They grow together with bilberries in our mountains – the tiny, bright red berries of acidic, bitter-sweet flavour. At least that’s what Slovak cranberries taste like. We don’t grow cultivated species as it is so very common in America or Canada. Our cranberries are not associated with Christmas or Thanksgiving dinners. In fact, they are very difficult to get in Slovakia, as they only grow in high altitudes.
When my uncle went bilberry picking last week, he also brought back two buckets of cranberries, and was happy to share one with me. It was a precious gift worth a three-hour climb up to the picking site, and another long walk downhill with all the produce. I paid him in kind with a packet of flavourful plums and a home-made fruit pie.
As it was a mix of ripe and underripe fruits, I thought my cranberries were perfect for a compote. I have tried this recipe I found on a Slovak cooking website, which yielded 3 jars of appetizing cranberry compote.
1 kg fresh cranberries
200 ml water
350 g sugar
Wash the cranberries and let them dry off. Pour the water in a cooking pot and add the sugar. Let dissolve over a low heat.
Throw in the cranberries and the cinnamon stick. Stir well and cook over a low heat for 7 – 10 minutes, or until the fruits have cracked and released juices. At this point the mixture will thicken, so remember to stir it well to prevent scorching. Take away from the heat.
Remove the cinnamon stick and ladle the compote into clean jars. Screw on the lids while the compote is still hot.* Cover the jars with a blanket to ensure slow cooling.
Test the seal by turning the jars upside down. If the lids have sealed well, there is no leakage of the jar contents and you can be sure your compote will keep for over a year. Store it in a cool, dark place. Once opened, refrigerate the jar and use its contents within two weeks. (See the previous post for more useful tips on preserving fruit.)
*Most Slovak recipes I have come across say there’s no need to sterilize cranberries, as they are very acidic and rich in pectin. However, this was the first time I’ve bottled cranberries, and I knew how much hard work had gone into collecting them, so I wanted to make sure they’ll keep in good condition until next harvest time. That’s why I sterilized my cranberry compote in the oven at 85ºC for 10 minutes.
Cranberries are seen as number one natural cure for bladder inflammation in Slovakia. They are also thought to prevent tooth decay. Given the fact they are so hard to obtain in my country, we hold cranberries in great esteem.