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CRANBERRIES: Saucy stuff and more

Cranberry sauce is always part of any turkey dinner but this indigenous fruit is rooted in First Nations culture and a crop that's grown here on the west coast. Try my recipes!

A handful of fresh cranberries


Red may be the classic colour for holiday décor, but the tastiest seasonal splash of red is cranberry sauce, that glistening condiment served with every turkey dinner.

The reason we love to eat cranberries with turkey may seem obvious — the bright tart flavour and colour of these winter berries punching up the traditional plate of brown roasted meats, gravy and mash.

But the root of that marriage is in First Nations culture. Cranberries are native to North America, the perennial vines found growing in boggy wetlands from the poles to the tropics. And indigenous people have long used cranberries in their traditional medicine, dried them for pemmican, even used the leaves for tea or as a tobacco substitute.

They likely shared that knowledge with the original colonists — the first reference to serving cranberry sauce with turkey appearing in an American cookbook in 1796.

And according to local historians, indigenous people traded cranberries at the Hudson Bay post in Fort Langley in the mid-1800s, the berries packed into 100-pound barrels for shipping (still the way cranberries are measured).

A bowl of fresh cranberries


The temperate west coast climate is perfect for growing these tart little fall fruits, with the first commercial crop grown in BC in 1946. By 2020, there were 74 cranberry farms in the province, producing 1 million barrels (100 million pounds) of cranberries annually, about 12 per cent of the North American crop.

While the largest cranberry farms in BC are found in the Fraser Valley, cranberries are also grown by six producers on Vancouver Island, including at Yellow Point Cranberries near Ladysmith.

Like most BC cranberry farmers, Yellow Point’s Grant Keefer ships most of his berries to Ocean Spray, a co-operative of 700+ growers that markets fresh cranberries and cranberry products across North America.

Keefer also sells a portion of his fresh crop directly, under the Yellow Point Cranberries label, and produces a variety of cranberry products on the farm, from unsweetened juice to sauces and jellies, and cranberry baking mixes for scones and brownies.

“Pretty much all of us are Ocean Spray growers and our fruit will go there for making juices and sauces and (dried) Craisins®,” he says. “People should understand that they are supporting cranberry growers in BC no matter where they buy their cranberries — even if it’s just Ocean Spray — because that’s a cooperative and all of us growers are members in the company.”

Keefer sells his fresh berries through farm markets and smaller island retailers, too, including The Root Cellar and Red Barn Markets in Victoria, or via their Yellow Point Cranberries website and farm store.

Cranberries are still traditionally served with holiday meals and turkey dinners, but today the cranberry has officially been dubbed a “functional food” — with demonstrated health benefits beyond nutritional values — containing antioxidants and other components proven to defend against bacteria that cause ulcers and gum disease, treat urinary tract infections and reduce inflammation.

So, you’ll see cranberries on the menu year round, whether strewn across a spinach and goat cheese salad, whirled into a smoothie or tarting up your favourite healthy kombucha brew.


Cranberries are one of only three native North American fruits with any significant commercial value — the others being grapes and blueberries. The low-lying fields look scrubby as you’re driving by but, up close, you can see that they are covered in low bushes, about six inches tall, like a wild, sprawling ground cover.

Cranberries growing low to the ground in a bog

Cranberries are commercially grown in purposely constructed bogs, fields that are surrounded by dykes so that they can be flooded for harvest. When the berries ripen in the fall, the fields are flooded with 1-2 feet of water, then mechanical harvesters drive over the plants, beating the plants with big rotary beaters to dislodge the berries. The fruit floats up to the surface where it’s collected, and the water is drained back off the fields.

Cranberries floating in water for harvestin

Cranberries destined for the whole berry, fresh market are “dry harvested” beginning in late September (in time for Thanksgiving), using harvesters that are pushed like big lawn mowers across short plants, the rotating teeth gently combing the berries up into a bin on the back of the machine. It’s a mechanical version of the historic dry rakes or toothy wooden scoops once used to harvest cranberries from the low-lying plants by hand.

The “wet harvest” happens later in the season, with berries delivered to Ocean Spray for juicing and drying.

“When you see fresh fruit, it’s not actually been in the water,” says Keefer, “but water harvesting is much more efficient. We do fresh, too, but there’s a huge lot more labour involved.”

