Cran Opening Transcript

At The Bathroom Medicine Cabinet

GUEST: AB's Mother

    [AB opens the cupboard] I don't know about you, but I can remember being a kid, sitting at the dinner table, and having my Mom screech ...

MOTHER: [voice over] Eat your vegetables!

    When I asked why, she'd say ...

M: Because they're good for you.

    Right. Then I would parry with the always irritating when heard, rapid repetition, "Why?", and then Mom would say ...

M: Ohh, get, ohh, I'm ...

Hah hah hah hah. Match point, Alton.
    Truth is, Mom didn't have an answer, and I knew it. I mean, sure, she might have been able to play the "Vitamin" card, but she knew I would counter with the classic "Chewable Flintstones" maneuver and she'd be right back where she started, only with a bad case of the rage shakes.
    These days, kids have a tougher time, because research is piling high about the nutritive power of food. Some ingredients, in fact, are so packed with complex chemical goodness that they are now being looked upon as medicines, just like in the old days, before there were big pharmaceutical companies.
    Although the jury is still out on many of the new claims, a few foods have passed through the screen of scrutiny and come out the other side as bona fide super-foods. Which, now that we know what they can actually do in our bodies, we'd be silly not to consume in mass quantities.
    The problem is, many of these foods aren't really everyday fare. Consider, well, the cranberry [reaches for a container of them]. Although consumption of cranberry cocktail and dried cranberries is up, most of us down a dose of fresh berries once, maybe twice a year, usually just after a mouthful of turkey, and right before a football game. And, well, that's a shame, because although I'm not 100% sure that these are the miracle cure-all of the century, I'm 100% sure that they're ...

[Good Eats Theme]

Decas Cranberry Company
Carver, MA – 10:15am

    There is no written reference to tell us whether or not cranberries were actually served during that mythic first Thanksgiving, the three-day feast held between the settlers and the natives in 1621. But we do know that the local natives had been eating cranberries out of hand for centuries and grinding them with dried meat and fat to create the power provision known as "Pemmican", which they consumed during the winter months.
    Now, not only did the acidic berries act as a preservative for the meat, but the vitamin C helped to prevent scurvy. More on that later.
    Now, we can also assume that the English settlers recognized these New World cranberries as a larger version of a similar fruit found all over England, called "Fen Whortle" or "Marsh Whortle."
    Now, over the next 150 years, wild cranberries worked their way into many of the settler's dishes—breads, puddings, and in meat dishes—in which the acidity of the berries helped to cut the fattiness of New World game.
    Now today, cranberries, like these here in Massachusetts, are harvested two ways, okay? "Dry harvested" berries means berries that are just picked right off of this pesky little vine. Now these are packaged and sold, either as ... [drops one] oops ... fresh or frozen. As for the mass majority of the modern cranberry crop, they of course go into either cranberry sauce or cranberry juice. And for that number of cranberries, this vine poses quite a problem.
    [at a cranberry bog] The solution to the harvesting problem is inside the cranberry itself, in the form of a beautiful little air bubble, okay? They float, so all you have to do is flood the bog, the berries float up away from the vines, and you can just kind of come in and scoop them up. See? They float like corks. Of course, this is a kind of slow process. It takes a great deal of labor. But luckily, we have a mechanized solution for that [grunting as he wades through the muddy bog].
    This odd-looking contraption is a "beater", and as it's driven through the bog, it does just that. It beats the cranberries off the vines, while doing minimum harm to the berries themselves. Now after the beater's work is done, the bog is flooded to a depth of, eh, a couple of feet, maybe three. And once the berries have had adequate time to work their way up to the surface, harvesting crews work to herd the crimson beauties with a big floating corral, called a "boom". Then a large hose is placed under the water, and the berries are sucked up, separated from the water, and various sticks, weeds, stones, and occasional frogs, and spit into the back of a truck.
    Once they're delivered to the plant, the truck dumps the berries back into water, which leads them into the processing area. Since wet harvest berries don't keep as long as dry, they're used mostly for canning, juicing, and drying. Since we're going to stick with fresh applications, we'll follow the dry berries, which are dumped from field bins into a giant vibrating sorter that separates out the sticks and stones and vines and pretty much anything that isn't a berry. A conveyor then whisks what's left into the giant, wooden, and very old separator.
    Now let's pause here a moment for a historical interlude. Ever wonder why, in some parts of the world, cranberries are called "bounceberries"?


