Cranberries are generally considered too sour to eat raw (although many people do) but are great for side dishes or as part of a main course. They go nicely with other fruits, such as apples and pears, and with nuts and grains.
Cranberries are harvested in the fall from Sept-Nov. Fresh cranberries should be plump, firm and dry and range in color from deep scarlet to light red.
Truly fresh cranberries are quite firm to the touch and will bounce if you drop them. (Cranberry harvesters will actually bounce the berries against boards to sort the high quality from the low quality.)
Both fresh and frozen whole cranberries are usually packaged in plastic bags rather than sold loose. One 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries will yield about 3 cups whole or 2 1/2 cups chopped cranberries.
If you are looking for cranberries out of season then you’ll have to buy them either dried, canned, or frozen.
The best alternative to fresh cranberries is frozen ones, which are sold all year long. The frozen berries can be put into recipes without thawing. Once they are though, they will be soft and should be used right away.
First off be sure to separate and throw out any discolored, pitted, soft, or shriveled berries before refrigerating.
Fresh cranberries will last for up to two months in a tightly sealed plastic bag in the fridge. As with all berries, if one starts getting soft and decaying, the rest will quickly follow.
If they are wet when removed from the fridge that’s fine. If you notice discoloration or the berries feel sticky or tough, however, then they are not good anymore and should be tossed.
Cooked cranberries can last up to 30 days in a covered container in the fridge. Frozen cranberries will keep up to one year.
Thaw frozen berries in the refrigerator about one day before you plan to use them. Rinse cranberries in cold water just before using and pick out any stems or shriveled berries, and pat them dry with a towel.
Chop them while fresh to cook in sauces and fillings. For a smoother texture, simmer them in stock, wine, juice, liqueur or water until they burst.
If you’re going to bake with cranberries, cut them in half (or even smaller) to ensure that the flavor make it’s way into the recipe. For the most bang for your buck when it comes to the flavor, cut each cranberry into four or more pieces. Slicing the cranberries thinly is a good look that works very well in stuffing.