A Christmas Crush on … Cranberries

This merry berry is healthy, versatile — just the “zing” you need for a festive menu!

If you feel bogged down this holiday season, let the cheery disposition of cherry-red cranberries put some bounce in your step. In the 1880s, John “Peg Leg” Webb, a cranberry farmer from Cassville, N.J., poured his berry batches down wooden steps. Legend has it that only the ripest bounced to the bottom. This method of culling the best berries is still used today.

Cranberries are one of three commercially grown fruits native to North America. The cooler climates of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin are ideal for cranberry farms. The ruby red berry is grown on vines inside a bog in cool, wet soil. After the growing season, the berries are wet-harvested in the fall. This means the cranberry bogs are flooded and the berries are beaten off the vine. They contain little pockets of air, which allow them to float for an easy harvest.

Early European settlers to America thought the flower on cranberry bushes resembled a crane, and originally named the fruit “craneberry.” Native Americans were the first to use it as food, healing ointment and dye.

Throughout history, cranberry fruits and leaves have been used for a variety of health problems such as wounds, urinary disorders, diarrhea, diabetes, stomach problems and liver disease.

Recent research has shown that each tiny cranberry contains phytonutrients, or plant nutrients, many of which are classified as flavonoids. Flavonoids are powerful anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants help maintain cell structure and good health by combining with and neutralizing “free radicals,” the highly reactive chemicals that damage cell walls. In fact, cranberries have one of the highest concentrations of anti-oxidants when compared to other fruits.

These bright berries are bursting with vitamins C and K. They are full of fiber, and their anti-oxidant properties elevate them to the status of a “superfood.” The National Institute of Health is funding research on the cranberry’s effects on heart disease, yeast infections and other conditions, and other researchers are investigating its potential against cancer, stroke and viral infections.

We enjoy cranberries raw, dried, mulled, sautéed and stewed. And we serve them up in juice, sauce, relish, jam, salad and stuffing, to name just a few. Cranberries pack a flavorful punch, so they are like adding an exclamation point to your meal menu.  

Though cranberries are popular served at meals during the holidays, you can certainly enjoy them year round. “Cranberries freeze really well,” says Sarah K. Schreifer of Sarah K’s Gourmet. “You can keep the bag in the freezer for about a year.”

 And if you are looking for something to jazz up an old recipe, Schreifer says the cranberry is a “berry” good candidate. “You can most definitely substitute cranberries for raisins for a healthy upgrade as long as you are using cranberries and not dried ‘craisins,’ which are loaded with sugar,” Schreifer advises. “And that’s the fun part about cooking — the experimenting and creating.”

This particular berry is quite flexible in the kitchen. “The savory sweet/tart combination of cranberries goes really well with citrus and spicy flavors as well. I add oranges and horseradish to my cranberry relish,” Schreifer tells.

Whether you use them to trim your tree, simmer in a pot or garnish your cocktail, cranberries are a festive ingredient for holiday fun.

We raise our cranberry cocktail glass and honor the berry that makes us merry all year.



Make your holiday berry and bright

The classic cosmopolitan, dressed all in white to honor the season, takes on a wintry twist with the crisp flavors of cranberry vodka and white cranberry juice. You can find it on the cocktail menu at Bonefish Grill restaurants in Destin and Pensacola during the holiday season. It will be clear your party is festive when you serve this refreshing winter white cocktail.

Winter White Cosmopolitan
1.5 ounces Stoli Cranberi
.5 ounces Cointreau
1 ounce lime juice
1 ounce white cranberry juice
3 or 4 frozen cranberries
Combine ingredients over ice in a shaker tin. Shake and strain into chilled martini glass. Float frozen cranberries on top for garnish.

’Tis the season for festive holiday cookies. This recipe allows you to serve Santa a delicious treat that is healthy and pretty. If your To Do list has the best of you, simply order them by the dozen or on a cookie sampler platter at Sarah K’s Gourmet in Destin.

Sarah K’s White Chocolate-Dipped Cranberry Cookies
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups dried cranberries*, coarsely chopped
White chocolate chips/almond bark, melted

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Using an electric mixer, beat shortening and sugar together in a medium mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Mix in vanilla and egg.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a separate mixing bowl. Add to shortening mixture, combine until a soft dough forms.

Gently fold in cranberries by hand with a wooden spoon.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoonful onto cookie sheets. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool completely.

Dip half of each cookie into melted chocolate. Allow chocolate to dry completely.

*Note from Sarah K: The recipe calls for dried cranberries, but I have also used fresh. I rinse them and put them in the oven in a glass dish on 250ºF for 5–10 minutes to soften them. Then fold them carefully into the dough right at the end.


Throw a picnic any time of year with ease with this savory, beach-inspired recipe. If the weather or temperature turns, simply head indoors and toss a beach blanket on the living room floor. The ants will never find you there!

Grilled Chicken, Cranberry and Almond Salad on a Freshly Baked Croissant
2 pounds diced grilled chicken (skinless)
1 diced red pepper
1 diced green pepper
1 diced yellow onion
2 stalks diced celery
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup sliced toasted almonds
1 cup light mayo
Freshly baked croissants

Mix above ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in a freshly baked croissant and enjoy.

Recipe courtesy of Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa
Picnix Poolside Market