    Well, according to the legend, it's due to the actions of a 19th century grower, named "Peg Leg" John, because his name was John, and apparently, he lost a leg in the war. He stored his cranberries in the upper loft of his barn. How a one-legged man got up on there in the first place is something of a mystery. Anyway, when it came time to bring them down to market, 'ol P.L.J. didn't want to bother carrying them down the stairs, so he just poured them. Now, being the best berries taught and firm, and containing the aforementioned air bubble, the best berries bounced, whereas malformed, soft, or damaged berries didn't. And so the best of the berries bounced to the bottom of the stairs, while the others fell through the backs or just lay there. Unbeknownst to "Peg Leg" Johnny, he had just invented the cranberry separator, like the 1923 model still in use by the good folks at Decas.

Decas Cranberry Company

    From bog to bag, very little happens to cranberries to alter their natural state. They're not even washed, because that would seriously shorten the life of bagged berries.
    Now, the particular and peculiar structure of Vaccinium macrocarpon grants these little guys considerable shelf life, up to two months in the refrigerator, or six months in the freezer. Just don't wash them first. [eats the berry he is holding] I gotta quit eatin' these things.

In 1810, Henry Hall, a Revolutionary War veteran,
made the first attempt to cultivate the wild cranberry.

Harry's Farmers Market
Marietta, GA – 10:15am

    Now when I was a kid in the '60s, we never saw fresh or even frozen cranberries. We had cranberry cocktail. Called such not because it's got hooch in it, but because it contains only 25 to 30% actual cranberry juice. Any more than that, and most people find it too bitter. And of course, we had cranberry sauce. Now ever since World War II, a majority of the cranberry crop in this country has gone into quivering columns such as the one in this can.
    Now it's a great concept for two reasons. One, cranberries are kind of tough to take on their own, and a sauce approach helps allied flavors come into play. Two, although several fruits possess the mysterious ability to form jellies without the addition of gelatin or pectin, no fruit is better at it than cranberries. And best of all, this power can be easily harvested at home.

The Kitchen

    Our cranberry sauce begins with one pound of fresh cranberries, rinsed thoroughly, and rid of any under ripe or damaged goods. Now, while those drain, we will construct the syrup in which the cranberries must cook. 1 Pound Fresh Cranberries
    Small saucepan, and into that goes one quarter of a cup of freshly-squeezed orange juice, a quarter cup of 100% cranberry juice—this isn't cranberry juice cocktail. That won't do. But don't worry, you can find this in most megamarts and certainly in health food stores. Last, but by no means least, one cup of honey, and I'm using clover honey here, I believe. Now bring this to a boil over medium-high heat, and then reduce to a simmer for five minutes to concentrate the flavors. Now please note that everything that's gone in here so far is either a sugar, or an acid, or both. Why? Patience, grasshopper. ¼ Cup Freshly Squeezed
    Orange Juice
¼ Cup 100% Cranberry Juice
1 Cup Honey

    [later] Now, enter the cranberries. Cook, stirring often, until the berries burst. Remember, there's air inside. And when that air expands, there is going to be a bit of a pop. But don't worry. If your pan is big enough, you won't take a hit. But, you know, be careful anyway. Now in 15 minutes, this mixture will start to thicken up a bit. And you don't want to let it cook more than 15 minutes, because you might damage the pectins inside those berries. And believe me, we need those pectins. What are pectins? Wha ... uh, come here.

Construction Site

    [AB climbs a concrete wall in mid construction, rebar sticks out the top, he begins to try and take one out] Like other connecting tissues, say, gelatin or starch, pectins are long-chain carbohydrates. Their primary function is to help hold fruit cell walls together while the fruit itself ripens. And that way, well, it's a lot like this rebar which prevents this otherwise brittle concrete from crumbling.
    The big difference is that, in most fruit, these pectins dissolve during the final stages of ripening. But in cranberries, these soluble fibers hang around, [finally loosens and removes a piece of rebar] which is a good thing if you like cranberry sauce. Because we can essentially pull these things out, and rearrange them to our liking, with a little help from science, of course.
    [looks at the rebar] I guess I should put that back. [does so but at a bad angle]

The Kitchen

    Now, let's kill the heat. At this point, the pectins are fully active and ready to bind. The problem is, they're a little on the negative side. They don't want to bind with each other, which is why we add an acid, orange juice. That helps to reduce the overall negativity. The problem is then, well, the pectins don't want to bind with each other. They want to bind with water. So we add something even more hygroscopic, or water-loving, which is sugar. The sugar takes over the water, leaving the pectins to bind with each other. That is why you almost always see sugar and an acid like lemon juice in jelly recipes. Without the right amount of each, there's no way for the natural pectins to set. Unless, of course, you're using a low-sugar pectin, calcium molecules, and ... Oh never mind. Let's find a mold.

