Cranberries: Native Northwest Berries

I was pleased discover that the cranberry is a native species in Washington. The cranberry is an evergreen shrub of very short stature, or in some species, trailing vines, that thrives in acidic bogs throughout the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere in Europe and North America, favoring areas with distinct winters and autumns. Early European settlers in Massachusetts were introduced by the resident Pequot to an edible berry they called ibimi, or "bitter berry. The cranberry is a member of the Vaccinium Oxycoccos species, a close relative of bilberries, blueberries, huckleberries and the rhododendron, all members of Vaccinium genus. The most common commercially grown cranberry is Vaccinium macrocarpon, a species native to the bogs of North America. The Europeans may not at first have recognized the cranberries as members of the same species they knew from European bogs, since Vaccinium oxycoccos is much smaller than the New World species. Cranberry blossoms are small, are thought to resemble a feeding crane, and are very distinctly pink. The cranberry like so many other fruits is almost entirely dependent on the honeybee for pollination, after which the plants produce white round fruits, which steadily turn dark crimson as they ripen in late September and early October. Cranberries are jam-packed with antioxidants, so much so that they've been marketed as a "superfruit." The fairly recent introduction of "white cranberry" juice is not derived from a new species or mutation; rather, it is juice from not quite ripe cranberries.

Cranberries are still grown commercially in Washington state, particularly around the Graylands area, along Washington's Cranberry Coast. The cranberry is a native species in the area, and it's hardihood and abundance inspired Massachusetts investors to purchase land and cultivate cranberries commercially in Washington state beginning in 1872. Today, most Washington state cranberries are cultivated in commercial bogs in the Willapa Bay area, and sold directly to Massachusetts-based Ocean Spray Cranberries. Cranberries are also a commercial crop in Richmond, Vancouver B.C. Most commercial cranberries are grown in bogs that are flooded at harvest, and then the farmers use mechanical combs which pull the berries loose; they float on the water and can then be scooped up. "Dry" farming requires the berries to be picked, usually by mechanical harvesters, to allow them to be shipped as whole unprocessed berries, mostly for use in North American Thanksgiving celebrations. Even now, Cranberries are still essential at Thanksgiving in the form of cranberry sauce, and an integral part of a Northwest style Thanksgiving, never mind the utility of the cranberry in ornamenting popcorn strands at Christmas.

Comments

Laura Law's picture

Laura Law

Do you know of anyplace, like roadside stands, farmer's markets, etc. where you can obtain the local cranberries fresh?  I'd like to make some stuff with them, but I'd rather not have to wait until Thanksgiving, when the megamart stocks them.

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