Although available all year round in frozen or dried form, fresh cranberries are in season now. Native to North America, they are the fruit of low-growing, creeping shrubs that grow in acidic bogs. When the fruit turns red in early October, the beds are flooded and a harvester removes the fruit from the vines. The fruits are graded for quality and 95% are used for drinks, sauces and sweetened dried cranberries. The best quality are sold fresh or frozen.
Cranberries, when ripe, are acidic and need a fair amount of sugar to counteract the sharpness. They can be used in muffins, loaf cakes and breads, in tarts and pies, cakes and cheesecakes. They mix very well with orange zest and juice, apples, dark and white chocolate, ginger, cinnamon, almonds, hazelnuts and pecans. They can look spectacular cooked with a little sugar and used as a glaze on a rich decadent chocolate cake. Or, as a different take on a Bakewell tart, a few can be mixed with raspberry jam and spread on the pastry base before topping with frangipane.
Make a cranberry and apple tart or crumble by mixing apples with cranberries, pecans and cinnamon. They can also be added to mincemeat just before using in mince pies for a Christmas twist.
In season: end of October - end of December
By Fiona Burrell, co-author of Leiths Baking Bible, from the world-famous Leiths School of Food and Wine