Cranberries, have had a lot to overcome on their journey to becoming one of America’s favorite flavors.
From being a bitter berry from the bogs to a popular snack food, a juice drink, and key ingredient in foods ranging from salads to granola. It has had a remarkable transformation from its humble origins. However, like some of today’s entertainment super stars, we really don’t know much about them apart from the fact that we think they are great. So here are five things you might not know about cranberries.
1) Cranberries are natural born Americans
Cranberries are more American than Johnny Appleseed. They are one of three commercial fruits that are native to North America. Unlike the apples and oranges which were originally transplanted from other countries, cranberries, along with blueberries and Concord grapes were here before the settlers. Natives introduced the colonists to the tart but useful berry. Natives used the berry as a dye, as a medication, and as food- notably in pemmican. Pemmican was a combination of dried deer meat, fat and cranberries that provided a high protein, portable and long lasting food that could be carried on trips. An early granola bar?
2) The Cranberry was a wild child
It wasn’t until the early 1800s that cranberry cultivation began. Prior to then, cranberries grew in the wild. They were found in bogs and in the brush. Around 1816, Captain Henry Hall of Massachusetts observed that cranberries in his wild bogs grew better when the wind blew sand onto them. He transplanted some, added sand, fenced them in for protection and soon was producing his own rather than depending on the wild. His technique was copied and the number of producers grew. By the 1820s cranberries were first shipped to Europe for sale.
3) Cranberries were used to fight scurvy
Because of its high vitamin C content and its durability when dried, the cranberry became a useful means for American whalers and mariners to prevent scurvy on long ocean voyages
4) Cranberries were named after a bird
We can thank the Pilgrims for the name. The early settlers in Massachusetts thought that the berry’s small springtime pink blossom looked like the head and bill of a Sandhill crane, hence the name” crane- berry”
5) Cranberries do not grow in water
When you see an advertisement of cranberry growers standing in a field of water as they promote cranberry juice, one could easily get the idea that cranberries grow in water. The impression is reinforced when we hear that they are grown in a cranberry bog. Contrary to this popular notion, cranberries actually grow on vines rooted in impermeable layered beds of sand, peat, gravel and clay known as bogs. Originally, wild cranberries grew in areas with were there was a peat bog that provided the right amount of acidity with clay, and gravel from glacial deposits. Water is now used on the bogs for harvesting the cranberry and for insect control.
From humble beginnings in the wild, to early cultivation 200 years ago, today there are over 47,000 acres of cranberry bogs are in production with 14,000 acres in Massachusetts. Not bad for a little berry that reminded Pilgrims of a bird.
Much of the information in this article comes from the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association www.cranberries.org . The website is well worth the click. If your appetite for cranberries has you salivating, why not check out the Jeweled Cranberry Pudding shown in the image at Mountain Mill Pudding LLC