Unlike many of the foods we eat today, cranberries are native to North America. In Canada, they’re grown primarily in Quebec and British Columbia. Cranberries were utilized in one way or another in the traditional diets of Indigenous Peoples.
Cranberries are closely related to blueberries. Both belong to the Ericaceae family of plants and they have similar nutrients. However, cranberries are unique in some ways, and one of these is how they’re grown.
Contrary to popular belief, cranberries don’t grow in water. A perennial plant, cranberries grow on low-running vines in sandy bogs and marshes. Some of these cranberry bogs are over 100 years old and still producing.
Cranberries generally take about 16 months to fully mature. They are usually planted in the in late spring, summer, or early fall of year 1, winter over in dormant form and then continue to grow during the spring of their second year.
Because cranberries float, some bogs are flooded when the fruit is ready for harvesting. Others are harvested using machines that resemble lawnmowers that “comb” fresh cranberries off the vines.
The colour of cranberries can vary from pale red to scarlet to deep crimson to purple. There are even white cranberries, which are simply cranberries that have been harvested on the early side. The white ones are milder and less “tarty” than the red ones.
I always buy fresh berries and make my own cranberry sauce, but most cranberries are made into jellied cranberry sauce. You know, the wobbly log! Apparently, it’s preferred by consumers. About 75% of all cranberry sauce sales are for the jellied variety! Only 5% of all cranberries harvested are sold fresh.
Cranberry production has increased in Canada from 15,191 acres in 2011 to 18,134 acres in 2016. Our cranberry exports have increased by over 75%, we now sell over 63 million kilograms of cranberries to other countries.
As with so many crops around the world, honeybees are used to pollinate cranberries. And are in fact more valuable in the performance of this task than they are in the production of honey.
And finally, on a fun note John Lennon confirmed in a 1980 interview that he repeated the words “cranberry sauce” at the end of the song Strawberry Fields Forever.
Pic by Alyrat.