Cranberries Kick the Can ; the Fall Fruit No Longer Appears Only as Jellied Sauce in a Can. It Now Stars in Soups, Cereals, and More

Article excerpt

To all politicians running for office in the next election, here's some free advice: Grab, hire, lure, shanghai whoever has been running the public-relations campaign for cranberries in the United States during the past few decades.

Had actor Gary Coleman hired those cranberry PR folks, he'd be governor of California.

Why? Look around your supermarket. Cranberries are everywhere, in everything: breakfast cereals, ice cream, sparkling water, jams and jellies, candy bars, pies, cold soups, chutneys, granola, muffins. There's even a cranberry ketchup. And juice. Especially juice. And not just plain cranberry juice. It's getting more difficult to find a juice that doesn't have cranberries - Cranapple, Cranraspberry, Crangrape. In fact, today most cranberries go into juice production. Not surprising. It takes about 4,400 berries to produce every gallon of cranberry juice.

A more recent introduction to the growing cranberry market are white cranberries. The variety is harvested a few weeks earlier than its more colorful cousin, and is used primarily in white cranberry juice, where it is blended with white grape juice. (The juice is rather insipid and lacks the traditional snap of the red.)

It wasn't long ago that cranberries made a once-a-year cameo appearance at Thanksgiving, usually in the form of canned cranberry jell. That red, slimy blob with ribs squiggled so much that it appeared to have a life of its own.

Although it was clearly the most colorful addition to my family's dinner table, it was in the shadow of Mother's roast turkey, the sweet-potato casserole (don't forget the minimarshmallows), and Grandmother's frozen string-bean casserole (smothered with canned onion rings).

Today, among cooks of more sophistication, Thanksgiving dinner might include a multidimensional cranberry chutney (see recipe) or relish. Or cranberries might appear in any number of desserts. Indeed, they are also a tangy condiment and a perfect accompaniment to pork, poultry, and game.

Cranberries were once referred to as "bounce berries," as ripe fruit should bounce like a Ping-Pong ball; and as "crane berries," since the pale pink blossoms were thought to resemble the beaks of cranes, which can often be seen feeding in bogs where the scarlet berries grow.

The bitter berries are one of few fruits that can't be eaten out of hand because of their extreme tartness. They must be sweetened to make them palatable.

Native Americans, who introduced them to the early settlers, would boil them with maple syrup and maybe just a tad of bear fat, or mash them with deer meat. They also used the juice to dye clothing, blankets, and rugs.

Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, has always had a corner of the cranberry market. …