Move over Ocean Spray! Not all cranberries come from Cape Cod.
I was surprised to learn that Maine has it’s own century long heritage of growing and harvesting the tart fruit. A bog or marsh is a beautiful and special ecosystem, formed by glaciers and layered with gravel, sand and peat, attracting many different flora and fauna that thrive with the wetlands. Growing on trailing vines which can live up to 200 years, the garnet red berries are a favorite with deer.
Cranberries need cold and sunshine to develop their color. It’s tricky when it’s close to harvest because it’s a waiting game of developing the deep color without suffering a deep freeze, which ruins the crop. In a Maine summer such as the one we just had, the Maine cranberry crop suffered a pale outcome due to too much rain and not enough sun! A white cranberry can still taste good, but is less marketable. Hey, could that be a marketing angle?
A bog is typically about 18 inches deep and flooded just prior to harvest. Because the berry is built to float due to four air pockets internally in each tiny berry, they are easy to gather with the help of a special contraption called an “eggbeater” which loosens the berry from the vine and allows it to float to the top of the water. They’re then vacuumed up by way or a hose into trucks.
The American cranberry or Vaccinium Macrocarpon grows wild from Georgia to to the Canadian Maritimes and into parts of the midwest. In fact, Wisconsin produces more berries than any other state in America leading in world production. Massachusetts is second. Fun fact, they are sold by weight in units called “barrels” a throwback to days of yore when that was also the prime shipping method .
In Maine expect to find most bogs Downeast, comprised of 30 growers with 80 % located in Washington County. Evidently the warm days and cool nights are a perfect recipe for a very marketable crop combined with an acid soil. Maine now enjoys a multimillion dollar cranberry business. Each barrel is generally worth just under $100…although prices took a dive this season due to poor growing conditions. The buzz is that the niche market and local chefs desiring a local, sustainable and healthy ingredient may make the difference in survival of the industry. So let’s use some Maine cranberries this winter!
There are many reasons to love cranberries. Not only are they rich in fiber, but they support health in the urinary tract and immune system. They’re also very high in antioxidants. Tough to stomach raw, their sourness comes from a high tannin content so they are usually consumed sweetened.Their many uses extend to cooking, baking, smoothies and drinks, even wine.
Maine cranberries during an optimal year are the envy of growers all over the US for the deep color and the especially fine taste they offer. If you do forage and find cranberries, wash them well before eating. They are perfectly safe and healthful raw but should be taken in moderation as they can upset your stomach.
With the holidays upon us, seek out Maine-made ingredients from Maine farmers and growers. Let’s give these hard-working (cranberry) farmers a boost and be good to our bodies too!
Bight Blessing for a Happy Holiday Season, Laura Cabot