Even as you are preparing to stock up during the fall cranberry sales, you can also be planning out how you will use your cheap, delicious, nutritious fall cranberry windfall all year long.
Spotting the savings
Fresh cranberry season begins in the fall annually. Not surprisingly, this is also when prices are lowest and there are lots of deals and sales. Look for savings on all of the following.
- Fresh cranberries
- Frozen cranberries
- Cranberry juice and beverages
- Dried cranberries
- Pre-packaged cranberry products (jams, jellies, sauces)
Discount vs. full price – what to plan for
In 2013, cranberry prices plummeted to a news-making level, sending consumers rushing to stores to snag the low-priced berries by the bagful. At other times of the year, however, fresh cranberries are not just pricey, but are often plain unavailable.
This is because only 10% of any given year's cranberry crop will be sold fresh, so the other 90% will come to us year-round in the form of juices, frozen berries and processed cranberry foods. If you’re planning to stock up on fresh cranberries this year, here’s what you need to know!
Price per 12 oz bag (this is the most common way fresh berries are sold):
- Spring: You will probably have to make do with frozen fresh berries.
- Summer: $3-$4.50 per bag.
- Fall: $1.50-$2 per bag.
- Winter: Expect as low as $0.79-$0.99 per bag. If you are shopping at farms, you may even score as low as $.50 per bag!
Best prices (in order of lowest to highest):
- Cranberry farms & local farmers markets: NE coast, NW coast, Canada border
- Club stores: Costco, Sam's Club, Trader Joe's (lowest prices here will be at higher quantities – 2 lb bags, 3 lb bags, etc.)
- "Big Box" stores: Walmart, Target, etc.
- Grocery stores
5 Ways to make the most of your cranberry savings
You can use these ideas all year long to use up your cheap fall cranberries!
1. Prepare to stockpile
One recurring theme amongst cranberry lovers is this: cranberries freeze well. (Ocean Spray states fresh cranberries frozen unwashed in their original packaging will keep well in the freezer for up to one year!) They will also keep well in the refrigerator for up to two months (this is because they are packed with benzoic acid, one of nature's finest natural preservatives).
- What to do: Take time pre-sales to make space in your freezer for your cranberry haul. For easier storage, you can also pre-separate them out into one-cup or three-cup servings (which is how most recipes will ask for them) or pre-chop them in a food processor and then bag them before freezing.
- How you save: Have fresh cranberries on hand all year round to use (especially great for when prices can reach $6 – $8 / 12 oz package in the off season)!
2. Know how to use what you freeze
The key to stockpiling any perishable is to know exactly how to use it later.
- What to do: When using frozen fresh cranberries in recipes, do not thaw first. Just rinse and use. Thawed, fresh cranberries tend to smush easily and will readily leave red stains on anything they (or you) touch.
- How you save: You will get the most value out of your cranberry stockpile by resisting the urge to thaw.
3. Cranberry mash-ups make for kitchen treats
Did you know cranberries are tasty unsweetened too? Use your stockpile to try out these scrumptious ideas!
- What to do: Cranberries make a fabulous garnish for roasts. They add a dose of the exotic to gourmet ketchup. Spaghetti sauce and meatballs with fresh unsweetened cranberries—you betcha! You can also add cranberries to nearly any recipe for marmalade, salsa, chutney, or compote. And cranberries make a darned tasty jam!
- How you save: When tomato prices are high, add cranberries from your stockpile to supplement. Cranberries also make a tasty berry replacement (they are also just as healthy) when blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries are priced at $4-$5 a pint in the off-season.
Part ketchup, part relish, this serves well for potato or sweet potato french fries, pork, or even an All-American hamburger.
- What you need: 1 Tbsp olive oil, 3 Tbsp distilled water, 12 oz fresh cranberries, 8 oz tomato sauce, ½ diced onion, ½ cup apple cider vinegar, ½ tsp allspice (or spice of choice)
- What to do: Simmer first three ingredients in a saucepan over low heat until onions are clear. Add all other ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes and stir every 5 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then place it in a jar in the fridge to thicken and cool. Use as needed.
Gourmands (a fantastic restaurant in Austin, TX) suggests pairing this sauce with steamed cabbage or meatballs and noodles, or even fresh spaghetti squash for a fun twist.
- What you need: 8 oz tomato sauce (or 2 cups fresh diced tomatoes), 1-2 cups fresh cranberries, 1 cup dried cranberries, ½ cup balsamic vinegar, 1 cup honey (or equivalent sweetener of choice), 2 Tbsp salt, 1 Tbsp pepper, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 cup cranberry juice
- What to do: Combine all ingredients together in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then place in a jar to thicken and cool. Puree if desired for extra smoothness.
4. Cranberry crafting
The bright red color makes fresh cranberries ideal for crafting.
- What to do: One cool craft idea I want to try this year is frozen, fresh cranberry ice cubes. Fill an ice cube tray with spring water, then drop 1-3 fresh, frozen cranberries into each. Add to fresh spring lemonade or summer seltzer when entertaining. Fresh (not yet frozen) cranberries are great for making garlands (a project that keeps young hands busy during the holidays)—and these pretty garlands make great cheap decorations.
- How you save: You can make holiday treats and party decorations for pennies with cranberries—a quick Internet search yields lots of neat ideas!
5. Dry your fresh cranberries and enjoy them all year
Kids and adults alike enjoy the chewy, tangy sweetness of dried cranberries.
- What to do: Take your fresh, frozen cranberries out of the freezer and place them in a colander for a thorough wash. Boil 2 quarts water (for every 12 oz cranberries). Put the cranberries in a bowl and add the boiling water. Let them sit until their skins "pop" off (should only take 5-10 minutes max). Add your sweetener (plain sugar, honey, corn syrup) and mix well. Place the cranberries on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer for two hours. You can use your oven or a dehydrator to dry the berries.
- How you save: Add dried cranberries to granola, cereal, trail mix, cookies, muffins, breads, salads (in place of expensive Craisins!), oatmeal and more. Or just eat them plain as a dried fruit snack (instead of expensive store-bought dried fruit snacks)!