#10: The Charm of Cranberry

Hello there internet world! ‘Tis the season (if you celebrate something) and the holiday spirit is being thrust upon us. I try my hardest to “get into it,” but sometimes I feel like the only girl at the 7th grade dance who isn’t enjoying having a pubescent hard-on grind against them to O-Town’s “All or Nothing.” Re: Holiday spirit being THRUST upon us. It seems enjoyable, I want to like it, everyone else seems to like it, but I would rather be at home reading a book with my cat. Let’s try our best to dispense with the Scroogery and commence with the Cranberry. Ho ho away we go!

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The. Charm. Of. Cranberry

It’s a berry, a juice, a jelly, a sauce, a raisin alternative, and an alternative rock band from the 90’s. Very few things can claim such a portfolio. Before moving on to the meat of this fruity forum, let’s all get some 90’s music stuck in our heads!!!

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This song always makes me feel like I am running though a meadow off the Irish coast with salty, sea air whipping through my long, unruly hair, chasing after a freckled, ginger-haired beauty in a chunky knit, beige, wool sweater as we both giggle and drag our fingers through the tall field grass. Or something like that…

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“Zombie,” a heavier jam written for a somber topic. This song protested the 1993 Warrington bomb attacks in England. These bombings were just one example of the long lasting violence between Northern Irish separatists and the UK government.

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Last but not least, a song that I cried to waaaaayyyy too many times during my senior year of high school. #younglove #youngheartbreak #allthefeels #stillsuchafoolforyoooouuuu

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Get. Dat. Colonial. History.

As a patriotic member of the U.S. of A. I get pretty amped for food originating in North America. We can only claim three fruits as native: blueberries, cranberries, and Concord grapes. So hip hip hooray for cranberries! In terms of American food culture cranberries are as old as fuck. Early colonists in the Northeastern U.S. identified cranberries in an array of accounts dating back to the 17th century. They recorded descriptions of tart, dark red berries growing in marshes. The name “cranberry” is a derivative of “crane-berry,” referring to the crane like appearance of the plant’s blossoms. Some other early names include mossberries, fenberries (fen is synonym of marsh), and bearberries. BEAR-BERRIES. Because bears often ate them… one more time, BEAR-BERRIES. Best. Berry. Ever.

The small fruits from these bushes have an almost unpalatable tartness but were discovered to fight off scurvy (One cup of raw cranberries provides 22% of the RDA for vitamin C. Vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy. #nutritionknowledge #themoreyouknow). Some stories describe Native Americans giving cranberries to the Pilgrims (holla at ma boys) (my last name is Pilgram). However, other historians believe that Pilgrims found the berries themselves and simply observed alternative uses from the local inhabitants. The Algonquin, Chippewa, and Cree tribes all have histories rich with cranberry use. The Pilgrims did not mimic the native preparations of the fruit, such as the tribal cranberry-infused jerky called pemmican. Instead they opted to use more familiar European culinary techniques. Cranberries were thrown into dessert puddings and served with wild game as a tart sauce. Historians describe a cranberry sauce being used in the first Thanksgiving feast celebrations. While the recipes differed greatly then and today, it is actually pretty cool that cranberries have remained on the Thanksgiving table through the years.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, I took a super scientific poll at my Pap’s hunting camp this turkey day. I wanted to know if people preferred canned cranberry sauce/jelly with their meal or the homemade relish style cranberry sauce. Here is the panel, congregating around the table, along with the poll results.

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I forgot to write up and print out official release forms, so faces are blacked out to protect identities. I’m really not sure who wants to be associated with me and these crazy blog posts.
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Responses to the question “What type of cranberry sauce do you prefer with your Thanksgiving Dinner?

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Back to the history. Eventually sweeteners grew more available and colonists could afford to juice the cranberry. I guess you could say it opened up a whole “new world” (GET IT?). Cranberry juice started being produced in 1683 and is still a bar counter staple over three centuries later. About 96% of U.S. cranberries are processed beyond the raw state, with most going into juice. Just how many cranberries are produced in America? Shwell, the U.S. harvested 655 million pounds in 2007. This beats out our douche northern neighbors, who only produced a measly 146 million pounds. Do you like the tart taste of defeat, eh? #USA#1 #Canada#2 #hashtagswithinhashtags #hashtaginception. The top 5 cranberry producing states might surprise some readers:

Here are the percentages of the 2012 US crop that each of the top 5 states produced: WI 60%, MA 20%, NJ 7%, OR 5%, WA 2%. This stuff makes great dinner party trivia.

