The cranberry is one of only three fruits that are
native to North America (the other two are the
blueberry and the Concord grape). There are about 140
varieties of cranberry. Native Americans gathered
cranberries for food, medicine, dye and ceremonial
use. A cookbook from 1663 is the earliest written
record of a cranberry recipe with a reference to a
cranberry sauce in the Pilgrims Cookbook. The first
cranberry sauce commercially marketed was made by the Hanson Company in 1912.
Cranberry cultivation did not begin until 1816; before that, cranberries only grew in the wild. Today cranberries are cultivated on over 30,000 acres of land. In the United States cranberries grow in 23 states in the U.S. but the major cranberry producing states are Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Washington and Oregon. Cranberries are also cultivated in Canada.
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Cranberries grow on low, trailing, woody, evergreen vines. The fruit develop on short vertical shoots called uprights. The berries are bright red and range in size from 1–2 centimeters long. The plants themselves can live to over 150 years. Cranberries received their common name from “crane berry” because colonists thought the flower resembled the head, neck, and beak of the crane.
Cranberries are harvested in one of two methods: wet harvest or dry harvest. In wet harvesting, bogs are flooded with at least a foot of water. The berries are loosened from the vine by motorized water reels shaped like giant eggbeaters. The loosened berries float to the surface and are corralled by workers using booms. They are then moved by pump or conveyor belt into waiting trucks. Over 85% of cranberries are harvested this way.
In dry harvesting a machine that looks like a lawn mower with rows of rotating teeth is pushed through the bog. The machine rakes the berries of the vine into boxes or bags. These are transferred into large containers and airlifted by helicopter.
Yearly production of cranberries in the United States is 639 million pounds (there are about 500 cranberries in one pound). The U.S. produces approximately 85% of the world’s cranberry supply. Canada produces 15%. Americans consume about 2 lbs of cranberries and cranberry products each year. Nearly 95% of harvested cranberries are used for making juice and 20% of all cranberries are eaten at Thanksgiving.
Sense the wet environment where your cranberries grew.
Honor the insects that perished in the raising of cranberries.
Reflect on the machinery needed to harvest and transport the cranberries—and the energy sources required to power that machinery.
Taste a food that grows in a peat bog—not many of your foods can make this claim.
Respect the energy of the plant to create the fruit—a 3-month effort!
When You Eat...
The blossom period lasts for three or four weeks. Cranberry vines produce whitish pink blossoms that bloom from May to July. The blossoms consist of four deeply lobed petals that fold back on themselves to expose the eight stamens that surround the pistil.
Bees and wind transfer pollen from flower to flower. Soon after pollination the berry begins to develop, taking 75 to 100 days to mature and turn their dark red color.
The following insects are all killed in the raising of cranberries: Spotted fireworm, Sparganothis fruitworm, Blossom worm, Black-headed fireworm, Cranberry fruitworm, Cranberry weevil, Cranberry tipworm, Blunt-nosed leafhopper, Cranberry girdler, Cranberry whitegrub and Cranberry rootworm.