It's a fruit that has become synonymous with Thanksgiving dinner -- the cranberry.
Whether it's pureed into a sauce, chopped into a salad, baked in a dessert or used in a drink, the cranberry's rich, tart flavor is easily identifiable.
It's also extremely healthy.
Scientific research shows that cranberries and cranberry products contain significant amounts of antioxidants and other nutrients that may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other illnesses, according to cranberryinstitute.org.
Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (PACs) that can prevent certain bacteria, including E. coli, from adhering to the urinary tract and causing infections, the website noted. The anti-adhesion properties of cranberries may also inhibit the bacteria associated with gum disease and stomach ulcers.
Despite its health benefits, the tart flavor of a cranberry does not sit well with everyone.
"I think a lot of people view cranberries as a dried fruit and that's not so super-appealing to some, and when not properly used, (it) can take away from a dish rather than add to it," said Tara Plumlee, owner of A Silverware Affair. "With the view that most Americans have of cranberries as part of our holiday traditions, it's hard to also view them in the same light as a health benefit.
"Sometimes, people just want to have one idea of food and, when getting mixed signals, it becomes more difficult to decide -- is this a food I really like? Or is this a food I'm eating because I heard it was good for me and my digestive track?"
Terry Humfeld, executive director of the Massachusetts-based Cranberry Institute, said about 1 billion pounds of the fruit are expected to be harvested this season, which runs from late September through the end of the year. But only about 30 million pounds will be sold fresh, he said.
"Most cranberries are harvested and frozen for later processing into juice or dried cranberries," he said "Less than 3 percent of cranberries are actually harvested and sold for fresh consumption."
A Silverware Affair uses dried cranberries in salads because of the fruit's "sweet punch" that some people crave, Plumlee said.
"They also add a pop of color and a different texture that makes eating so exciting, and that is why I personally love them in that application," she said. "They are also wonderful as a raisin replacement in cookies or hors d'oeuvres."
A topping of cranberries reconstituted with a simple syrup of water and dissolved sugar is an easy way to turn regular cheesecake into a festive treat. The topping also can be added to a more traditional cherry topping, Plumlee said.
Michelle Huffman, owner of Events with Taste Catering, said she's a fan of cranberries' "explosive flavor," which helps them "pair well with any main dish or dessert."
"They go hand-in-hand with the holidays. We all have them on our Thanksgiving table."
And you don't even have to eat them if you buy them, she said, because they're also decorative "strung as garland and wrapped around a tree or as a vase filler with amaryllis on top."
Contact Karen Nazor Hill at email@example.com or 423-757-6396. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/karennazorhill. Subscribe to her posts on Facebook at www.facebook.com/karennazorhill.
1 can cranberry sauce
2 oranges, peeled and chopped
2 (3 oz.) pkg. strawberry Jell-O
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup cold water
1 can crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup chopped pecans
Grind orange and blend with cranberry sauce, pineapple, nuts and cold water. Dissolve Jell-O in hot water and add to ingredients. Chill 24 hours before serving.
-- Evelyn Lancaster
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white baking chips
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars until crumbly, about 2 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, salt and baking soda; gradually add to butter mixture and mix well. Stir in cranberries and chips.
Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls 2 in. apart onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool for 1 minute before removing to wire racks.
-- Lynn Chapman
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
11/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
2 tablespoons shortening
1 egg, well beaten
11/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped nuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in orange juice, orange peel, shortening and egg. Mix until well blended. Stir in cranberries and nuts. Spread evenly in loaf pan.
Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely. Wrap and store overnight. Makes 1 loaf (16 slices).
Although it contains ginger, this butter is more sweet than savory and tastes as good on your morning toast as it does on a turkey sandwich. Make sure to stir the mixture often to prevent it from sticking and scorching. Straining the mixture is not essential, but is an easy way to remove skins.
5 pears (about 2 pounds), peeled, quartered, cored and thinly sliced (about 5 cups)
2 cups fresh cranberries, picked through and coarsely chopped
1 cup apple cider
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Mix all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to boil and simmer, stirring often, until pears fall apart and mixture thickens, about 1 hour. Working in batches, process mixture in a food mill or press through a fine sieve to strain out solids. Can be jarred and refrigerated for at least 2 weeks. Makes about 21/4 cups.
-- Michelle Huffman