Native to North America, the cranberry is an integral part of American cooking, from the cranberry relish served with the Thanksgiving turkey to the healthful glass of bottled cranberry juice. The berries are too tart to eat raw on their own but lend themselves to savory and sweet preparations. They marry nicely with other fruits, such as apples and pears, and with nuts and grains.
Cranberries are harvested throughout the fall. Fresh cranberries should be plump, firm and dry and range from deep scarlet to light red.
Both fresh and frozen whole cranberries are usually packaged in plastic bags rather than sold loose. Refrigerate the berries for up to 1 month or freeze them for up to 10 months.
Rinse cranberries in cold water just before using. Chop them while fresh to cook in pilafs and fillings. For a smoother texture, simmer them in stock, wine, juice, liqueur or water until they burst.