Cranberries – The accent color to an otherwise bland Thanksgiving Holiday palette. When we think about the symbolism of colors and how they affect us, the colors: orange, brown, yellow and red or cranberry, we tend to associate them with the atmosphere of Halloween and the aroma of pumpkin pie emitting from the kitchen at Thanksgiving. Color means different things to different people and cultures. We all have our own favorite colors. People like different colors like they like different foods. Color also represents feelings, people, countries and cultures. I think cranberries (and its color) signifies elegance and formality for the holidays.
Cranberries and cranberry sauce are regarded as an indispensable part of traditional American and Canadian Thanksgiving and Christmas menus, as well as some European winter festivals. The cranberry is a shrub that produces a berry that is larger than the leaves of the plant; it is initially white, but turns a deep red when fully ripe. The color is derived from rich antioxidants and phytochemicals (biologically active chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants). It is an edible fruit with an acidic taste that can overwhelm its sweetness.
Which American state produces the most cranberries? Since 1995, Wisconsin has produced the largest crop of cranberries. Currently, about 57% of the United States’ total production. Massachusetts fell from first to second largest producer in 1995, and currently produces another 23-30%. The remaining U.S. cranberry crop comes mainly from New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington.
The name cranberry derives from “craneberry”, first named by early European settlers in America who felt the expanding flower, stem, calyx, and petals resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane. Another name used in northeastern Canada is mossberry. The traditional English name for Vaccinium oxycoccos, fenberry, originated from plants found growing in fen (marsh) lands. In 17th century New England cranberries were sometimes called “bearberries” as bears were often seen feeding on them.
In North America, Native Americans were the first to use cranberries as food. Native Americans used cranberries in a variety of foods, especially for pemmican, wound medicine and dye. Calling the red berries Sassamanash, natives may have introduced cranberries to starving English settlers in Massachusetts who incorporated the berries into traditional Thanksgiving feasts. American Revolutionary War veteran Henry Hall is credited as first to farm cranberries in the Cape Cod town of Dennis around 1816. In the 1820s cranberries were shipped to Europe.Cranberries became popular for wild harvesting in the Nordic countries and Russia. In Scotland, the berries were originally wild-harvested but with the loss of suitable habitat, the plants have become so scarce that this is no longer done.
In 1550, James White Norwood made reference to Indians using cranberries. In James Rosier’s book “The Land of Virginia” there is an account of Europeans coming ashore and being met with Indians bearing bark cups full of cranberries. In Plymouth, Massachusetts, there is a 1633 account of the husband of Mary Ring auctioning her cranberry-dyed petticoat for 16 shillings. In 1648, preacher John Elliott was quoted in Thomas Shepherd’s book “Clear Sunshine of the Gospel” with an account of the difficulties the Pilgrims were having in using the Indians to harvest cranberries as they preferred to hunt and fish. In 1663, the Pilgrim cookbook appears with a recipe for cranberry sauce. In 1667, New Englanders sent to King Charles 10 barrels of cranberries, 3 barrels of codfish and some Indian corn as a means of appeasement for his anger over their local coining of the Pine Tree shilling. In 1669, Captain Richard Cobb had a banquet in his house (to celebrate both his marriage to Mary Gorham and his election to the Convention of Assistance), serving wild turkey with sauce made from wild cranberries. In the 1672 book “New England Rarities Discovered” author John Josselyn described cranberries, writing:
Sauce for the Pilgrims, cranberry or bearberry, is a small trayling plant that grows in salt marshes that are overgrown with moss. The berries are of a pale yellow color, afterwards red, as big as a cherry, some perfectly round, others oval, all of them hollow with sower (sic) astringent taste; they are ripe in August and September. They are excellent against the Scurvy. They are also good to allay the fervor of hoof diseases. The Indians and English use them mush, boyling (sic) them with sugar for sauce to eat with their meat; and it is a delicate sauce, especially with roasted mutton. Some make tarts with them as with gooseberries.
