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If I were to ask you what your family's traditional meal was at Thanksgiving, it likely would include turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. Other dishes would be included as well, but those are likely the standards. Even if you never eat cranberries any other day of the year, they likely will grace your table on Thanksgiving.

Cranberries are one of the few fruits native to North America. In fact, long before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, cranberries were a staple in the diets of American Indians.

Legend has it that wild cranberries ripened in such abundance that they were eaten fresh, ground, or mashed with cornmeal and baked into bread. Maple sugar or honey was used to sweeten the berries' tangy flavor.

You may have cranberries in the jellied form, such as cranberry sauce, either canned or homemade. We do not produce cranberries here, so fresh cranberries are only available from October through December in the produce aisle. If you want fresh cranberries outside those months, you will want to buy and freeze them.

When selecting your cranberries, select shiny, plump berries that may range in color from bright, light red to dark red. Discard shriveled berries or those with brown spots.

To prepare cranberries for cooking, sort out bruised berries, then rinse in cold water. The berries can easily be frozen for up to nine months. Freeze for later use (wash before you use them, but not before freezing). When ready to use, do not thaw. Follow recipe directions using frozen berries.

Fresh cranberries should be stored in a tightly sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. As with all berries, if one starts getting soft and decaying, the others will quickly soften and decay also. Be sure to sort out the soft ones if you plan to store them for more than a few days.

Fresh cranberries may last from 2 weeks up to 2 months in the refrigerator. You may substitute sweetened dried cranberries for fresh or frozen cranberries in baked recipes.

Cranberries are high in fiber, have just 25 calories per one-half cup, and are a good source of vitamin C. They also have plenty of antioxidants. Fresh cranberries contain no cholesterol, virtually no fat and very little sodium.

Here are helpful tips to add cranberries to your Thanksgiving Day celebration:

n Chop cranberries in a food processor for quick results

n 12 ounces of cranberries equal 3 cups

n If a recipe calls for 4 cups of cranberries, it can be adapted to the 12 oz. bag size by cutting all ingredients by one-fourth

n Refrigerate leftover cranberry sauce or cranberry orange relish for several days or freeze in an airtight container up to a year.

Cranberry Orange Scones will be great on Thanksgiving morning. Make them the night before, store in an airtight container and reheat in the oven the next morning. Set up a breakfast buffet with fresh sliced fruit, coffee, juice and milk and your morning is off to a great start, with little work.

Cranberry Orange Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter, chilled and diced

1 cup fresh cranberries, roughly chopped or 5 ounces dried cranberries

1/3 cup white sugar

1 grated zest of one orange

1/2 cup chopped pecans or almonds

3/4 cup half-and-half cream

1 egg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Using pastry blender or knife and fork, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a separate bowl, toss cranberries with sugar, or if using dried cranberries, decrease sugar to one fourth cup; add to flour mixture along with orange peel and nuts. Mix lightly. In another bowl, beat together cream and egg; slowly pour into dry ingredients, mixing with rubber scraper until dough forms. If dough is to sticky, add additional flour. Knead dough 4 or 5 times, being careful not to over handle or it will get tough. Divide dough in half. Turn onto lightly floured surface. Shape each half into a 6-inch circle. Cut each circle into 6 wedges. Place scones on parchment lined or lightly greased baking sheets. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Nutrition facts per serving: 211 calories; protein 4g; carbohydrates 29g; fat 9g.

For your free copy of Cranberries for the Holidays, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609. We're online at [email protected], on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at

Carla Due is a county extension agent-staff chair with the Miller County Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

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