Flooding fields to wet harvest fresh cranberries

A field of floating crimson cranberries is a stunning sight — so much so that some growers now offer harvest tours, literally letting people wade in for cranberry selfies and family photos to add to their social media feeds.

If that’s on your bucket list this year, keep an eye on Yellow Point Cranberry’s website, says Keefer.

“It’s hard to say exactly when the harvest will be, but we’re not flooding until November,” he says. “It’s a crazy, busy time on the farm, and just a three- or four-day event, but a beautiful time to visit.”


It’s always great to buy and extra bag (or two) of fresh cranberries to throw in the freezer for future desserts, bakes and sauces. Dried cranberries are also always in my pantry, a giant bag from the big box or bulk store to add to cookies, granola, gorp or just for noshing. Here are some other ideas for cooking with cranberries:

  • Whirl a whole, thin-skinned orange (peel and all) with a 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries and 1⁄2 cup sugar in the food processor for almost instant fresh cranberry sauce. Refrigerate overnight or serve right away.

  • Combine fresh cranberries and apples in your crisp recipes, topped with buttery crumbs and seasoned with cinnamon.

  • Make a cranberry mignonette for island oysters (fresh or fried) with chopped fresh cranberries, green onion, balsamic and coarsely ground black pepper.

  • Think about cranberry curd (vs lemon curd) for pies or tarts.

  • Try a steamy hot toddy with orange spice tea, cranberry juice, orange juice, honey and cinnamon, plus a shot of whisky

  • Make a white chocolate bark studded with red dried cranberries and green chopped pistachios.

  • Whether scones or oatmeal cookies, dried cranberries stand in for raisins in west coast recipes. You can even try stirring some leftover cranberry sauce into your muffin batter before baking.

  • ·Add fresh (or frozen) cranberries to citrusy marmalade or raspberry jam recipes, or make spicy cranberry chutney with ginger, garlic and hot peppers — all tasty and colourful homemade gifts.

  • Combine cranberry juice, white wine, sliced oranges and orange brandy for a ruby red holiday sangria to serve with soda water and ice. You can even add whole cranberries to ice cube trays for a festive touch.

Cranberry sangria cocktail

Cranberry pie



This is one of my favourite recipes using both dried and fresh cranberries — a great dessert anytime and especially lovely with holiday meals. The fresh orange and cranberry sauce adds another dimension and balances the sweetness of the pie. Like a big butter tart but with the added zing of cranberries! From The Girl Can’t Cook by Cinda Chavich.


1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

pinch salt

1/2 cup butter

1 egg yolk

1 Tbsp. milk


2 whole eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup corn syrup

1/2 cup melted butter

1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp. orange brandy or frozen orange juice concentrate

grated zest of 2 oranges

1 tsp. vanilla extract

pinch salt

2 cups chopped pecans

1 1/2 cups dried cranberries

Fruit Sauce:

4 oranges

1 cup fresh cranberries

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup orange juice

1 Tbsp. orange brandy

To make the crust, combine the flour, sugar, salt and butter in the food processor and process until crumbly. Add the egg yolk and milk. Pulse until the dough forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour to chill.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Roll out the pastry and line a 10-inch (25-cm) tart pan. This pastry is totally forgiving, so don’t panic—any rips or cracks can be repaired by pressing in extra bits of dough. Cover the pastry with foil and add some pie weights or dried beans (this helps the crust bake evenly) and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and cool.

To make the filling, whisk the eggs, sugar, syrup, butter, brandy, zest, vanilla and salt together in a bowl. Stir in the nuts and dried cranberries. Pour into the pie shell and bake for 35–40 minutes, until the filling is set.

To make the sauce, start by sectioning the oranges. Using a sharp, serrated knife, cut a slice from the top and the bottom of each orange, exposing the fruit. Then, working over a bowl to catch any juice, cut away the rind and white pith. Cut between the membranes and the orange segments will fall out into the bowl.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, cook the cranberries with the sugar and orange juice over medium heat. When the berries soften and begin to pop, they’re done. Remove from the heat and stir in the orange sections and brandy. Chill.

Slice the pie into thin wedges and serve with the fruit sauce on the side. Serves 10–12.


Twice-baked biscotti cookies

These classic double baked Italian cookies are a treat to serve with coffee and an elegant way to end a meal. They’re also extremely portable (i.e. good for sending or giving) and with red and green ingredients, so beautifully seasonal! This recipe makes a big batch. From The Guy Can’t Cook by Cinda Chavich.

