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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

Auntie Martha’s Spicy Spinach

Recently, I sent each of my sons a text asking them to name three foods they HAD to have on Thanksgiving Day. All three responded with Auntie Martha’s Spicy Spinach. I don’t think a recipe can get a better recommendation than that. Meanwhile, my children, adults that they now are, have spoken; it’s time for me to get this time-honored family recipe up on the blog.

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My sister-in-law, Martha, and her siblings have been enjoying this side dish since they were children. My mother-in-law gave me the recipe when my husband and I married in 1983. I recently learned from Martha and her twin sister, Terry, that the original version was known as Spinach Madeleine, and first appeared in the popular Junior League of Baton Rouge cookbook, River Road Recipes: The Textbook of Louisiana Cooking in 1959. The recipe was created by a woman named Madeline Wright from South Louisiana when she got the idea to squeeze a tube of Kraft’s Jalapeno Cheese into a creamed spinach dish for a luncheon with her bridge friends. It was a hit. She submitted the recipe for the newly conceived River Road Recipes cookbook, and it was an even bigger hit. It has been showing up as an elegant side dish on Southern dining tables ever since.

The main ingredients are spinach and Velveeta cheese. What exactly is Velveeta?  Velveeta is a processed cheese product that when melted is velvety smooth. It was invented in 1923 while a cheese processing plant employees experimented with ways to use up pieces of cheese that broke off of cheese wheels while being trimmed. They mixed the cheese trimmings with whey, a byproduct from cheese-making, and Velveeta was born.

You will not find Velveeta in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. It took me many searches to figure this out. It is in the Dry Cheese section of the grocery store next to the tall, skinny green boxes of grated parmesan cheese.

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Yield: 3½ cups (very easily doubled or tripled)

Ingredients:
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20 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained, save liquor
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup (4 ounces) onion, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
½ cup spinach liquor saved from drained spinach
1 teaspoon celery salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
6 ounces Kraft Velveeta Jalapeno Cheese

Mise en Place:
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Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350º

Defrost spinach in a sieve over a bowl so you can save the liquid that drains out. It should amount to a half a cup. You could use three pounds of fresh spinach, sautéed in butter for the frozen spinach and substitute chicken broth for the spinach liquor.

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Melt butter in a saucepan. Add onions and sauté for 10 minutes over low heat. Stir in flour and cook for 2 more minutes.
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Add milk, the spinach liquor, celery salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Worcestershire Sauce. Stir until blended. Add Velveeta chunks, and mix until melted.
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Add spinach to pot and mix thoroughly. At this point, you could finish cooking by simmering on the stove for 15 minutes, or put it in a casserole and bake it later at 350º for about 30 minutes.
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This recipe is easily made ahead of time and can be doubled or tripled. My mother-in-law always baked it with buttered bread crumbs or crumbled Cheez-Its on top.

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Today, I served the spicy spinach as a hot dip for a meeting and everyone loved it. Most of my guests were surprised to hear it was made with Velveeta!
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P.S. Tomorrow is my two-year blogiversary!!  Please sign up to follow my posts! So grateful to Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner for inspiring me to blog, through their shining example over at Mason Dixon Knitting!

Other Thanksgiving Day Side Dishes We Love
Melissa’s Sweet Potato Casserole
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts and Cranberries
Amazingly Delicious Sautéed Carrots
Grandma’s Cranberry Chutney
Cauliflower Three Ways: Roasted, Blanched and Mashed

Favorite Thanksgiving Desserts
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
Marion’s Crazy Good Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips

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© 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.
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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.
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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:
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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.
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Use a box grater or a Microplane to grate the orange. Be sure to wash the orange well first.
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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.
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Remove the pot from heat. Stir in remaining ingredients and let sit until thickened.
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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!
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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.
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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)

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

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Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie

This is a Thanksgiving Day favorite. It was given to my mother by Mickey Kohn, a fabulous cook and old family friend. Because our family was so large and for the sake of variety, we usually made two different pumpkin pies every Thanksgiving, Mom’s Pumpkin Pie and this pumpkin cheesecake.

DSC_0399In this pumpkin dessert, we add ginger, cloves, salt, cinnamon and vanilla extract for flavoring. As we’ve seen in other recipes where pumpkin purée is the main ingredient, it takes a lot of spice to get pumpkin to taste like the pumpkin we know and love in our favorite desserts.
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Yield: One 9-inch deep dish pie, or one 10-inch regular depth pie

Ingredients:

Pie Filling:
1  9-inch pie crust, uncooked
1  8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1¾ cups pumpkin purée (one 15 ounce can)
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping:
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

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Mise en Place:

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Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 375º

2) Arrange homemade or store-bought pie crust in a pie pan:
Unroll dough. Use a rolling pin to lightly roll the dough. This helps to even it out.

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Remove the top layer of plastic liner from the dough. Gently flip dough over the pie pan. Center dough over the pan and then gently push it into the bottom crevices of the pie pan.

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Remove second plastic liner. Tuck overhanging dough underneath itself.

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Flute dough edges for a pretty and finished look: place the index finger of your writing hand against the inside edge of the dough. Use the thumb and index finger on your other hand to gently press the dough around that index finger. Continue all the way around the circle.

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3) Prepare Pie Filling:
Cream together cream cheese, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, salt for one minute at medium speed.

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Slowly add beaten eggs. Mix well. Blend in pumpkin purée, milk, and vanilla. Mix at a slow speed for one minute.

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Pour filling into the pie shell and bake for 45-50 minutes until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

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After the pie had baked for 35 minutes, I noticed the pie crust was starting to get brown while the center was still not cooked, so I added a pie crust shield over the rim to slow down the browning process. If you don’t have a shield, cut three 4-inch strips of foil and crimp them over the crust’s edges. Leave them there until the pie is finished baking.

Note to self: use a thinner lipped pie crust shield the next time. Pumpkin pie rises like a soufflé as it cooks and this wide shield impeded that expansion. It turned out okay in the end because the marks left from the shield were covered up by the topping.

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4) Prepare Topping:
Spoon one cup of sour cream into a container. Add sugar to sour cream and stir until smooth.

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Scoop the topping onto the cooked pie and spread evenly almost to the crust.

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Bake for 3-5 more minutes until topping is set.

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Let cool on a wire rack. Serve chilled.

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