Growing Cranberries in Cape Cod

What is not to love about the cranberry? The color is gorgeous. The fruit is tart but becomes deliciously sweet when cooked with sugar or honey. The plant is indigenous to North America and has a rich history of use, both culinary and medicinal, that was fully appreciated by both Native Americans and the early colonists. Harvested in October and November, Thanksgiving is the cranberry’s season to shine.

dsc_0645

My love affair with this berry started as I was growing up in Southeastern Massachusetts, home to the Ocean Spray cooperative. Although there were no cranberry bogs in Padanaram Village where I grew up, we had only to drive twenty miles east, and there we would find acres of fields of cranberries growing along the road we took to get to Cape Cod. My mother often stopped at the old Ocean Spray Cranberry House Restaurant, on the way back from the Cape, to purchase yummy cranberry pastries.

139047dd4f34c79e1

Since cranberries were harvested in the fall, you can imagine how every November, in anticipation of Thanksgiving, our local Sunday newspapers were filled with cranberry recipes; the cut-out yellowed copies of which remain tucked in my collection of cookbooks that once belonged to my mother and grandmother.

The early New England settlers referred to the cranberry as a crane berry because of the resemblance of the fruit’s pink blossom to the head and bill of the Sandhill Crane. This photo shows that resemblance. Thanks to Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh & Muskoka Lakes Winery for permission to include it.

images

Flowers, Berries, and Bogs

Cranberry fields are not very exciting to look at in the summer. It is more the idea of what is to come that is exciting.

img_1629

By late summer, if you get up close, you can spy the red berries among the green vines hugging the ground. Okay, this is beautiful.

img_1664

When the bogs are flooded for harvest — now that is a vision! All the ripe fruit floats to the surface of the water, and suddenly there is a sea of red on the horizon.

If you dissect a cranberry, you will see there are four interior chambers where the seeds are located. These chambers hold pockets of air that allow cranberries to float when fields are flooded for harvesting. The air pocket also causes berries to bounce. Good cranberries bounce and float; rotten ones do neither. I learned that on the first day of Home Ec in seventh grade at Dartmouth Middle School where we learned how to make cranberry jelly and biscuits.

dsc_0071

Some cranberries are white. Know that they are still ripe. I read that if you put white berries in the freezer, or cook them, they will turn red as the red pigment, anthocyanin, is released.

img_1664

Horticulturally, cranberry vines are perennial plants; many have been growing for over one hundred years. Cranberry bogs consist of different types of layers of dirt. The first layer is the naturally occurring clay base. It keeps the ground watertight. Next, is a layer of gravel for drainage, followed by a layer of a spongy, acidic soil known as peat, and finally, a top layer of sand.

The Harvest

Originally, cranberries were picked by hand. As you can imagine, it was laborious. In the 1890s wooden scoops with built-in screens were invented and replaced hand-picking. My friend, Kendra May, has a marvelous collection of these harvest implements.

img_3714

Later, in the 1920s, a “walk behind” mechanical harvester was invented which is still used today for the ten percent of cranberries that are “dry harvested.” These perfect cranberries are the ones that end up in cellophane packages for baking.

In 1960 a wet harvesting machine was invented. This machine crawls over flooded fields and acts like an egg-beater to dislodge berries from their vines allowing them to float to the surface where they can be easily corralled and vacuumed up by farmers. Ninety percent of cranberries are harvested in this way. These are the berries that go into making juices, sweetened dried cranberries, and canned sauces.

About a foot of water is piped into the field for this process. Water is also piped in before a winter freeze to protect vines. As warmer weather arrives, growers drain the winter flood, the vines come out of dormancy, and a new growing season begins.

img_1654

These next photos were taken by Minda Bradley whose family farms cranberries in Kingston, MA. They were sent to me by a friend of hers. Thank you, Minda!

img_5120

img_6101

img_1533img_4213

Interestingly, cranberry plants were traded by early colonists in exchange for goods coming in from Europe. On board ships, the berries were eaten to prevent scurvy because of their high vitamin C content. The plants were eventually transplanted to Europe, but the soil conditions were not the same, resulting in a different acid level and flavor. Lingonberry or English moss berry are examples of the European version of these sour berries.

Ocean Spray Cranberries

Grower-owned Ocean Spray is a cooperative of over 700 farming families across North America who grow over 60% of the world’s cranberries. The cooperative was started in the 1930s in Wareham, MA. It is not uncommon to see one of these signs nestled on the side of the road on Cape Cod indicating the grower is part of the Ocean Spray cooperative. Finding one of these signs is akin to finding an old covered bridge in the countryside. Both are highly nostalgic for me.

img_1657

Perhaps now you will have a better understanding of what this message means when you see it on a bag of Ocean Spray cranberries.

 img_3153

I picked a cranberry vine from a field on the Cape simply so I could continue to admire the vine and the berries after I left the fields in September and headed back home.

img_1710

In 1980, there was a shortage of cranberries, and the Ocean Spray cranberry growers consortium changed the amount of cranberries in a bag from one pound to 12 ounces. This is good to know if you are using old recipes that call for “one bag of cranberries.”  Know, too, that a heaping cup of whole berries weighs 4 ounces. Thus, a 12-ounce bag has about 3½ cups of whole berries.

