Fall holidays are filled with fun things to do and good things to eat. Many Americans like to eat cranberry sauce as part of their fall feast. What can we learn about this unusual food?
First of all, cranberries have been used for food for a long time. Native people in North America were eating cranberries before the Pilgrims or other settlers from Europe arrived. They mixed dried meat and cranberries to make a high energy food called pemmican. Pemmican could be stored and carried on the trail for a long time without spoiling.
Cranberries have a lot of vitamin C which helps people stay healthy. Researchers have found that drinking cranberry juice can help protect people from some kinds of infections. Adults and older students might want to learn more about cranberries and health from the Cranberry Institute.
Some say that cranberries got their name from the flower that turns into the berry. The flower looks a little like the head of a kind of bird called a crane. So if the flower of a cranberry plant turns into a cranberry, the cranberry must be a fruit. That means it has seeds inside that can germinate (start growing) to make a new cranberry plant. Humans eat a lot of different fruits. Plants are very important food producers for people!
Cranberry plants grow in wet areas called bogs. Bogs are different from other wet areas. The ground under most bogs is shaped a little like a saucer, low in the center and higher at the edges. This means there is no way for water to flow out of a bog. Many kinds of plants find the bog too wet for them to grow very well. Some plants like sphagnum moss and cranberries do grow well in the wet bog. As these plants grow old and die, their stems and leaves stay right there. Slowly, a thick mat of plants builds up and the water becomes acidic. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute has a good page about bogs.
Commercial cranberry bogs are managed to grow lots of cranberries as a crop. The bog owners add sand to the bog. This kills most of the the other bog plants and makes the cranberry plants grow well and have lots of berries. In the fall, the cranberries are harvested. There are different ways to do this. One way is to comb the fruit off the plant with a hand tool or a power machine. A newer way is to flood the bog with extra water. Then a power machine stirs the plants around so the cranberries come off and float on the water surface where they are raked up.
The states of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington are the biggest growers of cranberries in the United States and British Columbia grows the most cranberries in Canada.
How do you get from cranberries to cranberry sauce? Follow a recipe like the one here.
The Ocean Spray website has information about cranberries, bogs, and the cranberry industry.
And, check out the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association too