5 Ways to Use Fresh Cranberries

fresh cranberrries
Fresh cranberries signal the start of the holiday season. But what exactly are you supposed to do with this tiny tart fruit? Laura Kate Bradley/Getty Images

'Tis the season when you find piles of fresh cranberries in the produce section at your local grocery store. They always look so pretty in their bright red hue. And compared to so many other holiday treats, cranberries are actually good for you. They're packed with fiber, antioxidants, and tons of other vitamins and minerals. Just one cup of cranberries contains 24 percent of the recommended daily value of Vitamin C.

But what if you have no clue what to do with them (other than look at them)? No worries. We've got five ideas that are so simple and delicious, you might want to grab a few extra bags now and toss them in your freezer so you'll have them for later when fresh cranberries won't be available.


1. Make Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Of course this one is obvious. But so many people just don't do it. So start by ditching that canned stuff and make your own. It's not that hard; just toss the ingredients in a saucepan and give them a stir now and then. You'll get a much better tasting cranberry sauce to enjoy with your turkey and a lot of compliments at dinner.

There's typically a basic recipe on the back of the bag of cranberries — 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar, a pinch of salt, and a 12-ounce bag of cranberries. You bring the water and sugar to a boil, add the cranberries, lower the heat and slow-boil it for 10 minutes. Simple.


But consider that your starting point. You can doctor that base recipe with other ingredients like cinnamon sticks, strips of orange or lemon zest, slices of fresh peeled ginger, or a few splashes of your favorite spirit (think bourbon or Grand Marnier) and make it all your own. You can even substitute some of the white sugar for brown, or replace some of the water with orange juice.

Whatever your twist on homemade cranberry sauce, let the final concoction sit for at least 15 minutes to cool; the pectin naturally present in the cranberries will thicken the sauce. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.


2. Freeze Cranberry Sorbet

If you can make homemade cranberry sauce, you can also make cranberry sorbet, and it sure is a nice light dessert to enjoy after a huge holiday feast.

For a 12-ounce bag of cranberries, use 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of water, a tiny pinch of salt, and 1/4 cup of corn syrup. Combine the ingredients in a saucepan, bring it to a boil over medium heat, then reduce it and let it simmer for about 15 minutes or until the cranberries pop open.


Cool the mixture slightly, then transfer it to a blender. Blend until smooth. (Note: To blend hot liquids, start with a pulse first to prevent the liquid from splashing out of the jar onto your skin or countertop.) Strain the mixture through a sieve and then chill it for at least 8 hours, until it's about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius). Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions.

You can add strips of orange or lemon zest to the saucepan while the cranberries cook; just be sure to remove them before blending.


3. Enhance Your Apple Pie

Want to jazz up a classic American dessert? You can by adding fresh cranberries to your apple pie. Just toss in about a cup of fresh cranberries to the apple filling of a deep-dish apple pie and bake according to your recipe. Remember, cranberries will add tartness to the flavor of the pie, so your apples should be sweeter varieties — try Ginger Golds or Golden Delicious.

Bonus: You can also use cranberries in place of cherries in a pineapple upside-down cake. A ripe pineapple is super-sweet and contrasts nicely with the tart cranberries.


applie pie with cranberries
Apple pie with cranberries is a nice twist on this traditional holiday favorite.
Monalyn Gracia/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

4. Pour on Some Cranberry Syrup

Give pancakes, waffles, French toast or even cocktails some seasonal flavor with homemade cranberry syrup. Guess what: If you tried the sorbet or homemade cranberry sauce, you've got this, too. It's just a matter of ratios.

Basically, you're making a simple syrup. Put 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar in a saucepan and add 2 1/4 cups fresh cranberries (about 8 ounces). You can make the flavor of your syrup more complex with strips of lemon or orange zest, or a slice or two of ginger. Bring the contents of the saucepan to a boil and boil for 1 to 2 minutes, until your syrup picks up color and the cranberries darken. Don't overdo it — cranberries have a lot of pectin and if you cook your syrup too long, you might get jelly instead.


Remove the saucepan from the heat and strain out the cranberries from syrup. Cool, and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Heat it up as needed for breakfast.

5. Dip Into Cranberry Guacamole

You're probably thinking fruit is the last thing you want in your guac. But it works: Not only does it look colorful and festive, tart fresh cranberries add nice contrast to creamy avocados. Make your guacamole with diced avocados, halved fresh cranberries, diced onion or sliced green onions, very thinly sliced jalapeño or serrano chiles, minced fresh garlic, lime juice and salt. Fold these ingredients together very gently with a silicone spatula to combine and serve immediately. Cover leftovers with this water method or with plastic wrap directly on the surface.


Use Fresh Cranberries FAQ

Can you eat raw cranberries?
You definitely can, but most people can't tolerate the bitter, sour taste of the raw fruit.
Can I freeze cranberries?
Freezing cranberries is as easy as putting them in a sealed bag or container and throwing them in the freezer. They retain both their flavor and texture once defrosted.
Are cranberries good for you?
Cranberries are an excellent source of fiber, antioxidants, vitamin C and tons of other vitamins and minerals.
Can I use dried cranberries in place of fresh ones?
Yes, dried cranberries work well in baked goods and can easily be swapped. However, one cup of fresh is equal to 3/4 cup of dried. Avoid swapping the two in sauces or dishes where the juice is important to the taste and consistency of the recipe.
Should you soak dried cranberries before baking?
If the recipe calls for fresh cranberries, you can rehydrate dried cranberries and use them. Simply add the amount of cranberries the recipe calls for (remember, one cup of fresh equals 3/4 cup of dried) to a bowl and pour boiling water overtop of them. Cover the bowl with a lid or plate to allow them to absorb the liquid for 20 to 30 minutes. Once plump, strain the cranberries through a colander and add them to your recipe!
How do I dry my own cranberries?
You can either use a dehydrator or your oven turned on low. There are a number of steps that need to be done to prep the fruit for drying, which are the same regardless of what method you're using. We suggest searching online for a full tutorial. In an oven set as low as it'll go, cranberries will take about 8 hours to dry. In a dehydrator, cranberries may take up to 14 hours to dry at 135 degrees Fahrenheit. In both cases, you'll know they're done when they're somewhat leathery and pliable.