I don’t really like suffering through television commercials when my favorite show is on, but I am always fascinated by those farmers standing waist-deep in a bog while plump little cranberries float around them.
That wet harvesting process is pretty cool to watch, and it makes those beautiful red berries even more unusual and fun to cook with.
Believe it or not, they actually don’t just come in cans suspended in gelatin, and they’re not only available at Thanksgiving. These bright, tart little jewels make a perfect addition to your meal any time of year, and this Cranberry Salad, affectionately called “pink fluff” by my family, is a festive favorite they request almost every holiday.
Cranberries are one of only three cultivated fruits native to the U.S., and about 60% of those are grown in Wisconsin.
They range in color from deep, rich red to dark pink and have tons of vitamins and antioxidants.
Native Americans in Wisconsin, the Algonquins, called these berries atoqua and used their juice as a dye for blankets and rugs and molded their pulp into poultices. They also liked to eat them raw, although, as you might suspect, they eventually decided these airy pink fruits could be eaten a little more frequently if they added sugar to them (maple, in their case).
That’s definitely why you’ll find cranberries either canned in a sweetened sauce or dried like raisins.
You’ve likely eaten that dried version in cranberry chicken salad and lots of cranberry green salads, usually sprinkled on top of fresh romaine or spinach along with some candied nuts and a little soft goat cheese.
There’s also the popular broccoli cranberry salad with the little sweet “red raisins” that help encourage picky eaters to get in their serving of a not-so-popular vegetable.
This isn’t a dried cranberry salad, though. It showcases the plump, juicy berries in their naturally tart state, complemented instead by other sweet ingredients – apples, pineapple, and fluffy marshmallows, floating in a thick but light, creamy, vanilla-infused dressing.
It’s the perfect combo of sweet and tart and a unique and refreshing alternative to many of the cranberry salad recipes for Thanksgiving, especially those with the obligatory flavored gelatin products.
Don’t get me wrong – I definitely use the stuff in lots of recipes and love a good cranberry salad with Jello, but many of those recipes use raspberry or cherry Jello which really masks the cranberry flavor.
There’s also the characteristic congealed texture which a lot of people have a love/hate relationship with. Let’s just say my Cranberry Salad will make you rethink your usual cranberry Jello salad offering.
We start with cranberries, of course, and I like to chop them in my food processor to avoid chasing the little devils across the cutting board with my knife. You can do the apples in the food processor too; just don’t leave it running too long unless you want to have apple sauce to work with.
Along with the rest of the fruit – crisp apples and juicy pineapple, the cranberries will sit overnight in the fridge with a little salt and sugar to pull the juices out of the fruit and thicken them into a light syrup.
The soft, squishy marshmallows, which bring some fun texture to the salad, start to soak up a bit of the red juice from the cranberries too. Bring on the pink!
The next day, you’ll mix up the fluffy stuff to fold over the salad base. I’m basically making a sweetened whipped cream, with a touch of vanilla, but the addition of cream cheese makes it thicker and slightly acidic.
You might be tempted to substitute a whipped topping here, to save some time, but you won’t enjoy this Cranberry Salad with Cool Whip as much. Cool Whip has a much lower fat content, with some sweeteners and thickeners that work great on top of things like my Peanut Butter Pie.
Trust me, though, making this Cranberry Salad with cream cheese and homemade whipped cream is worth the time. The Cranberry Salad dressing is really pretty fabulous, and it’s a go-to dressing for just about any fruit salad . . . or a topping for apple pie . . . or crispy Sunday waffles . . . or just eating with a spoon.
Once you mix the salad with the dressing and toss in some toasted walnuts for extra crunch, my Cranberry Salad is ready for the table.
Normally you’d have to worry about the whipped cream losing some of its poof, but thanks to the cream cheese, which helps stabilize it a bit, the whole thing will last in the fridge for two to three days.
This is an easy Cranberry Salad you can serve anytime you’d think about doing a fruit salad. We have it at Easter with ham, at Thanksgiving with turkey, and at Christmas with whatever the celebration table holds.
My “pink fluff” really is pretty on the table, a soft pink cloud with pieces of ruby-colored cranberries shining through. It’s kind of a show stopper all on its own!
It definitely beats the same ol’ tired cranberry sauce nobody touches at Thanksgiving, and I think you’ll find it makes you appreciate all the wonderful flavors of these little crimson spheres.
Fresh vs. Frozen – My recipe calls for frozen cranberries because I can find them all year long. If the season’s right, though, you can certainly make a fresh Cranberry Salad and substitute the ones you’ll find in the produce section at your super market. It saves the defrosting step too!
Nuts – I usually make this a cranberry walnut salad, but it’s also really good with pecans. If you have the time, definitely toast whichever you use to help the flavor stand out in the fluffy pink cloud.
Apples – Any crisp apple will work in this recipe, though I suppose red- or pink-skinned apples will continue the color theme! If you’re just not feeling the apples, you can also substitute about 1 c. of seedless red grapes, sliced in half. It removes some of the crunchy texture of the salad, but still tastes great!
Can’t get enough of Cranberry?
Cranberry Meatballs – Tender and flavorful meatballs smothered in a delicious cranberry orange sauce!
Cranberry Bliss Cookies -A delicious cookie base, cream cheese frosting, lots of cranberries with white chocolate drizzle!
Cranberry Bliss Bars-Starbucks Copycat –Perfectly glazed sweet bars the whole family will enjoy!
Cranberry White Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies -Lovely combination of sweet and a bit tart all at the same time.
- Yield: Serves 6-8
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
Cranberry Salad Recipe
- Frozen Cranberries, Thawed and Chopped - 3 Cups
- Crushed Pineapple, Drained - 1 (20 Ounce) Can
- Miniature Marshmallows - 2 Cups
- Apple, Chopped - 1
- Sugar - 2/3 Cup
- Salt - 1/8 Teaspoon
- Cream Cheese at Room Temperature - 4 Ounces
- Sugar - 1/4 Cup
- Vanilla - 1 Teaspoon
- Heavy Whipping Cream - 2 Cups
- Walnuts, Chopped - 1 Cup
- Make the Salad: Mix the first 6 ingredient in a mixing bowl; Refrigerate overnight.
- Make the Dressing: In a small mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Set aside.
- In a deep mixing bowl, beat the heavy whipping cream until firm peaks form. Gently fold the cream cheese mixture into the whipped cream until combined.
- Assemble: Fold the whipped cream mixture and walnuts into the chilled cranberry mixture. Serve.