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Home » FOOD AND WINE in MA » MASSACHUSETTS (all topics) » Cranberries - More than a Thanksgiving Side Dish
Cranberries - More than a Thanksgiving Side Dish

By Michael F. Bisceglia, Jr. | November 24, 2010

Cape Cod was given to New England compliments of the last Ice Age. As an added bonus, Mother Nature threw in the perfect environment in which to grow a most wonderful treat – cranberries.

A Cranberry Bog

You see, to grow those precious little gems, several items are essential: natural peat lands with solid bottom below the bogs; natural drainage; a body of water that barely moves; and a frosty water temperature.   At Harwich, a bog was discovered with such rich red berries, they appeared black. Experts agree, Cape Cod is cranberry growing heaven.

New Englanders had been harvesting wild cranberries for years, but in 1816 Henry Hall began to cultivate the crop by moving wild plants to sandy soil. Then, the industry began to flourish.   By the 1840’s serious techniques in harvesting the “pearl of the bog” were developed.   By the end of the 1860’s, the first commercial bog was in operation.

Fall is traditional harvest time, even for cranberries.   In the past, long lines of people would stand knee deep in bogs.   Using long “combs” attached to a small baskets, they would scoop up the crop.   Today, mechanized “egg beaters” are brought in.   A person stands atop this odd looking water buggy and directs multiple water reels to shake the vines to loosen the berries.   They float to the top of the water, “basketed”, and taken away in trucks.

Today, the cranberry is the largest agricultural crop in Massachusetts.   Of the thousand growers in the country, more than half of them are located in the Bay State.

A Cranberry Harvest

Anyone who has devoured a traditional New England Thanksgiving feast will attest to the fact that cranberries (the red cylindrical glob that slides out of a can) is delicious and the perfect company for a turkey leg.   But, is it beneficial to your health? You bet it is.   Tradition has it that New England sailors used to carry it aboard ships to help them to prevent scurvy.   Scientists today recognize the cranberry is not only vitamin rich, but also doubles as a cancer fighter.

Besides found at annual repasts, the cranberry is finding its way into a number of meals which highlight New England tables.   Atop chicken; flavoring a glazed ham; adding zest to spiced pork, and even sprinkled atop a sausage pizza are just a few.   Sample a glass of cranberry juice at breakfast.   Delicious!

As a treat, they’re good and good for ya.   Pies, cakes, cookies, and truffles are now fair game.   And if you don’t want to go to the trouble of whipping them into some fine concoction, you can always devour a bag or two of the dried variety while watching the movie of your choice.   If you’re down on the Cape, you might drop into almost any breakfast shops. Order up a batch of cranberry pancakes with hot cranberry syrup and a side order of sausage patties.   It’s almost guaranteed, you’ll close your eyes as you savor each mouthful.

Oh, and yes, Virginia, the cranberry is a vegetable.

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