The Merry Berry
By Beth Bence Reinke, MS, RD
CBN.com Have you seen the funny television commercials featuring two fellows standing in a flooded cranberry bog? Their humor may be dry, but they're preparing to "wet-harvest" their cranberries.
A merry berry harvest
There are two methods for harvesting cranberries – wet and dry. Berries that will be made into juice or sauce are wet-harvested. The bog is purposely flooded with water, then a special machine agitates the water like an egg beater so the berries are loosened from the vines and drift to the surface. Workers round up the floating fruit and load it onto trucks.
Berries that are sold fresh in bags are "dry-harvested" by simply combing them from the vines with a mechanical picker. These cranberries are sometimes called "bounce berries" because they rebound fairly well.
The wet-harvesting method is a beautiful sight, with the floating berries resembling a garnet and ruby sea. Those gorgeous shades of red make cranberries a pretty addition to any Thanksgiving or Christmas table. But these merry berries are such nutritional gems that it would be a shame to enjoy them only during the holidays.
The good-for-you cranberry
Long before we were stringing cranberries and popcorn to decorate the Christmas tree, Native Americans used the berries for food, fabric dye and as medicine to treat various ailments. That's not surprising, because cranberries have a host of health benefits.
Studies show that the total concentration of antioxidants in cranberries is higher than most other fruits. An especially potent class of antioxidants in cranberries called proanthocyanidins (PACs) may help suppress the activity of bacteria that cause certain health problems. In fact, studies show this is why drinking cranberry juice helps fight urinary tract infections. The PACs in the cranberry juice prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder walls, so they are flushed out in the urine, which decreases the risk of infection.
The anti-adhesion activity of cranberry juice may also help suppress bacteria that cause stomach ulcers and gum disease. Cranberries may fight heart disease and some forms of cancer, plus they are packed with fiber and vitamins.
Cranberries in the kitchen
Eating cranberries every day is doable because they're available in so many forms. Cranberry juice, canned sauce and dried cranberries are available all year-round. You can keep a bag of dried berries in the cupboard to use in baking, stir into oatmeal or toss into salads.
Fresh cranberries are available from September through December, so stock up by buying extra bags. Store them in the crisper for several months or freeze them for up to a year. When you're ready to cook, throw them in still frozen – thawing makes them mushy.
If you can find fresh cranberries at the grocer, grab enough to last you through the off-season. If not, start with the dried, sweetened variety or 100% juice. Enjoy cranberries year-round for their tangy flavor and amazing antioxidants.
Here's a simple recipe to get you started:
Merry Berry Trail Mix
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup walnuts or almonds
2 cups mini pretzels
2 cups frosted shredded wheat cereal minis
Mix ingredients together in large mixing bowl. Divide trail mix evenly into 6 zippered sandwich bags.
Beth Bence Reinke is a registered dietitian who writes about food, nutrition, and health topics. She is a mom of two sons and the author of numerous magazine articles for adults and children. Beth and her husband have been CBN partners since 1998. Visit her at www.bethbencereinke.com .
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