My sister Jennifer Wixson and her husband Stanley Luce of Troy, Maine, are diversified farmers who raise Scottish Highland beef cattle, tend beehives, and cultivate a wide variety of fruit, including cranberries. This has been a banner year for cranberries, also known as bounceberries, (because the ripe ones bounce.) These shiny, scarlet berries grow in sandy bogs on low, trailing vines. The plant has small, evergreen leaves with dark pink flowers that produce light green fruit, ripening to deep red with sunlight. We have clumps of mountain cranberries growing wild here on Rabbit Hill.
A crop that was of significant importance to Native Americans, cranberries were used both for the food source pemmican and as a dye. Pemmican, an early form of jerky, was thin strips of venison pounded with cranberries and fat, and then shaped into cakes and dried in the sun. A high energy food, these cakes did not spoil easily and provided convenient sustenance for long trips and cold winters.
Nutritionally speaking, cranberries provide Vitamin C, fiber, manganese, and phytochemicals. Thanks to their natural preservatives, these bright red berries became an essential food for New England sailors in colonial days, and were taken on sea voyages to prevent scurvy.
For years, cranberries have been known to ward off urinary tract infections, due to the presence of A-linked condensed tannins that act as a Teflon coating that prevents the E. coli bacteria from adhering to the walls of the bladder and urethra. More recent research suggests that cranberry juice can fight other types of bacteria, including staph and salmonella infections. Antioxidants in cranberries help reduce heart attacks, and may even help prevent breast cancer.
Although most noted for Cranberry Sauce or Relish at the Thanksgiving table, cranberries are a welcome addition to our cuisine. Chopped into muffins and breads, a tangy topping for meats, sautéed with vegetables, and dried as part of a trail mix, cranberries add a zingy and new dimension to your food.
My sister shared the recipe for Cranberry Chocolate Chip Bars. The original formula used fresh, whole cranberries but when I tried it with frozen berries that had been chopped in the food processor these bars were nice and gooey and quite delicious.
Without a sweetener, cranberries are quite bitter. The Pequot Indians referred to the food as i-bimi, meaning bitter berry. Because the tannins that make the juice so effective against urinary tract infections are extremely sour, the plant is unpleasant enough to repel bugs. Fortunately, there is plenty of sweet and rich addition to these easy- to-make and tasty bars that make them quite addictive.