Plump Red Cranberries
Bright round cranberries bring up visions of Fall, baked goods and meals with friends and family. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and is not complete without a side dish of sweet and tart cranberry sauce. Perhaps you have seen the TV commercials where a man is standing waist deep in water floating with cranberries and wondered how cranberries grow.
Cranberries contrary to popular belief are not grown in water but 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 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. Eastern Canada’s cooler weather is especially ideal for growing organic cranberries and more than 80% of the organic cranberries are grown in Quebec.
Fruit d’Or has been growing organic cranberries for over 20 years in Quebec. The Le Moine family had a dream to grow cranberries as a retirement plan. They partnered with another family to form one of the first certified organic cranberry farms in Quebec. Fruit d’Or is now comprised of over 25 families and is the largest supplier of fresh and dried organic cranberries in Canada.
Quebec’s cold weather helps to prevent fungus from forming, which is a big problem in warmer climates such as Southern Massachusetts and Wisconsin. The cold weather, just like with citrus, also helps to bring out the full flavor and deep color of the fruit. Quebec also has very acidic sandy soil that is a natural defense against weeds. Any weeds that do manage to grow are picked by hand. Fruit d’or grows the Stevens variety which grows well in extreme weather conditions and sizes up to a nice large berry.
Once the vines are planted they can continue to produce for about 20 years. Fruit d’Or has some vines that are still producing even after 20 years. In the winter a layer of ice forms over the bogs and protects them. When spring rolls around tractors deposit sand on the ice so that when the ice melts the sand disperses evenly into the bog, creating new roots, thereby bringing nutrients to the fruit. Biodiversity is encouraged by planting wild flowers next to the bogs to create a natural habitat for the bees.
Fruit d’Or harvests cranberries only when a beautiful red color forms over the entire piece of fruit. The top of the fruit turns red first because it is exposed to the sun, while the bottom of the fruit can still be white or green. According to Marie-Michèle Le Moine, the daughter of founder Martin Le Moine, “It is a dance trying to get the right color. We choreograph the harvest so that all the growers have the right color.” They will harvest each bog only when the berries are at their peak color.
Growing cranberries uses an incredible amount of water. Fruit d’Or is committed to sustainability and uses a closed loop irrigation system. The bogs are flooded when they are ready for harvest from mid-September to mid-October with water from a reservoir area that is kept full throughout the year with snow melt. The bogs are separated by levies and drained from one to the other as they are harvested, recycling the water and eventually feeding the water back into the original reservoir. After the field is flooded a slow moving gentle harvester similar to a lawn mower rows back and forth, fluffing up the vines to catch the cranberries. The berries will then float to the surface because they have tiny air pockets inside them. Booms are used to collect the berries so they don’t float away. When harvesting for fresh fruit versus dried fruit, they don’t want the cranberries to be in the water too long. The cranberries are pulled up onto a conveyer belt in the bog and then transferred to little boats. From there the berries are taken to be cleaned and then air dried to take the water off the surface. The berries are then packed and shipped. If the berries are to be dried they can be in the water a little longer. Thinning nets skim cranberries off the top of the water, collecting them into tubs and then pulling by tractor to the processing facility, only a cranberries throw away from the bogs. Watch how cranberries are harvested and cleaned in this video from Fruit d’Or.
Great idea for the holiday!
Fresh cranberries can be found in your grocery store through the holidays. Marie-Michèle Le Moine loves eating her cranberries raw. She compared the acidity to that of a MacIntosh apple. One of her favorite recipes for the holiday season is to dip them in milk chocolate and freeze for 5 minutes. The large size of the Fruit d’Or berries makes this an easy and fun activity.
Cranberries are high in vitamin C, fiber and vitamin E. Cranberries are said to help prevent urinary tract infections, improve immune function and decrease blood pressure. One half of cup of cranberries has only 25 calories! Cranberries are sold fresh for the holidays, frozen, canned, made into juice and dried fruit. They are delicious baked into muffins or breads, added to stuffing and of course made into cranberry sauce. I like to pair my cranberries with Satsuma juice and chopped up peel from Side Hill Citrus Satsumas from Lincoln, CA. Post your favorite cranberry recipe on our Facebook page. Everyone at Earl’s wishes you a very Happy and Bountiful Thanksgiving!