Cranberries were first called craneberries by the pilgrims, since this plant has small pink blossoms which appear in spring and resemble the head and bill of a Sandhill crane. Early settlers used the cranberry as a natural preservative when mixed with meat. This dish was called pemmican and was a mixture of crushed cranberries, dried deer meat, and melted fat.
Whalers and sailors would take cranberries on their voyages to stave off scurvy. They were wise to do so, because these berries are loaded with health benefits. Recent scientific research shows that cranberries and cranberry products contain significant amounts of antioxidants and other phytonutrients that may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other disorders such as urinary tract infections.
Cranberry plants are semievergreen vines. They prefer to grow in sandy bogs. These bogs were originally created by glacial deposits and are impermeable beds layered with sand, peat, gravel, and clay.
In the fall, there are two methods for harvesting. One is a dry harvest. A walk behind machine is used to rake the berries off the vines into boxes or bags. These berries will go on to be used in cooking and baking. The second type of harvest is wet. With this method, the field is flooded. Because cranberries have a pocket of air inside the fruit, they will float on the water in the bog. A machine stirs up the berries and dislodges them from their plants. The berries are then corralled to a conveyor belt and loaded onto a truck. 85 percent of all harvest is done by this method.
These berries are used for juices, sauces, or as ingredients in other processed foods. One serving of cranberry is equal to ten ounces of juice cocktail, one and a half cups of frozen or fresh fruit, one-ounce dried berries, or one half a cup of sauce.
Submitted by Amanda Sears, Agent for Horticulture, Madison County Cooperative Extension Service