Now is the season for fresh cranberries - the bright red berries with a unique tart flavour. Although they grow wild as a shrub, they are grown commercially on low trailing vines in many parts of the world, although not in the UK.
Their medicinal use was first recognised by the Pilgrim Fathers, who shortly after their arrival in America, started to mix berries into a dried meat mixture in order to extend its life.
But cranberries are not merely a preservative. They are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C and are said to provide a natural remedy for colds and flu at this time of the year.
Juice company Ocean Spray has conducted studies over the past 10 years which reveal that the natural compounds in cranberries have the power to stop harmful bacteria from adhering to the body. There is even a theory that this humble red berry may even be of use in helping to prevent cardiac problems.
More recently, a study by Rutgers University in New Jersey found that cranberry juice not only helps prevent urinary tract infections but also prevented E. coli bacteria from sticking to the cells of the urinary tract. In addition, cranberries also have a component that assists the opening of the bronchial tubes.
● Fresh cranberries are cooked once they have popped
● Infuse dried cranberries with alcohol or hot water to rehydrate them.
● Frozen cranberries need not be defrosted before using
● Use fresh and dried cranberries together - below is a recipe which uses both.
When buying fresh cranberries make sure that they are free from any blemishes, and that they are not wrinkled or soft.
However, if you really want to take advantage of their short growing season, buy in bulk and freeze in portions.
Cranberries work well in many recipes from the obvious cranberry sauce to chutneys or relishes, or in muffins, salads and pies. As they are a little sour, combine with dried cranberries or fresh apples to sweeten them naturally. They also make wonderful drinks which may help in the fight against infections like sore throats and the common cold, but are more commonly used with turkey or added to fruitcakes and even bread.
Crispy duck with cranberries
Preparation time: 15 minutes.
Cooking time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Serves four people
● 1 large duck 2.3kg (6 lb)
● 150g dried cranberries
● 200g fresh/frozen cranberries
● 2 red onions – peeled and sliced
● 1 tablespoon olive oil
● 100ml chicken stock
● 200ml red wine
● 100ml port
● 2 tablespoons plain flour
● 1 orange – zest and juice
● 6 juniper berries, bruised
● 2 tablespoons brown sugar
● Bunch of fresh thyme
● Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Potatoes
● 4 large potatoes – sliced with the skins on
● Salt and freshly ground black pepper
● 2 tablespoons olive oil
● Large bunch of fresh thyme
● 100g dried cranberries
● Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.
● Pare the zest from the orange. Place the zest and thyme in the cavity of the duck and under the skin of the breast.
● Rub the skin with salt.
● Place breast side down on an oven rack with a tray underneath filled with water. (This collects the fat and keeps the duck crispy).
● Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes. From time to time pierce the skin with a fork to release the fat.
● Place the sliced potatoes on an oven tray. Drizzle some olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
● Heat the olive oil in a medium sized saucepan. Sauté the red onions for 5 minutes until soft. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes.
● Add the stock, wine, port, orange juice, all the cranberries, juniper berries and the brown sugar and simmer for 30 minutes.
● Stir from time to time. Place half in a food processor so that the sauce is semi-smooth. Set aside. (Can be made in advance and reheated in a microwave).
● Let the duck stand for 5 minutes and carve into portions.
● To serve: Place the sliced potatoes on the base of a large serving plate. Garnish the duck with sprigs of thyme and sprinkle over some dried and fresh cranberries. Serve the sauce separately.