Guest Author - Lynn Newcomb Gaziano
Ahhh the cranberry bogs of my youth, I remember them well. Many bogs today are not open to the public and it would be considered trespassing if you were to do the kinds of things that we did as children here in Massachusetts. Cranberry bogs are generally huge tracts of marshy, acidic lands that have been cultivated and groomed by their owners. They tend to be owned and operated by families who pass the bogs down from one generation to the next. They always have decently groomed dirt roads all around and throughout the bogs and we used them for dog & goat walking, horseback riding and ice-skating. In the winter the bogs were always left flooded and being shallow bodies of water they froze up fast providing us with many perfect outdoor skating rinks. It was a weekend tradition to build a big bonfire out on the ice of a bog and bring thermoses full of hot cocoa to drink by the fire after hours of ice-skating and story telling.
Cranberries are native to New England and long before the Pilgrims enjoyed them the local Native Americans had already discovered their many uses. The Nauset and Wampanoag Indians here in Massachusetts called cranberries sassamanesh, the Pequots called them ibimi (bitter berry),
Native Americans used a mixture of dried meat, fat and cranberries to make pemmican, a high-energy food that had a long shelf life. They also used the berries as an ingredient in poultices to draw poison from arrow wounds and as a natural dye for clothing, rugs, etc.
It is believed that the name cranberry came from the early German and Dutch settlers who called it "crane berry". It is not known for sure whether this early name was chosen because the flowers of the vined plant resemble the shape of a craneís neck or if it is because cranes had been seen eating the berries, but whichever version is correct, the name has stuck.
The first commercial cranberry beds were planted in Dennis Massachusetts in 1816 but recipes using the berry date back to the 1700s. Today, Massachusetts alone has 14,000 acres of cranberry bogs. Ocean Spray Cranberries of Lakeville Massachusetts is the most well known distributor of cranberry products. They buy their berries from 600 independent cranberry growers. Seven out of ten cranberries sold in the world today come from Ocean Spray.
You will often see stacks of wooden boxes near cranberry bogs. These house the bees that are required to pollinate the flowers in order to turn them into berries. Itís a big job because a single acre of cranberry plants is approximately a ton of vines, which will produce about 20 million blooms. Since a single bog can easily cover 10 acres of land, thatís a lot of very busy bees! Many farms hire beekeepers to bring in bees to pollinate their bogs during the flowering season, which starts in the middle of June and runs until the middle of July. The minimum number of bees required for pollination is usually one hive of 40,000 to 50,000 bees per acre.
The majority of cranberries are harvested between September and early November. The most common way to pick the berries is by a water harvest. The bogs are flooded and the berries are taken off the vine using a specialized beater harvester. The floating fruit is then corralled by ropes and loaded onto trucks. Wet harvested fruit is used for products such as juice and sauce. For Dry harvested fruit a different mechanical picker is used that has moving metal teeth that comb the berries off of the vine and deposit them into a bag at the back of the machine. Dry harvested berries are typically what you find in the market and make up only 5% of all of the cranberries harvested.
Americans consume 500 million pounds of cranberries each year. While many people only think about cranberries during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, they are great to cook with all year round. If it's too hot to bake where you live then make relish out of them!
The berries will last up to nine months in the freezer. Frozen cranberries can be used in recipes without thawing, as it is easier to chop or grind them while frozen.