Seasonal Eating – Cranberries

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November is the perfect time to highlight cranberries’ health benefits. Thanksgiving is the one time of the year they get placed on most American tables. In fact, 20% of the cranberry harvest is eaten on Thanksgiving. Part of the reason for the bowl of sauce and turkey is that the cranberry is native to North America.

When the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts, cranberries were being harvested by the Wampanoag tribe for food and dye. It is unknown what foods were eaten on the first Thanksgiving in 1621, but they were on the table. It may have been in the form of pemmican, a dish made with dried meat, tallow, and berries if served.

Cranberry sauce came years later when sugar was more readily available. The first recipe appeared in print in 1796. Canned cranberry came in 1912 when Ocean Spray began cooking down imperfect or damaged fruit by modern harvesting techniques.

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For health benefits, cranberries are associated with urinary tract infections. This is because compounds in these berries help prevent bacteria, especially E. coli, from being able to stick to the urinary lining. Other conditions benefit from eating cranberry. They are heart-healthy food.

Cranberry can lower LDL-cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) while raising HDL-cholesterol (“good” cholesterol). They have also been shown to decrease oxidative stress in the body. One theory for how they reduce oxidative stress is that they are good sources of vitamin C and manganese. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, while manganese is a necessary cofactor for one of the body’s main antioxidant enzymes.

Cranberry can be eaten raw, blended into relish, cooked down to a sauce, or dried. Dried cranberry is commonly called a craisin. Craisins can be sprinkled over salads, added to oatmeal, or mixed into chicken salad. Just make sure to buy the unsweetened dried berries for the best health benefits. Below are two different ways to eat cranberries on Thanksgiving, as a raw relish or cooked sauce.

Cranberry Sauce

12 ounces fresh cranberries

1 orange, juice, and zest

1 cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick


Zest and juice the orange. Place the orange juice in 1 cup measuring cup. Fill the rest of the cup with water to have 1 cup total of juice and remaining water. Place orange water in a medium saucepan. Then, add sugar, cranberries, cinnamon stick, orange zest. Bring to a boil. Then, turn down the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, occasionally stirring until the cranberries have popped. Discard the cinnamon and let it cool.

Cranberry Relish

12 ounces cranberries

1 orange

1 cup sugar

Process cranberries in either a food processor or meat grinder until fine. Zest the orange. Remove white pulp from orange, then process orange in either food processor or meat grinder. Mix the orange pulp, orange zest, and sugar into cranberries. For best flavor, cover and refrigerate relish for several hours before serving. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

More Recipes

For other ways to eat cranberries besides cranberry sauce, check out these recipes below:

Chicken Salad with Apples and Cranberries by The Spruce Eats –

Cranberry Vinaigrette by Healthy Seasonal Recipes –

Cranberry Orange Steel Cut Oats by Cookie + Katie –

Easy Paleo Cranberry Bars by Elana’s Pantry –

Works Cited

Blumberg J, Camesano T, Cassidy A, et al. Cranberries and Their Bioactive Constituents in Human Health. Advances in Nutrition. 2013;4(6):618-632. doi:10.3945/an.113.004473 Cranberries. Published in 2020.

Fantozzi J. This is why we’ve all been eating cranberries on Thanksgiving for hundreds of years. Published in 2017.

Shirvell B. Why do we eat cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving? Martha Stewart. Published in 2016.