Cranberries are an autumn treat

One of the more popular fruits of autumn is the cranberry, an almost indispensable part of Thanksgiving dinners throughout the U.S. and Canada and in many European winter festivals. There are many species of cranberry (Vaccinium spp.) found in the Northern Hemisphere in swampy acidic soils.

The cranberry is a small evergreen shrub or vine that is part of the Ericaceous family, a grouping that includes blueberry, huckleberry, bilberry and cowberry. The name cranberry is derived from the European name cranberry, given to this plant because the flowers resemble the neck and head of a crane.

A mechanical raking machine helps gather the fruit that will be sold as fresh cranberries.

Its range extends from the mountainous regions of Tennessee to the eastern Canadian provinces. There are a few wild cranberry patches scattered around Frederick County, mostly in the Lewistown and Thurmont area.

Cranberry farming in the U.S. began in the 1820s in Cape Cod. At first this was done by hand but became more mechanized over time. Today most cultivation is in specially prepared beds that resemble a shallow water impoundment. These beds are irrigated during the summer, then flooded during 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 damaged fruit is acceptable.

The remaining raw cranberries you can purchase at the 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 so it needs to be sweetened in some fashion before eating.

Wisconsin is the leading producer of cranberries in the U.S., followed closely by Massachusetts. Most cultivated cranberries are from the vine. The berries start as a white color and are harvested after they turn red.

Cranberries contain polyphenol antioxidants and are considered a super fruit. Their consumption has many health benefits including cardiovascular, benefits to the immune system, and the prevention of certain cancers. It is believed that the regular drinking of cranberry juice helps fight plaque buildup on teeth, reduces kidney stones, and can help reduce mental stress.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 11/14/2010