. What does this all mean?
The name “squash” comes from the Narragansett Native American Indian word “askutasquash”. Originally believed to have been from Central America or Mexico, humans have used their hard shells as containers for utensils and have eaten the flesh, flowers, and young shoots raw or cooked for almost 10,000 years. Learning from the Native Americans, European settlers adopted squash as a staple in North America. They baked the squash and then cut and mixed it with animal fat, maple syrup or honey.
Saving Seeds and Pollination
The reason we have so many varieties is because people learned to save seeds from squash with the unique qualities they preferred. Many different varieties developed all over the world. Squash are pollinated by insects, so in order to avoid unwanted hybrids, you must make sure that the plant was pollinated by another member of the same variety. The first generation of fruit gets its characteristics from the mother plant, so you will indeed enjoy the delicata you had planted. But say your delicata squash was pollinated by a sugar pie pumpkin, the genes within the seeds will be altered and the following year, when you grow that seed, you will get a pumpcata, or is it a delikin? You need at least ¼ mile between squash varieties to avoid Frankensquash (unless you like that sort of experiment, who knows? You may come up with a fabulous cross that you can name after yourself … Pink Jenana d’ Etamps perhaps?).
Did you know the seeds are edible of all squash and pumpkins? The seeds are an excellent source of magnesium, zinc and potassium, as well as iron, protein and fiber. So don’t compost them with the stringy guts… Here is what to do with them.
2 cups raw, rinsed and dried squash or pumpkin seeds
1 Tbs. olive oil
½ tsp sea salt
After cutting open the squash, scoop out the “guts”. Pick the seeds out of the stringy fiber and toss them into a colander. Rinse under cold water, then pat dry with a tea towel. Spread the seeds into a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and sea salt. Mix it around until all the seeds are coated. Place into a preheated 350 degree oven and roast in the oven, stirring occasionally until they are lightly golden. Allow to cool before snacking. Pumpkin seeds are best soon after roasting.
Curried Coconut Squash Soup
1 medium kabocha squash ( about 3 lbs)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 ribs celery, sliced
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 ¼ teaspoon cumin
1 ½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 can coconut milk
3 cups unsalted vegetable stock
2 teaspoons salt (more or less according to taste)
Hopefully the squash you just harvested the seeds from is a kabocha because curried, coconut squash soup is on the menu tonight and the kabocha, with its thick, solid, waxy, orange flesh that is ideal for soup. Take the two sides of your squash, rub with olive oil and place on a baking tray inside a preheated 400 degree oven for 45 minutes (or until completely soft).
Saute the onions, celery & garlic in olive oil in a heavy bottom, 8 quart soup kettle until golden brown. Sprinkle the spices into the kettle and saute until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Slowly add the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer.
Once the squash is soft, place the roasted flesh into the pot with the vegetables (I leave the skin on the squash for added vitamins & fiber, but you can remove it if you prefer). Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and partially cover for 8-10 minutes.
Turn the heat off, and add the coconut milk. Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Add salt & pepper to taste. Serve with chopped cilantro & a squeeze of lime juice.
Maple Cinnamon Roasted Neck Pumpkin*
8 cups cubed Neck Pumpkin (*butternut squash can be used as replacement if you can’t locate this graceful giant at your local farmers market. This squash is ideal because it is tender and juicy, yet holds its shape), about 3 lbs of peeled cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp maple syrup
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp cinnamon
2 pinches cayenne
Preheat oven to 425
Line a baking 2 baking trays with aluminum foil (or use a silpat silicone liner so when the sugars caramelize it won’t be too hard to clean) Spread out the cubes evenly on the trays.
Drizzle the squash with 1 tbsp olive oil and maple syrup per sheet.
Sprinkle each sheet evenly with ¼ tsp cinnamon, salt & pinch of cayenne
Toss the squash on the sheets with clean hands to coat evenly
Place the pans in the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes, switching racks halfway and cooking until all the squash is tender. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and turn on the broiler. Take turns placing each sheet under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to caramelize (be careful it does not burn! The sugars cause it to brown very fast).
This dish is delicious served warm or cold. As a side , or tossed onto a bed of raw spinach and dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice.
No matter what you call it – squash or pumpkin, our valley is flush with these disparate cucurbits this month. Whether you carve a jack-o-lantern or create a delicious meal, get out there and support our local farmers buy purchasing from your local farmstand.