Sunday, February 2, 2014

Long Live Cranberries!

I love cranberries.  It is not clear what, precisely, has captured my love of these little red, tart berries... but I am pretty much a big fan.  I even like the music group by the same name, from Limerick.  I have affection for cranberry orange muffins, cranberry banana bread, cranberry cherry juice, cranberries for Thanksgiving, cranberry herbal tea... so it occurred to me that if I love them so well, maybe I should actually have some on hand, yes?

I tried two different methods, only one of which has photographs.  (Sorry, I forgot!)  I bought a bag of cranberries, since they were in season, at a local store.  These were washed and then put in a food dehydrator.  This can be done in an oven, as well, but as my sister-in-law actually owns a dehydrator we opted for that plan.  After we had already had them going for a while, we discovered that we actually needed to cut them or pierce them.  Some said we could have blanched them in hot water before we began, but we were beyond that already and decided to stick with the cutting part.  We did this and then returned them to the dehydrator.  Later we ended up with little pruned up cranberries, our very own craisins.  Note that you will get far less volume of cranberries than when you started.  Seriously, I thought the cranberry elves had come in and stolen some.  But it makes sense that as they dehydrate, they shrink.  An entire bag of fresh cranberries does not even fill up a sandwich size zip-top bag.

The end result was a bit tart.  We didn't use any sugar or anything in the drying process.  This is fine if you plan to use the cranberries in something that adds sweetness.  This is less awesome when you are adding the craisins to a salad, as they are undeniably tart, unless you go for that sort of thing.

The next attempt was freeze drying cranberries.  I googled freeze-drying, so I knew it would be important to have less stuff in my freezer as well as not constantly opening my freezer while the freeze-drying was taking place.  I don't have an awesome deep freezer, ladies and gentlemen, I've just got a standard freezer in my refrigerator unit.  I hoped that the week that I would be travelling for work would be ideal for freeze drying, so I bought a couple of packages of cranberries.  These were washed and left in the colander to dry.  Look at them, aren't they beautiful?

Then they were cut up thinly, as suggested by other bloggers.  Thin, here, is a subjective term.  I think I maybe got 4 or 5 slices on a single standard-sized cranberry.  Sometimes only 3.  After a while, you get to the point where you are a bit less particular about how thinly they are because you see all the cranberries that are left and you think you'll never be done.  Or at least you feel that way if you think like I thought as I was thinly slicing my darling berries.  This is how they looked.

Then, I spread my cranberry slices on pizza tins.  I felt that mine, having those little holes all over the surface, would probably help with the freeze-drying process.  I may be mistaken.  But it seemed like a good idea at the time.  An unexpected development with this choice was that as the cranberries froze and dropped their seeds, these fell through the holes and collected on the bottom of my freezer.  Someone had suggested taking out a few berries and leaving them on the table to test the done-ness of the process.  If they turned into a putrid moldy mess, the answer was they needed to stay longer.  I did this test, and although I didn't have a mass of cranberry goo on my counter, I didn't think they were done.  I left them in about a half a week longer.  This is the appearance of my cold little berry friends.

I am not entirely convinced that they were freeze-dried to perfection after that, but I needed my freezer space.  I put the cranberries in a zip-top bag and left these on my counter to be stored with the dehydrated ones and noted moisture collecting on the inside of the bag.  I think this means I failed.  Not willing to entirely lose the battle, I just closed the bag and threw them back in the freezer.  I am not opposed to trying again, but I think that this would be more effective with a deep freezer.  Or with a freezer that blows air like some ovens do, keeping the coldness rotating.

I am also up to other options of preserving cranberries.  Cranberry jam, cranberry syrup, cranberry fruit filling for mini pies... anyone have any suggestions?  Anything you've tried that has worked, or hasn't?  What are your favorite fruits to preserve?


  1. I love making jam. I love cranberry bread! Freeze drying is really hard if you don't have a proper deep freeze. I like to dehydrate different fruits and put them in oatmeal while its cooking or make my own trail mix. My favorite is dehydrated apple slices with cinnamon sprinkled on it! If you are going to do a lot of slicing, buy a mandolin slicer, about $10-15 and makes thin slices easy!

  2. I didn't even think of a mandolin slicer! That's a great idea for stuff you plan to dehydrate, and probably ends up with far more uniform slices. Have you tried peaches in your oatmeal? I've only tried a raisins and craisins in my trail mix, what others have you used?

  3. What a great adventure with cranberries! I have never preserved anything in my life...I never seem to have the time, I think. But I have made cranberry jelly sauce from scratch one Christmas and this Christmas I made cranberry muffins. Both were really great.

  4. Watch your little fingers using a mandolin! I don't use fresh cranberries all that much. I like dried and use them in muffins and on salads. Sorry I am not that much help.

  5. @CJ I think you would enjoy preserving fruit sometime. I'm impressed with you making your own cranberry sauce Wanna share the recipe? You can email it if you'd like. @KarenK I have never used a mandolin because they freak me out more than a sewing machine does, so thanks for the tip. I tried my dried cranberries in a banana craisin bread. I think it went well! Do you have a specific cranberry muffin recipe, or is it just a basic one with craisins thrown in with it?