by Amanda Halfpenny
Is it weird to admit that dried cranberries are one of my favourite foods? I eat them as a snack either on their own or mixed with nuts; I put them in salads, in cereal, and with sautéed vegetables. In fact, there are probably very few dishes that could not be improved with a little sprinkle of this delicious and colourful dried fruit. Yet, as anyone who shares my love for dried cranberries knows, buying large quantities of this tiny fruit can become very expensive. Even in bulk stores where you think that you should be getting a bargain, the final price at the cash always makes me gulp.
It was to my huge delight this fall when I was driving along a local highway and spotted a pick-up truck on the side of the road with a farmer sitting in the back and a make-shift sign saying “Canneberges à vendre”. Being disappointed by the lack of local produce in the grocery stores in my town, I jumped at the chance to buy food directly from a farmer in the back of a pick-up. I had never purchased fresh cranberries before but before I even asked the price, I was already planning how I would attempt to dry my own cranberries at home. I ended up buying around 8 litres of cranberries for $20.
When I got home I immediately began researching on the internet the various ways that people recommend to dry cranberries at home. I learned that it is not difficult to dry fruit (I was a bit concerned that I would need to buy an expensive fruit dehydrator). The easiest way I discovered, (although it is time and energy consuming) is to
1) Boil the cranberries in water adding sugar/maple syrup/honey using a 1:1:1 ratio (the recipes I saw used sugar but I’ve always used either maple syrup and honey) until the cranberries have popped (around 15 minutes)
2) Drain the cranberries (I keep and reuse the drained cranberry juice)
3) Place a piece of wax paper on a baking sheet layered with a paper towel and then layer another piece of wax paper on top then spread out the cranberries on the wax paper
4) Bake in the oven at a low temperature (150 F) for around 6 -7 hours depending on how juicy you want the final result
5) About half-way through the process flip over the cranberries so that they are dehydrated equally throughout
Keep in mind that fruit, when dehydrated, shrinks considerably so make sure that you start out with a good quantity (at least 4 cups).
The most annoying part of drying your own cranberries is that you need to stay at home while they are in the oven. Never leave your home with the oven on even at a low temperature!
However I think that it is definitely worth it. It is fun knowing that you’ve done it yourself, you can adjust the quantity of sweetness and they are definitely less expensive than buying them in a store. I froze the cranberries that I bought in the fall and have been eating them all winter!
For new recipe ideas for cranberries, I recommend checking out both Cranberries by Elaine Elliot (Formac Press, 2005) and The Cranberry Cookbook (Hamlyn, 1998).
Check out Amanda’s bio on the Contributors page