Cranberries Herald In The Holidays
Visions of beautiful red cranberries fill my head as we draw closer to the holidays. Cranberries were introduced to the English settlers in Massachusetts in the early 1800’s and the first farmed cranberries were grown in Cape Cod. Over half of the United States crop is grown in Wisconsin. Massachusetts is the second largest producer followed by New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. Canada is also a big player with over 20% of the world’s cranberries grown in the province of British Columbia. Cranberries are also grown in New Brunswick, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Quebec. Eastern Canada’s cooler weather is especially ideal for growing organic cranberries and more than 80% of the organic cranberries are grown in Quebec. The cold weather helps to prevent fungus from forming. The cold weather, just like with citrus, also helps to bring out the full flavor and deep color of the fruit.
Cranberries are grown on vines planted in bogs with a mixture of moist acid peat soil and sand which allows them to thrive in harsh weather conditions. Cranberries turn from green to white to a deep red, telling the grower they are ready to be harvested. The harvest season lasts from about mid-September to mid-November. Cranberries sold for the fresh market are dry harvested and make up less than 5% of the entire cranberry harvest. Mechanical pickers are pushed through the bog like a lawnmower, combing the vines and depositing the cranberries into burlap bags.
The cranberries are taken to a facility to be washed and then sorted through a machine to pick out any soft berries. Good berries will bounce because of their air pockets. The soft berries will not bounce and therefore will not make the cut to be packaged for fresh berries. Some growers use an optical sorter to pick out only the red berries. Lastly the berries move on a conveyor belt where workers pick out any light colored berries that might have slipped through.
The remaining 95% of cranberries are wet harvested and used to make juices, concentrates, sauces, dried fruit and as ingredients in processed foods. The bogs are flooded with water from a reservoir area which can take a few hours up to a few days depending on the size of the bog. Water reels move through the bog and the wheels knock the berries off the vines. The berries will then float to the surface because of the tiny air pockets inside them. The cranberries are then corralled by a person wading through the bog pulling large vinyl booms around the berries. From there the cranberries are then vacuumed out of the bog onto a tractor trailer bed.
Cranberries are incredibly good for you and are not just for enjoying during the holiday season. Eaten fresh, frozen or dried, cranberries are high in vitamin C, fiber and vitamin E and packed with antioxidants. Cranberries are said to help prevent urinary tract infections, improve immune function, decrease blood pressure and help fight cancer. One half of cup of cranberries has only 25 calories!
*Toss a handful of fresh cranberries with pears or apples for a delicious sweet/tart salad
*Muddle fresh cranberries with your favorite vinegar and blend with olive for a tangy salad dressing
*Thanksgiving is the perfect time to make Satsuma cranberry sauce with Satsuma Mandarin juice and chopped up peel from Side Hill Citrus Satsumas from Lincoln, CA
* Dip fresh cranberries in milk chocolate and freeze them for 5 minutes
Earl’s is offering three different pack sizes of organic cranberries this holiday season. Patience cranberries from Quebec are available in 22# bulk cases and 18oz clamshells and the GreenBelle Biodynamic cranberries from Wisconsin are available in 8oz cello bags. Biodynamic agriculture treats the farm, including soil, plants and animals, as a single interrelated and self-sustaining ecosystem. Contact your Earl’s sales representative for more information.