    [opens a case and frantically searches for a special mold] No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. [holds up an empty 15-ounce can] Hey, people are crazy about a 15-ounce can of cranberry sauce, how do you think they'll feel about a ... [puts two cans together] 30-OUNCE CAN! Hah hah!!


    [puts together two 15-ounce cans using aluminum foil at the seam and then duct taping it, he then folds a layer of aluminum foil around the bottom, The A-Team type music plays in the background]
    Once your übermold is constructed, use a canning funnel to help with the loading. Of course, if you don't have a canning funnel, you could use, well, anything else that's kind of that shape. There. [at the refrigerator] Stash this in the old chill chest for about, well, six hours will set it, but overnight will set it even better. Your patience will be ... Ah, you know.
    Although you may want a narrow glass around to help extrude the goodness, odds are good that if you leave this at room temperature for a few minutes, you'll be able to simply de-can like that [removing the cranberry sauce from the constructed device] Nice gel, huh?
    Now, I'm something of a purist and prefer to keep my cranberry sauce on the simple side. But you can feel free to spice things up at will. You could add nutmeg to the mix, or cloves, ginger. If something tropical suits, you could stir in some finely minced chilies, or some chopped vanilla bean, or, I don't know, cardamom. Heck, if you make your own sauce, the sky is the limit. Just don't tinker around in the engine room. The amount of fruit, water, acid, sweetness, and time, need to remain a constant.

It takes about 4,400 cranberries to produce one gallon of juice.

At The Bathroom Medicine Cabinet

GUEST: AB's Doctor

    Historically, cranberries have been used to cure a host of physical ills. When the Mayflower landed, local Native Americans were using cranberry poultices to cure blood poisoning. The cranberry's wild European cousins have also been used to treat various stomach ailments, particularly diarhh, eee, ah ... You know. It turns out, the soluble fiber, the pectins, are a big help with diarhh, uh .... You know what I mean. In fact, the "pec" from pectin appears in the name of a popular medicine meant to treat diarhh, ... You know.
    Cranberries also contain vitamin C. So ships sailing out of New English ports often carried barrels of them to guard against scurvy. But the most famous cran cure concerns the dread UTI, or urinary tract infection. When I was a kid, I can remember my doctor saying:

DOCOTOR: I'm going to write you a prescription for cranberry juice, and I want you to drink that three times daily. And that little problem of yours should clear right up.
AB: How's that?
   D: Oh, it's complicated.
AB: Try me.
   D: Eh, well, it has to do with hippuric, and, eh, quinic acids, and they just burn up the bacteria.
AB: Uh, Okay.
   P: [hands AB a large lollipop]
AB: [giddy as a child] Thanks!
   P: [pats AB on the head, a bit aggressively]

    WRONG! Now we know that in ... Well ... Oh, come on. Let's get small.

The Urinary Tract

    An impressive pile of research has shown that phytochemicals in cranberries called proanthocyanidins, or PACs for short, can prevent bacterial infections in various parts of the body, especially the mouth, stomach, and urinary tract, where bacteria can adhere to healthy tissue and colonize, making you sick. As you can see, here is one of the nasty little buggers now. Of course, you know, antibiotics seek to kill, but often just make bacteria mad and give them an opportunity to develop resistance. PACs, or "PAC"s, on the other hand, stick to the bonding structures on the bacteria preventing them from sticking to your insides. [bags up a bacteria] If they can't stick, they can't make you sick. Of course, this is a preventative measure. But if you ask me, it is one worth taking.
    [referring to what must be a "kidney stone"] As for this guy, well, you'll just have to hope that this passes on down the line. Gonna hurt, though.

One study found that women who drank cranberry juice every day for 6 months had a far lower risk of UTI than those who did not.

The Kitchen

    [lies down a huge tongue riddled with "sweet" signs] If you could draw a map of the taste buds of the American tongue, this is how it would look, at least when it comes to dessert. [pointing to labeled areas on the tongue] Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet. We don't go for tart; we don't go for sour; we don't go for bitter or salty, just sweet. But that is not going to stop me from enjoying a delightful, and delightfully tart cranberry dessert. I'll make a deal with you. We will decrease the bitterness to an acceptable level, but not by overdosing on sugar. Instead, we will use cold.


