Cranberries are the deep-red, tart fruit of a low, scrubby, woody bog plant. They are a winter berry that has become synonymous with the Christmas table for many. The bulk of the world's cranberries are now cultivated, mainly in certain parts of Canada and North America, but cranberries can still occasionally be found growing wild.
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One of the remarkable properties of fresh cranberries is their ability to keep for months on end in a cool place. This is because they contain large amounts of benzoic acid, which is a natural preservative.
The essential thing to remember when cooking cranberries is that sugar toughens their skins, so it's best to cook them until tender and then add sugar to taste. In the US, cranberries are simmered in sauces, mixed into bread- or meat-based stuffings for turkey, added to muffins and baked in fruit tarts and pies. Their astringent taste also makes them a good addition to naturally sweet puddings: orange or lemon zest bring out the floral notes of the fruit, while vanilla and cinnamon enhance their sweetness.