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Y. U. So. Bitter?

Speaking of juice, has anyone actually had 100% cranberry juice? I find it unbearably bitter, way past the point of palatable. Years ago I dated a girl who loved the stuff. A few times in extreme thirst desperation I would brave a sip or two from the bedside glass… It was never worth the hydration. *shudder.* Most consumers associate cranberry juice with cranberry cocktail. This is a diluted, sugar-added variety with an average of 1 tsp sugar/oz. While it packs less antioxidants and health benefits than 100% pure berry jiz, being able to drink it without scowling is a bonus.

As far as berries go, cranberries are among the most tart/least sweet. This is attributed to some interesting evolutionary circumstances. Berries typically produce high amounts of acids and tannins (tannins = the tart stuff in red wine) early in growth to discourage premature animal consumption. However, once the berry is mature it WANTS to be eaten for distribution (animals poop out seeds in a pile of natural fertilizer. #ifuckinglovescience). The idea behind geographical dispersion is that a parent plant doesn’t want the offspring to stick around, depleting the soil of resources and using valuable sunlight. Humans did not evolve around this concept (#himom #hidad). Most fruits sweeten as they mature to encourage consumption. Because cranberries grow in marshes or near streams, they could to do things differently. Berries with air bubbles can float away downstream to far-off lands. Air-filled berries proliferated through natural selection because of this. Being able to use waterways allowed cranberries to stop producing sugar and pump in the tannins. The result? Beautifully red, devilishly tart, bounce-able, floatable berries.

The whole “floating in water” thing is also a key to easy harvesting. The popular Ocean Spray cranberry bog commercials have perpetuated an idea that cranberries grow IN water. They do not. They are grown on vines in bogs, which are then flooded for harvesting. Berries are raked off the surface and voila. Harvesting made easy. Tell your friends.

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My. First. UTI.

(Yes mom, I really am going to talk about it to the world wide internet. But first, some destiny’s child lyrics.)

“All the women who independent,

throw your hands up at me-eh.

All the mommas with short urethras,

drink some cranberray-ay-ay-ay.”

-Destiny’s Child, feat. Erica Pilgram

Turn back the pages of time to December, 2010. Our young, shaggy haired heroine is flying down the open road on her first big road trip. The 1st stop is in Virginia Beach to pick up a partner in crime, then further south to Tampa Bay, FL. Penn State is playing in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day and these two cool Penn Staters have tickets. Along the way we are expecting grandma adventures in Ocala, Harry Potter World exploration in Orlando, and New Year’s Eve drag show watching and gay night clubbing in Ybor City. While still in Virginia Beach, out heroine notices a slight burning when she pees. “Ohhhhhh what the fuck is thiiiis?! Burning is bad, that is my vaginaaaaa. Ow, ow, why do I feel a constant urge to pee even right after peeeeeiiiing??? OH GOD.” One speed dial to Mom, RN (registered nurse) and i have the confirmation. YEP. Urinary. Tract. Infection. My life is over. This pain is unlike any I have known. Woe is me. I’m dying. Someone cut out my urethra and end this misery. Eventually my copilot and I made it down to Florida after a long, uncomfortable car ride. I got a script for antibiotics from a clinic in Ocala and was given the advice to drink a lot of cranberry juice. Mom RN also prescribed this. What. Why? What the hell will cranberry juice do? Needless to say I bought a 2 liter bottle and chugged away, eventually recovering from my near death experience. The magic berry seemed to do the trick and I could pee freely again. I now know a special kind of hell: standing in a non-moving line for Harry Potter World in the beating hot Orlando sun for 2 hours with a UTI while listening to the Jurassic Park Theme Song on repeat, interspersed with animatronic dinosaur roars, babies crying, and a man loudly peddling churros. I pray that you never have to live through that. All in all it was a great trip though, UTI be damned.

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My personal hell.

“Erica, why on earth did you just put us through that excruciatingly long, overly personal story?” Well readers, my point is that cranberry juice is often touted as a cure for urinary tract infections. Is this an old wives tale or is there solid scientific evidence behind it? To PubMed we go!

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Serious. Scientific. Research.