Recipes from Judy’s Chickens that use cranberries as an ingredient:

DSC_0588Grandma’s Cranberry Sauce

 

 

DSC_0224Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie

dsc_0481Roasted Fall Veggies: Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries

textSorghum Oatmeal Cookies with Ginger and Cranberries

DSC_0421Sorghum, Seeds, Grains, and Cranberries Granola

Special thanks to my New England friends, Donna and Charlie Gibson and Beth Hayes for their help with this story. Thanks to Minda Bradley for the gorgeous harvesting photos.

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries

I can not get enough of sweet, roasted chunks of butternut squash in the fall. I like to keep a whole cooked squash in the fridge to use in salads where the bright orange squash chunks take the place of tomatoes, or for use in warm, hearty grain salads made with onions, peppers, kale, and farro. Recently, I picked up a few butternut squashes and Brussels sprouts at a farmstand and roasted them with olive oil, salt, and garlic pepper.  When they came out of the oven, I sprinkled them with dried cranberries and a drizzle of sorghum syrup. The result was as colorful as it was yummy.
dsc_0481

Prepping butternut squash can be a challenge. The shell is hard to peel, and it feels like you are risking life and limb when you try to cut into one. I make a shudder/squirm movement everytime I make that first cut as I try to shake off the image of me lopping off one of my fingers. Here is a cooking tip, so none of us will ever have to face that scenario, microwave the squash for a few minutes to soften the shell and then peel and slice it. To do this, cut the tips off of each end of the squash, scoop out the seeds with a spoon, pierce the squash up and down its length with a fork, and microwave for three to five minutes depending on whether the squash is cold or at room temperature.
dsc_0689

The Recipe
Yield: makes 8-9 cups

Ingredients:
dsc_0396

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, stem trimmed and quartered
4 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon McCormick’s Garlic Pepper
⅔ cup dried cranberries
2 heaping tablespoons sorghum syrup or honey

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400º

Prep Brussels sprouts: wash, dry, trim the stem, and quarter lengthwise.
dsc_0414

Prep butternut squash. Microwave to soften shell and then peel, slice into discs, and dice into bite-sized pieces.
dsc_0432

Toss butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, olive oil, salt, and garlic pepper in a bowl. Spread into two parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheets.
dsc_0707

Roast for 20 minutes and then rotate pans on oven racks. Cook until done, about 20 minutes more. Remove pans from oven and immediately add about a third of a cup of cranberries and a heaping tablespoon of sorghum (or honey) to each pan. Stir together in a bowl and serve.
dsc_0722

Here it is served with Brooks’s recipe for Pork Tenderloin and Perfect Rice Every Time!

dsc_0494

Favorite Fall Desserts
Marion’s Crazy Good Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips
Mom’s Pumpkin Pie
Mom’s Apple Pie with a Cheddar Streusel Topping
Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie
Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce and Whipped Cream

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe.

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Grandma’s Cranberry Chutney

My mother’s mother, Marion, was one of my heroes. She was beautiful, loving, a fabulous seamstress and knitter, a talented cook, and she called me, Darling. When I spent the night at her house, I awoke to the sound of her in the kitchen fixing breakfast and emptying the dishwasher; sounds that indicated all was well in the world. She would set the breakfast table with pink and white china, and in a matching shallow bowl, there would always be a sectioned grapefruit from my grandparents’ grove. It was one of the many ways she used food to express her love for us.

Holidays were her favorite time of the year to cook. So many of the traditional recipes our family shares come from her recipe stash, especially if cranberries or mangoes are involved. Her recipe for cranberry chutney is my all-time favorite.
DSC_0424

It is not Thanksgiving until I have prepared this layered-with-flavor, cranberry chutney made with cranberries, apples, pecans, celery, oranges, raisins, and ground ginger.
DSC_0567

Back when Grandma made it, a bag of cranberries weighed 16 ounces, not the 12 ounces you get today. A representative at Ocean Spray told me they went to 12 ounces in 1980 when there was a shortage of cranberries. This is good info to know if you are using a pre-1980 recipe that says to “add a bag of cranberries.”

Ingredients:
DSC_0544
1 pound fresh cranberries (4½-5 cups), discard any that are shriveled
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 cup orange juice
1 cup golden seedless raisins
1 cup chopped celery (4½ ounces or 3 stalks)
1 cup chopped apple, peeled (4 ounces or 1 medium)
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange peel
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup chopped pecans

Instructions:
Prep all the ingredients.
DSC_0557

Use a box grater or a Microplane to grate the orange. Be sure to wash the orange well first.
DSC_0008

Combine cranberries, sugar, water and orange juice. Listen for the sound of cranberries popping as they heat up and expand in the water. Stir occasionally to help dissolve the sugar. Once cranberries come to a boil, set a timer for 15 minutes and simmer over low heat.
DSC_0589 DSC_0601

Remove the pot from heat. Stir in remaining ingredients and let sit until thickened.
DSC_0570

I can’t express how much I love the sweet and tart tastes in this recipe. Instead, I will show you all the tasting spoons I used to try the chutney while it was cooling down!
DSC_0095

Chill until ready to serve. This will last one week in the refrigerator.

I wrote a story about how cranberries are grown and harvested, here.
img_6101

Other Thanksgiving Day Side Dishes We Love:
Melissa’s Sweet Potato Casserole
Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries
Amazingly Delicious Sautéed Carrots
Auntie Martha’s Spicy Spinach (aka Spinach Madeleine)

Don’t miss a recipe! Become a subscriber and have every post delivered to your Inbox.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

Remember to always check this website for updated versions of a recipe.  

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin