Highbush cranberries

Highbush cranberries, picked from a local mountaintop. 

KODIAK — Think of holiday dinners of your past. Does a jiggling red tower of cranberry sauce come to mind?

Weird stuff, jellied cranberry sauce, yet Ocean Spray makes 70 million cans of it. But, I think we can do better. Would you like to try an award-winning, cranberry salsa recipe from Alaska?

I thought so. I’ll share it in a moment. Meanwhile, here are surprising facts about cranberries:

 

FIRST ENERGY BAR

Native Americans used mixed cranberries with venison, fat and onions to make pemmican. The birth of today’s Clif Bars? The Natives also introduced the berries to early settlers, who ate them to prevent scurvy.

 

TART IS SMART

Did you know that cranberries store well? Turns out their high acid content (exceeded only by lemons and limes) keeps them from spoiling. It also keeps us from eating them straight! 

The other reason is their high content of phenolic compounds. Many phenolic compounds are anti-microbial, which protect them from rotting in damp climates.

 

NUTRITIONAL HEROES

Cranberries (Oxycoccus species) are one of the world’s healthiest foods. They contain fiber, vitamin E, vitamin C and a broad assortment of minerals and B vitamins.

 The real magic is the red in cranberries, red cabbage and red onions. And, the blue in blueberries, plums and grapes. These pigments, called anthocyanins, suppress the growth of human liver cancer cells.

That’s not all.

 Cranberries beat out other common fruits against other cancers, such as brain, colon, lung, ovary, prostate and stomach.

Unfortunately, 95 percent of cranberries become processed foods. (Think juices and sauces.) So what’s the answer to getting these nutrients? Well, you won’t find it in a pill or powder because scientists haven’t tracked down the active ingredients. The answer: defer to whole food — real food.

 

CRANBERRIES AND URINARY TRACT INFECTIONS 

Some 70 studies have shown that cranberries help reduce UTIs, especially in women. Every year, ten million women are affected, causing $2 billion in treatment costs. But what causes UTI in the first place?

Chicken. (At least often enough)

Can this be true?

McGill University researchers tracked down the culprit: E. coli from handling raw chicken. Bacteria from chicken feces. We’re talking Salmonella and Campylobacter, serious human pathogens.

Suddenly, a vegan or vegetarian diet doesn’t sound so bad, does it.

 

BRIGHTEN YOUR SMILE

Have you ever tried cranberry toothpaste or mouthwash? Anthocyanins reduce a variety of bacterial infections. They can also brighten your smile. In this case, the bacteria we’re talking about fighting causes plaque, cavities and gum disease.

 

PILGRIM COOKBOOK

Cranberries are native to North America. Native Americans used the cranberries for food and medicine, as well as a dye for clothes and blankets. In 1663, the Pilgrim cookbook appears with a recipe for cranberry sauce. 

 

CRANBERRIES CAN’T SWIM

It’s a misconception that cranberries are grown in paddies flooded with water. However, it’s almost true: beds are often irrigated with water to maintain ideal soil moisture. And, in autumn, farmers flood beds with six inches of water to ease harvest. Since each berry has an air pocket, they float. Easy peasy.

And now, as promised, the recipe for fresh cranberry-ginger salsa. It won the side dish category in the Anchorage Daily News’ “How Alaska Eats” holiday recipe contest.

“What’s brilliant about this salsa is that it goes well with almost everything,” says Julia O’Malley. A spoonful is delicious on a warm tortilla or tossed in a quinoa salad.

Speaking of food, I’ve also included a tasty recipe for whole-cranberry cocktails created by physician and New York Times bestselling author Dr. Michael Greger.

 

FRESH CRANBERRY-GINGER SALSA

(By Reign Galovin)

— 1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries

— 4 to 6 green onions, sliced

— 2 jalapeños, stems removed (and seeds, if desired)

— 1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves

— 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice

— 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated

— 1 to 2 TBL sugar

— 1/4 teaspoon salt

Rinse cranberries. Discard any that are mushy or bruised. Place in a food processor; pulse a few times until cranberries are chopped but not puréed. Tip cranberries into a bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients. Toss to combine. Let sit 10 minutes. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container up to three days. Makes 2 1/2 to 3 cups. 

One last thing. Did you know that John Lennon repeated the words cranberry sauce at the end of the song “Strawberry Fields Forever.”?

 

PINK JUICE

(By Dr. Greger)

— Handful fresh or frozen cranberries

— 2 cups water

— 3 TBL date sugar, maple syrup or other sweetener

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed. Pour over ice and serve.

Marion Owen is a “Jill of all trades,” with 30 years of experience as a teacher and columnist. She’s on a mission to help busy people enhance their daily lives. How? She “Readers’ Digests” topics such as photography, cooking, and organic gardening. Get her free 4-page “In Good Light: Photo Tips for Busy People” to feel recharged when taking pictures. Go to Marion’s blog at MarionOwenAlaska.com.

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