A search for “UTI and cranberry” reveals 71 articles in PubMed (a super awesome literary database ran by The US National Library of Medicine and NIH). As a Penn Stater I have free access to most online articles so I skimmed some of the big reviews. I found a Cochrane Review titled “Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections” which was published in 2012 (see sources de la info for full citation). The authors outline everything one reading this blog could possibly want to know about cranberry juice and UTIs. They included 13 studies with 2,462 participants. First, some pathophysiology. Urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria (often E. coli) infiltrating the urethra (the tube guiding pee from your bladder to your outsides) and colonizing in the bladder. This causes painful, frequent, cloudy urination, along with back pain, fever, and feeling like shit. Women are 50% more likely to contract a UTI because of their shorter urethras (the don’t have penises). Peeing after sex is actually a great way to prevent UTIs, as well as making sure sex toys are clean. Another strategy is to prevent the bacteria cells from adhering to the bladder’s epithelial wall. Proanthocyanidins with A-type linkages are shown to inhibit the attachment of E. coli in the bladder. Guess what berry contains a high level of proantocyanidins with A-type interflavan bonds? DING DING DING, its Cranberries! Such good news! Well, sort of. Processing methods such as drying and heating can destroy the integrity of the antibacterial compounds. Also, the benefits of cranberry products would be in preventing UTIs, not in treating them. Once the bacteria have colonized you will most likely need a prescription for antibiotics. The authors have decided that there is not enough evidence to support the use of cranberry products for UTI prevention. This quote from the article sums things up nicely.

“The current body of evidence suggest that cranberry products (either in juice or as capsules/tablets) compared to placebo provides no benefits in most populations groups, and the benefit in some subgroups is likely to be very small.” – Jepson RG and others

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Product. Placement. and. Taste. Buds.

I usually am not a fan of “shit in my cheese,” as in herbs, wine streaks, nuts, etc. But this little gem from Trader Joe’s is a Paramore-esque exception. Momma Pilgram gave me some last time I was home and HELLO. I’ll let food blogger Thien-Kim give you the details:

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Trader Joe’s cranberry coated goat cheese. photo courtesy of Thien-Kim at Cup of Creativi-tea. Click photo for product review link.

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Chevre and white stilton are two cheeses known to pair well with cranberries. What other cranberry complimenting flavors can you experiment with? Glad you asked. Let’s take a look at one of my favorite foodie books, Taste Bud Molecules by Francois Chartier. While there is no chapter for cranberries, they are mentioned within the ginger section. According to Chartier, cranberries can be replaced for ginger in most recipes. Here is his complementary foods chart for ginger:

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Try these ginger-based complementary foods with good ole cranberries.

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The Molecular Recipes website is another great resource, which also uses molecular chemistry to create delicious recipes. Some highlights from their interactive flavor map include herbs (basil, thyme, cilantro), muenster cheese, tons of fruit (blueberries, apples, black currants, grapefruit), caramel, cake, rice, buckwheat, bell peppers, olive oil, chicken, and duck. As you can see, these fuckers are versatile.

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Life. Changing. Recipe.

This year I decided to start a new holiday tradition: The Thanksgiving 2.0. Every year in the end of November I will have friends over for a twist on the traditional turkey dinner. My challenge will be to chose a cuisine/theme/cooking style and adapt the flavors of thanksgiving into this new platform. This year I started out with an easy one- A Fiesta de Thanks. I served up bowls of turkey, black bean, and sweet potato chili with pepper jack-cornbread-tortilla stuffing toppers. I also loaded up quesadillas with homemade mashed potatoes, caramelized peppers onions, and served them with a chipotle infused turkey gravy. For the cranberries I pulsed together a quick cranberry-tomato salsa full of cilantro, lime, and cravability. Check out the crowd favorite “cralsa” recipe below.

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Fresh Cranberry-Tomato Salsa, AKA “Cralsa.” Click photo for recipe link.

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Hugs. for. the. Dream. Team.

Shout out to my buddy “F” for her photo skills this week. These were the first pics NOT taken at my parents house and while that terrifies me, I think it worked out well. Thanks to the Cool Kids of Cool Kids Game Night for being my “cralsa” guinea pigs. So glad everyone enjoyed it. A big gracias to the bloggers who post about cranberries so I can post about cranberries. Your sites are awesome. This crazy writing cycle is what makes the blogosphere go round.

Tune in in two weeks(ish) to get a face full of info on another holiday ingredient… Rosemary!

Bon App Y’all

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Sources de la Info

The All-Mighty Wiki

The time we beat Canada

Tons of cran Q&As

History shmistory

Native American history shmistory

Cool evolutionary info

Fancy journal article that I talked about in the UTI section: Jepson RG, Williams G, Craig JC. Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Oct 17;10

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