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Everything You Need to Know About Cranberries

While we celebrate pumpkin season with the same zest as most of you, we are equally as excited for cranberry season. As children, we would let the cranberry jello log linger on our plates, while the adults never left a slice behind. For most of us, it wasn’t until we reached adulthood that we found a deep appreciation and taste for that one cranberry dish at holiday parties. Maybe it was because the cranberry dishes matured as we matured, or maybe we just acquired a taste for the little, red berry. Because cranberries need more of a spotlight and we recently added Decas Farms cranberries to our offerings, we decided to dive deeper into the history, production, and benefits of the fruit we fight over at every holiday meal!

Cranberries are native to North America! Long before Europeans began to grow and process cranberries, the berry was a fruit staple among Indigenous nations such as the Algonquin, Chippewa, and Cree. National Geographic writer Sarah Whitman-Salkin writes that Indigenous people had many uses for cranberries. They would eat the berry as a fresh fruit, dried fruit, or use the leaves for tea. The Cree nation also used cranberries to make dye for clothing. The Iroquois and Chippewa found medical uses for the superfood!

Cranberry crops growing on shrubs on eastern North Carolina farms
Image courtesy of Decas Farms

When Europeans arrived, they adapted cranberries to their Old World recipes, which are the recipes that we eat today. It wasn’t until 1816 that cranberries were commercially cultivated and 1912 that cranberry sauce was offered in a can!

How do cranberries grow and how are they harvested?
Cranberries are native to North America. They thrive in the temperate climate zones of the northeastern and central parts of the United States and the southern part of Canada.  The cranberry plant is a low-growing, vining, woody perennial plant (shrub) that produces horizontal runners. The cranberry plant typically grows in a bog, which is a type of wetland. Bog beds tend to have layers of sand, peat, gravel, and clay, which is the perfect environment for cranberry plants.

Burlap sacks of bright red cranberries piled to the top.
Image courtesy of Decas Farms

You’ll often see commercials with farmers wading in what looks like a giant cranberry lake. When harvesting cranberries, farmers will flood the bog with water to make the process more efficient. The water loosens the cranberries from the vines and they float to the top! Farmers also use machines that are often called “eggbeaters” in the water to pick the remaining cranberries. Flooding a cranberry bog during the winter months protects cranberry vines from harsh, winter weather.

Cranberry health benefits
The Iroquois and Chippewa nations used cranberries as a superfood before we labeled it as a superfood, using it to help with digestion, injuries related to childbirth, high fevers, and stomach cramps. They were onto something. In fact, cranberries are a powerhouse of antioxidants that have been linked to: boosting brain health, reducing blood pressure, preventing certain types of cancer, preventing UTIs, nourishing skin, and boosting immunity!

Thousands of bright red cranberries.

Now that you know a little bit about cranberries, we hope that you take full advantage of the tart, red berry during the holiday season.

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