As fresh cranberries arrive in grocery stores, create dried and sweetened berries in your own kitchen.

By Lisa Waterman Gray
November 18, 2020
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Each fall, Wisconsin cranberry growers flood fields where the tart berries grow. Pulling on tall waders to walk among thousands of floating cranberries was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, several years ago. That's when I learned Wisconsin produces more than 60 percent of the nation's annual cranberry crop.

The next time you want to use these tart berries in your kitchen, consider prepping and preserving them from their fresh state so they'll last much longer. Dehydrating, and lightly sweetening cranberries, is a terrific way to preserve them for up to eight months.

I gave this a try recently. But, because the fresh fruit isn't yet available in our local grocery stores, Wisconsin-based Wetherby Cranberry Co. sent me four one-pound bags. I borrowed a small dehydrator from a local culinary school and prepared my oven to make four different batches. Read on to learn how to dry cranberries step-by-step using either a dehydrator or an oven.

How to Dry Cranberries Step-by-Step

Ingredients:

  • 16 ounces fresh cranberries: Choose the freshest fruit available — typically bright red or yellow-tinged, firm, and wrinkle-free. (As long as the cranberries are not mushy, a little 'give,' in the flesh, is okay.)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup, corn syrup, or sugar to coat the berries: When adding sugar, use traditional granulated style rather than organic granulated sugar, whose granules are too coarse and may clump together on the fruit surface (that's what happened for me). In my kitchen, maple syrup created a glossy 'finish' on the dried cranberries that I especially liked, when compared with the sugar-coated berries.
  • 2 quarts water

Instructions:

  1. Rinse the best berries thoroughly and put them aside in a large bowl.
  2. Measure out 1/4 cup of maple syrup, corn syrup, or sugar to coat the berries.
  3. Put the cranberries aside. Bring 2 quarts of water to a rolling boil and pour this over cranberries. Then listen for a popping sound as the skin splits open on individual berries. After 4 to 5 minutes, or when the popping stops, drain the berries.
  4. Pour your chosen sugar over the berries and stir thoroughly. Sugar draws water from the fruit which enhances dehydration, while adding sweetness.
  5. Now it's time to dehydrate the berries one of two ways:

How to Dehydrate Cranberries Using a Dehydrator

When using the dehydrator, I spread cranberries across two of the racks and heated them at 115 degrees F for about 15 hours, before turning off the machine and leaving the berries inside overnight.

Some of them became slightly chewy, approaching a raisin, but others remained somewhat soft. Be sure to check the suggested temperature for drying fruit with your dehydrator and add time as needed to achieve your desired texture.

How to Dehydrate Cranberries In the Oven

To dehydrate cranberries in the oven, turn it on for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F. Check your oven temperature before proceeding, to assure maximum drying of the fruit.

With cranberries spread out on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet turn off the oven and leave the berries inside, overnight. Check them for texture and leave them in the oven for additional time, as needed. Again, the ultimate goal is for dried cranberries to have a texture that resembles raisins.

How to Store Dried Cranberries

After the dehydrated cranberries cool completely, freezer storage works best. Loosely pack them in dated jars or in plastic bags, and stash them away for future use, in quarter to half cup portions. Then you won't need to make a grocery run before enjoying sweet, tart cranberries.

How to Use Dried Cranberries

Cranberries are a great addition to granola or oatmeal. You can also incorporate them into your own trail mix, alongside sunflower seeds, nuts, and other dried fruits. Blend softer dried cranberries into smoothies, with yogurt and flax seeds.

For fresh sweet-tart flavor, stir dehydrated cranberries into baked goods such as sweet breads, or muffins. You can even substitute them in your favorite cookie recipe. You'll never miss the raisins!

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