3/4 cup softened unsalted butter

2 cups granulated sugar 3 eggs 3 1⁄2 cups sifted pastry flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup lightly toasted pistachios (or slivered almonds)

½ cup dried cranberries

1 cup white chocolate chips plus extra for dipping or drizzling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

In a separate bowl, combine the pastry flour and baking powder. Gradually add half the flour mixture to the batter, beating to incorporate. With a wooden spoon, mix in the nuts, cranberries and chocolate. Stir in the remainder of the flour mixture and incorporate. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and separate into 3 equal portions. Roll each portion into a rope about 12 to 14 inches (30 to 35 cm) long.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the ropes side by side, leaving at least 3 inches (8 cm) of space for the cookies to expand into slightly flattened logs as they bake.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the logs are firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let them cool for 20 minutes.

With a serrated knife, cut each log on an angle into 1⁄2-inch-thick biscotti. Lay the biscotti on the baking sheet, cut side down, and return to the oven for 5 minutes on each side to brown lightly and crisp.

If desired, drizzle melted chocolate over the biscotti once they’ve cooled, or dip one end of each biscotti in melted chocolate and chill until chocolate sets. Makes 4 to 5 dozen.


Dora Friesen of Integrity Foods shared this recipe for the yummy scones she sells from her farm-based bakery in Manitoba. While Dora uses a cup of her own cultured sourdough starter, this easy variation is made with baking powder.

Dora says the scones can be sweet or savoury. Options for sweet include orange zest and raisin, strawberry and basil, apple and cardamom, blackberry and lavender.

For savoury scones, omit the sugar, add 3/4 cup extra spelt flour and ½ tsp salt, then flavour your scones with parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, sundried or oven-roasted tomatoes and basil.

2 ½ cups whole grain spelt flour

¼ cup (cane) sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup butter (cut into dry mix)

½ cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup chopped almonds

1 cup plain yogurt


1 tablespoon sugar

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Blend flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl, then cut butter into dry mixture until crumbly. Stir in the cranberries and almonds. Stir the yogurt into the dry mix with a fork. Work dough until nicely blended and smooth.

Roll dough into a ball. Pat it into a 9” circle on a parchment lined pan.

Score into 8 pieces or cut into 8 pieces and arrange separately on a pan for a crisper scone. You may also divide the dough into 2 equal 6” pieces and score each into 6 pieces.

Combine sugar with cinnamon for topping and sprinkle over patted dough.

Bake at 375 F for 12 minutes or till nicely browned.

Enjoy with coffee and friends — or for Christmas morning breakfast!


With its festive color and seasonal ingredients, this is a great cake to take to a holiday potluck but it’s also nice for brunch. Look for one of the new soft, silicon Bundt pans: cakes pop out as easy as ice cubes from this miracle baking material and, amazingly, they brown beautifully.

You can substitute chopped apples or blueberries for the cranberries in this moist cake. From The Guy Can't Cook, by Cinda Chavich.

1 cup (250 mL) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups (500 mL) granulated sugar 4 eggs 3 Tbsp (45 mL) orange marmalade

2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour 1 tsp (5 mL) baking powder 1⁄2 tsp (2 mL) baking soda 1⁄2 tsp (2 mL) salt


1⁄2 cup (125 mL) icing sugar 3 to 4 Tbsp (45 to 60 mL) freshly squeezed orange


2 tsp (10 mL) ground ginger 1 tsp (5 mL) ground cinnamon 1⁄2 tsp (2 mL) ground nutmeg 1⁄2 cup (125 mL) buttermilk 2 cups (500 mL) cranberries, fresh or frozen

2 tsp finely grated orange rind

(use a microplane grater)

1 Tbsp (15 mL) orange marmalade (or finely grated orange rind)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and gradually add the sugar, beating until fluffy and light. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in the marmalade.

In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. 3 Gradually add the flour mixture to the batter, in portions, alternating with the buttermilk, and beating

after each addition.

Fold the cranberries and grated orange rind into the batter.

If using a silicon Bundt pan, place it on a baking sheet to stabilize, and pour in the batter, smoothing the top. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes in the preheated oven or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on the wire rack for 15 minutes before turning it out onto the rack to cool completely.

To make the glaze, combine the sugar, orange juice, and marmalade. Drizzle over the cake. Serves 12.

This story originally appeared in EAT magazine

©Cinda Chavich


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