    Here we have the very same saucepan we used for our cranberry sauce. Only this time, we will load it up with five and a half ounces of cranberries—that's about a cup and a half—two cups of water, three-quarter cups of sugar, and half a teaspoon of freshly grated lime zest. [thinking again] Actually, we'll hold off on that one for a while. Now, put that to medium-high heat, bring it to a simmer, then reduce the heat and cook until the berries pop. Of course, the pigments in cranberries, anthocyanins, are very effective dyes, so dress accordingly. 5½ Ounces Fresh Cranberries
2 Cups Water
¾ Cup Sugar
½ tsp. Freshly Grated Lime

"Cranberry" comes from kranbeere or "craneberry"
referring to the plant's beaklike stamen.

    Alright, it's been seven minutes. These berries should be soft enough to apply the stick [blender] Hah hah hah! Yes, you could use a bar blender for this, but I think it would over-pulverize the berries. I only want them mostly pulverized. This is hot, so be careful.
    [later] There. Pulverized but still ever so lightly chunky. Perfect. Now we strain. [camera pans to the lime zest, as yet unused, he takes it for the next step]
    Our target, a 9" by 13" baking dish. I have a fine metal strainer. And this may take a couple of minutes [to strain]. I know, you were gonna want to take a spoon or something and push all that mush through there. But you don't want to do that, because we don't want any of that solid stuff. Don't worry, your patience will be rewarded. There we go.
    Last step, the zest. Right in the middle. Stir that in to evenly distribute. There we go.
    This now moves directly to your friendly neighborhood chill chest. And no, I don't mean the one upstairs here. I mean the deep chill down below [the freezer]. You're going to need a nice level spot, so [clears a space], there we go. Just lay it out thusly. Now I know what you were thinking. You thought that I was going to chill this and then churn it into a sorbet. Hah hah hah. No, I've got other plans. Let this freeze rock hard, you hear!

The cranberry is one of the only fruits that becomes less sweet as it ripens.

The Kitchen

    By the 17th century, the Italians and the Chinese were mixing saltpeter and snow together to create slushes so cold that they could freeze just about anything, even mixtures containing a fair amount of sugar.
    Now since ice cream churns were still a couple of centuries away, the resulting ices were rock hard and had to be scraped into grains, or granitas. [scrapes the frozen mixture with a fork and places it in a martini glass] Now, like kosher salt, these large flakes melt slowly on the tongue allowing for the enjoyment of a complex range of flavors. Whatever's left over can simply be covered, refrozen, and scraped another day. [looking at the granita that he has just made] You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'? Hmmm ...

The "Good Drinks" Bar

GUESTS: Doctors #1 to #7

    [tending the bar] Due to its challenging, but not too sweet flavor and crimson hue, cranberries have long been popular with mixologists. Hundreds of classic bar applications call for our hero's presence. But for most of the 20th century, it was only bottled juice, full of sugar, that barkeeps reached for. I'm happy to say that now, the whole berry is making its way back to the bar, due in part to the popularity of drinks such as the Cosmopolitan: an unabashedly girly drink, descendent of the martini, which many say was created in Miami, Florida.
    Of course, I would never personally drink a Cosmopolitan in a million years. Unless you put it in front of me. I can't help it. When it's made right, it's, well, good. And since it's loaded with cranberries, it's just got to be good for you, right? And if you've made the granita, you're already halfway happy. Let's mix!

    Simply scrape up or break off two and a half ounces worth of the granita. Place in a cocktail shaker, along with one ounce of good quality vodka, and half an ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice. Lid up, and shake. Ideally, you keep shaking until you can hear that the granita has completely melted. Now, we serve.

2½ Ounces Cranberry Granita
1 Ounce Vodka
½ Ounce Freshly Squeezed
    Lime Juice


    Now, what makes this version of the drink superior to those built on cranberry cocktail? Well, for one thing, the flavor's superior, thanks to the tart astringency of the actual berry. And of course, although we did strain the granita mixture before we froze it, it still contains a good bit of the pectins out of the berry, which, well, they don't actually thicken the drink, but they do add a satisfying weight on the tongue. And of course, you do serve this with a cranberry, instead of an olive.
    Well, I hope that we've inspired you to take up some slack in your American culinary heritage by getting fresh with the cranberry. If you don't do it for the flavor, or for the many culinary possibilities, then do it, perhaps, for your health.

AB: Which one of you doctors ordered a Cosmo?
DOCTORS: Over here. Here. Right here. Here.

    See you next time on Good Eats.

AB: [serving one of the doctors] Here.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010