Are cranberries actually grown in water, like in the commercials? No. Cranberry fields (called “bogs”) are flooded to make them easier to harvest mechanically, since the berries float. Historically, cranberry beds were constructed in wetlands. Today cranberry beds are constructed in upland areas with a shallow water table. A common misconception about cranberry production is that the beds remain flooded throughout the year. During the growing season cranberry beds are not flooded, but are irrigated regularly to maintain soil moisture. Beds are flooded in the autumn to facilitate harvest and again during the winter to protect against low temperatures. In cold climates like Wisconsin, Maine, and eastern Canada, the winter flood typically freezes into ice, while in warmer climates the water remains liquid. When ice forms on the beds, trucks can be driven onto the ice to spread a thin layer of sand that helps to control pests and rejuvenate the vines.
Visiting a cranberry Farm. Many cranberry farms have already been fully harvested this year. But visit the links below to schedule your visit next harvest season.
Owned and operated by Annie Walker, Annie’s Crannies is located in Dennis, MA, in historic Dennis Village on Cape Cod, the birth place of cultivated cranberries in the United States. Cranberries have been a part of her family’s long Cape Cod tradition. The area was originally tended to by the Nobscussett Indians, then by John Hall in 1630, in 1816 Henry Hall accidentally discovered the process of cultivating cranberries. Henry discovered his crop increased after a storm blew native sands over his bog. This event inspired Mr. Hall to experiment with the cultivation of the native fruit. He moved his cows to a bog that was not producing very well, he called it Molly’s Pasture. Dennis remained the cranberry cultivation center until 1850 when other cape towns joined in. The land was handed down to Luther Hall, and then to Charles Hall. In 1911 Ben Walker, Annie’s grandfather, purchased the bogs from Charles Hall. He worked them from 1911 to 1959.
Willows Cranberries of Wareham, MA. Growers of premium quality cranberries and sells specialty cranberry gourmet food products. In the early 1900’s the first family Cranberry Farm was nurtured by this family owned farm in Onset, Massachusetts. Now the fourth generation continues the tradition.
If you are unable to make it to Wisconsin’s various cranberry festivals, don’t worry, you can still enjoy the state’s cranberry harvest while traveling on the Cranberry Highway. The Cranberry Highway, located in central Wisconsin, takes travelers on a driving tour through the heart of cranberry country. On the trip, you can visit different cranberry marshes, gift shops and exhibits. For more information on the Cranberry Highway and cranberry landmarks along the route, click here.
In addition to the Cranberry Highway, you can take part in several cranberry marsh tours near Wisconsin Rapids, Warrens and Manitowish Waters.
- Information on Wisconsin Rapids-area marsh tours is available through the Wisconsin Rapids Area Convention & Visitor’s Bureau at 800-554-4484.
- Manitowish Waters-area growers offer tours through the Chamber of Commerce office every Friday morning at 10:00 a.m. from July 9th through October 8th. For more information, call the Chamber at 715-543-8488, or visit their website at: Manitowish Waters Cranberry Marsh Tours.
- For Eagle River-area marsh tours, call the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce at 715-479-6400
Enjoy your Thanksgiving and take note of all the colors on the table. If you are thinking that the cranberries are not enough color for you… well, maybe one of your relatives or friends might stop by with one of those (lime-green jello desserts.)
For those of you that are interested in recipes that include cranberries,
I have included links below to several websites that offer them. Sorry, no lime-green jello recipes.
- Simple Bites | Cranberry Orange Sauce
- Eating Well | Healthy cranberry recipes
- Atoka | Cranberry recipes
- Cake Dutchess | Upside down cranberry cake
- Stephanie’s Kitchen | Cranberry sauce
- Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Assoc. | Many recipes
Sources: University of Wisconsin, Madison; Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association; Cranberries.org; Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ Association; Atoka Cranberries and Wikipedia.