Spotlight on cranberries
Cranberries are the unsung heroes of the berry world. Sure, everybody knows that they're the ideal partner for turkey and it would be inconceivable for many people to even consider embarking upon a turkey roast without smothering their plate in blobs of the jellified tartness of cranberry sauce. Let's take a moment to take a closer look at these versatile red spheres.
How to choose the best cranberries
As you might expect, the biggest market for cranberries comes during the November/December period as people gear up for the Christmas season. The bulk of cranberry crops are in the United States and Canada and are harvested in late September, all the way to November, so this is worth considering if you get the urge during summertime. The best way to combat the need for cranberries is to buy in bulk the moment they appear in stores and then freeze them in batches in plastic bags so that you can enjoy them at any time of the year. When you're selecting berries, make sure that they are all brightly coloured and firm. If you see a punnet with any shrivelled or browning berries, be sure to avoid as this means that the entire batch is likely on the turn. If you want to check true ripeness, then take a berry and throw it on the floor. If it's ripe, it will bounce because of the small pocket of air they contain. If the berry is not ripe, well, you better hope you didn't do this test in a supermarket!

Cranberry sauce
Indeed, cranberry sauce is a sort of a culinary miracle in that it is one of the easiest, most versatile and attractive recipes. Marco Pierre White's recipe for Perfect Cranberry Sauce is a great place to start but all you really need for a simple, quick fix is a large pan, a punnet of fresh cranberries, about 100g of caster sugar and 250ml of water. Put all these ingredients into the pan and then heat until the water boils and the berries burst making the whole mixture thickens and coagulates into a glossy red jam. Cranberries naturally contain pectin, a gelling agent that gives the sauce its thick, sticky consistency. Of course, you may wish to add cornflour or water to either thicken or liquify according to your taste but the beauty of this recipe is how little input it requires from you. Other optional additions include: orange zest, lemon juice, pecans and red wine. Indeed, for those that prefer their sauce on the tart rather than the sweet side, replacing the bulk of the water with wine takes the edge of sweetness off the caster sugar.
Alternate uses
Of course, cranberry sauce is majestic with roast turkey as the bright sting of tartness complements the meat's subtle flavours. However, there is little limit to how the sauce can be used. For instance, a leftover turkey sandwich is sublime when cold cranberry sauce is used as a chutney. It's also excellent as an ice-cream topper. If you add candied pecans to this equation, you may never want to eat anything else ever again. This is also true if you get a digestive biscuit, smear crunchy peanut butter over it and then add a generous dollop of the red stuff. It is something close to sublime. It's also worth noting that aside from being an excellent source of vitamin C and a great antioxidant, cranberries were also used by Native Americans as a natural dye. Indeed, if you've got a stained white t-shirt, putting it in a saucepan-full of cranberries and water, will produce a garment the same pink colour of the sky at sunset. What a versatile berry indeed!
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Spotlight on cranberries