Thursday, November 17, 2011


For those who are new here, I'm really into food history. I wind up doing quite a few posts about food, and since I'm stalled on blog topics, I thought I'd cover some Thanksgiving foods. I've already done Brussels sprouts, corn, and the spice rack.

I almost didn't do this, because I thought "oh, cranberries are pretty boring". But then I remembered that not everyone has spent the last couple decades reading food books and taking classes, so... I hope you find it interesting.

There are four different species of cranberry, including Vaccinium oxycoccus, the Northern Cranberry from Eurasia, and V. macrocarpon, the cranberry everyone eats. It's native to the New England area of North America and grows up into eastern Canada and down as far south as the Carolinas, in high-altitude areas that are kind of chilly.

There are two ways to harvest cranberries. The Bog/Wet Pick method is the one we're familiar with, if you're one who pays attention to such things. (Cranberries grow in dry, chilly areas; they don't actually grow in water. The water is part of the harvest method.)
Fields are created with sandy beds and dikes around them. When the fruit is ripe, the area is flooded with water. Cranberries have little air pockets in them (sort of like tomatoes, but open, rather than full of seeds and goo), so they float. The bushes are swished around with giant rakes, and then the berries are sucked up in a giant wet vac. Due to the moisture, they don't keep for crap, so they're immediately juiced, jellied, or frozen.

Dry Pick is just about what it sounds like; people pick the damn things by hand, which would have to suck because they grow low to the ground. These berries keep much better, and account for the less than 5% of the worldwide cranberry harvest that's actually sold fresh. I imagine it's sold mostly in New England, because no one else would know what to do with them.
Nutritionally, chemically, cranberries are pretty awesome. Lots of vitamin C and fiber, trace minerals, and 'phyto chemicals'. Phyto chemicals are assorted plant chemicals that aid the body in some way. A hundred years ago it'd be called a tonic instead.

Cranberries contain goodies that aid circulation; it thins the blood a tad, and sort of de-grease your digestive tract. It's got tannins that fight tooth decay. And, its most well-known property, it does fight or inhibit urinary tract infections.

There's just one drawback. (Isn't there always?) Raw cranberry is so sour and bitter, it'll turn your head inside out. So lots of sugar needs to be added, or the juice needs to be blended with other, sweeter things.

The fiber in cranberries is the soluble type, and one of them is pectin. Pectin is the thing that makes fruits turn into jelly. The cranberry jelly at Thanksgiving? It does that all by itself.

Historically, there's not much. Native Americans put it in their pemmican, for flavor and nutrients, I imagine. Plus the pectin/goo factor. First recipe for cranberry sauce, 1663, from the pilgrims.

I'll do what I can to find some more interesting Thanksgiving foods for the next week.


Oh, and found while poking around for cranberry information: Traditional Dyes of the Scottish Highlands. Enjoy.


Anonymous said...

my friend picked cranberries from their town's bog and honored me with a bag. I can tell her more about them now!

I was watching The Simpsons, and I SWEAR your name showed up in the credits. You have arrived, my friend.

Does the Goob like cranberries?

Trish J.

Cassandra said...

Strangely, it is very easy to find fresh cranberries in The Netherlands, although it definitely isn't a traditional fruit here. They grow on the Friesian islands of Terschelling and Vlieland, as detailed in this website:
It also says that dry-picking is allowed on Vlieland and tourists and locals are free to pick.

Roxie said...

We grow cranberries out here on the left coast as well. Most of the Long Beach Penninsula in Washington is cranberry bogs. It's that, oysters, or tourists for income.

Anonymous said...

Bandon, Oregon is known for its cranberries ( and we get lots of fresh cranberries out here in the wild west. Cranberry-orange quick bread beats even the best banana bread all to heck.

Emily said...

I love cranberries; I have a recipe for cranberry/blueberry pie, which I make without a crust...who needs a crust???

But I knew nothing much about them until now. I really count on you to educate me about stuff, Julie.

Barbara said...

Lots of cranberries grow in western Wisconsin. I love them in bread and sauce. Mama used to let me help stir when she made the cooked kind so I could hear them pop. Thanks for the memories.

Louiz said...

One year they had cranberries at Kew Gardens. Not sure why, but the lake was full of them! Very interesting, thank you.

Alwen said...

I'm in another cranberry-growing area, and they sell them bagged and fresh in all the grocery stores.

I purely LOVE my fresh orange-and-cranberry relish. I can eat a whole batch all by myself.

And yeah, speaking of "They're watching us"? Verification is pecta!