Cranberries

One of the more popular fruits of autumn is the cranberry, an almost indispensable part of Thanksgiving dinners throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as many European winter festivals. There are many species of cranberry (Vaccinium spp.) a small evergreen shrub or vine found throughout the Northern hemisphere, from the mountainous regions of Tennessee to the eastern Canadian provinces, where it thrives in swampy acidic soils.

Cranberries are members of the Ericaceous family, a grouping that includes blueberry, huckleberry, bilberry and cowberry. The name is derived from the European name “crane-berry,” given to this plant because the flowers resemble the neck and head of a crane.

Cranberry farming in the U.S. first began in the 1820s in Cape Cod. At first, this plant was cultivated by hand, but it became more mechanized over time, and today, most are grown in specially prepared beds that resemble a shallow water impoundment. These beds are irrigated in the summer, then flooded in the fall when harvest time approaches. About 95 percent of cranberries are harvested by the wet method; these berries are used for juice, sauce, baking or any application where a damaged fruit is acceptable.

The remaining raw cranberries that are available at the produce market are harvested by the dry method, which is less mechanized and leaves a more intact berry. The raw berry is too bitter for most tastes, and is sweetened in some fashion before eating.

A highbush cranberry plant

Wikipedia Common photo

Wisconsin is the leading producer of cranberries in the U.S., followed closely by Massachusetts. Most cultivated cranberries are of the vine variety, the white berries harvested after they turn red. Cranberries contain polyphenol antioxidants and are considered a super fruit.

Cranberry consumption has many health benefits, including cardiovascular improvement, immune system support and the prevention of certain cancers. The regular drinking of cranberry juice is purported to fight plaque buildup on teeth, reduce kidney stones and lower mental stress.

Nature Notes for 12/20/2015