Cranberries

cranberries

Small, firm and scarlet-coloured, these small berries have a waxy, thickish skin and tart flavour. Look for unblemished berries with smooth, unwrinkled skins.

They grow on a tough little shrub which thrives on moors and bogs. America produces about half the world's supply of berries, although smaller varieties are grown in northern Europe. The best time to buy fresh berries is from late autumn through to January.

If you're buying fresh berries, they'll keep well for about 2 weeks in the fridge. If you've got more than you need, pop any extras into a freezer bag and secure tightly before freezing. When you need to use them, cook the berries from frozen. Dried ones will keep in an airtight box for about three months.

IN THE KITCHEN

Too tart to eat raw, they're cooked over a low heat until the skin bursts before sugar is added. It's best to soften the berries before adding the sugar - this helps prevent the skins from becoming a tad chewy. Try simmering them with grated orange rind, cinnamon sticks, or a little root ginger for extra zing.

Cranberry sauce makes a classic accompaniment to rich meats and roasts, but cooked berries also make a tasteful pie filling and are great in jellies and relishes.

Their bitter-sweet character lends itself to juicing, and blends well with other juices - apple, carrot, orange.

Semi-dried and dried berries add colour, texture and flavour to muffins, biscuits, and fruit mincemeats. Try combining them with white chocolate for an indulgent treat, or sprinkle a few into breakfast muesli.