Tips on Preparing and Cooking Cranberries

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With their bright red color and tart bite, cranberries bring boldness to meals, especially during the dark winter months. If you have a few extra fresh berries, use them in holiday decorations that you make with your kids. When cooking, use the right ratio of ingredients to ensure that cranberry recipes turn out sweet enough to balance the puckering flavor of the raw berries.

Before Cooking

Fresh cranberries work best for raw uses, such as raw relish, but frozen cranberries are perfectly adequate if you will cook with the berries. Store fresh cranberries in their original bag in the refrigerator for as long as three weeks, or put them in an airtight freezer bag and freeze for up to one year. Thaw frozen berries in the refrigerator about one day before you plan to use them. Just before using the cranberries, rinse them in a colander, pick out any stems or shriveled berries, and pat them dry with a towel.

Cooked Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is a central element of holiday meals that include ham, turkey, game birds or venison. Its tart and sweet flavor goes very well with the savory meats. When preparing cranberry sauce, add 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar per cup of cranberries, depending on your preference. Thin the sauce with a combination of orange juice and water in an approximately equal volume to the sugar. After adding the cranberries to the warm sugar syrup, simmer them for about five minutes if you would like the berries to stay whole, or seven to 10 minutes if you would like the berries to pop.

Cranberry Jelly

When making cranberry jelly, the process is slightly different from cranberry sauce. The ratios of ingredients are approximately equal, but you cook the cranberries in water and orange juice without any added sugar. After the berries burst, use a ricer, blender or food processor to puree the berries and cooking liquid into a smooth consistency. Add the sugar and boil the whole mixture until it thickens, which should take about five minutes. When the jelly is thick, pour it into jars for canning.

Raw Relish

Make a bright and zesty raw cranberry relish as an alternative to the thick cooked sauce. Because the relish flavors meld and the colors brighten as it sits, plan to make it at least two days before you serve it. When stored in the refrigerator, it stays fresh for up to two weeks. To make a raw relish, use three parts cranberries to one part fresh orange and one part sugar. Pulse the cranberries and a peeled and seeded orange in a blender or food processor until they are chopped. If you like the relish especially orange-flavored, add some orange zest as well. Stir in the sugar by hand.

Baking with Cranberries

Cranberries add zing to all sorts of recipes, including cranberry bread, stuffing and fruit tarts. When baking with cranberries, cut them in half or smaller to ensure that the flavors make their way into the recipe. For the most even distribution of the tart flavor, cut each cranberry into eight or more pieces. Slicing the cranberries thinly is an appealing look that works especially well in stuffing.