For $50, you could have an experience not many of us have had. You could spend 2 hours helping to harvest cranberries in a bog. How cool would that be?
Could you imagine wading knee deep in water, surrounded by a sea of red cranberries, reenacting a scene from an Ocean Spray commercial? I would do it. Apparently a lot of other folks agreed with me. All the “Be the Grower” experience slots from Mayflower Cranberries farms in Massachusetts were sold out in October. I am going to have to plan early next year.
Cranberries are a mystery fruit to me. Born out of the swamps and bogs of the Northeast, they show up in our refrigerator this time of year in time for Thanksgiving. If I am ever going to stand in a bog of cranberries next year, I need to start the groundwork now for this epic journey.
I have compiled my simple southerner’s guide to the cranberry this morning with 5 startling revelations (at least for me).
1. Cranberries are not grown in water. Who knew?
Low and behold, cranberries are a perennial plant with low running vines in sandy bogs and marshes. It was not until 1960 that the first wet harvesting machine was invented. Basically it shakes the flooded vines which causes the berries to float. Many of these cranberries end up as juice concentrate. The cranberries we see are actually dry harvested.
2. Give me some of that ICE, ICE, Baby.
In early September, the cranberry plant has started to batten down the hatches in preparation for winter. In December the dormant cranberry vines are flooded with water that provides an ice coating on the plants, protecting them from the cold winds.
3. Water is good, but sand is better.
Clean coarse sand is often a critical ingredient in productive cranberry beds every few years. The grower, after the fields are frozen, often places a layer of sand in the field to promote more growth in the spring. This practice of sanding the cranberry beds was discovered by accident in the early 1800s.
4. Why we need to thank old Peg Leg Webb
In the 1850s, a farmer nicknamed Peg Leg Webb would spill his cranberries down some steps to the bottom floor of his barn. He didn’t want to walk downstairs because of his wooden leg.
Guess what he observed? He found the best berries bounced and the bad ones stayed on the stairs. This idea led to the creation of the cranberry separator which is still in use today.
5. Which state produces the most cranberries?
This year there was an estimated 768 million pounds of cranberries harvested in the United States. In twenty years we have approximately doubled our cranberry output.
Currently, Wisconsin produces about 59% of the United States’ total production overtaking Massachusetts in 1995. Massachusetts currently produces another 27%. The remaining U.S. cranberry crop comes mainly from New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington.
If anyone doubts the love of this northern berry by the south, look no further than this casserole, Grits and Cranberries. Hopefully, next year I will share some pictures of my family knee deep in a cranberry bog.