Seems fitting to give a nod to cranberries in this week’s column, given the time of year. Whether strung with popcorn on Christmas trees, or as dishes at Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, cranberries are a seasonal favorite. Once eaten only a couple times a year, they now can be found in the grocery aisles, canned or dried, just about any time of the year.
As with so many other fruits and vegetables, we are discovering that cranberries are a fiber-rich food that contains those antioxidants that help us all. Cranberries also have a good amount of vitamin C and are a low-calorie food (as long as you do not use the recipe that requires lots of white sugar!). If you are reading labels, you will see they are low in sodium, saturated fats and cholesterol.
We sit here in the Fox Valley just over the border from the nation’s leader in cranberry production, Wisconsin. More than 50 percent of the cranberries we eat each year are grown in Wisconsin. The other states that produce cranberries for us include Oregon, New Jersey, Washington and Massachusetts, and in several areas of Canada and Chile.
It takes about four years before the plants begin to produce cranberries, and they are a long-season crop, producing a berry in about 75 to 100 days, depending on the variety. They like an acidic soil that is either sandy or organic and are grown in areas where the fields can be flooded. The flooding serves two purposes. One, like you see on the TV commercials, is for harvesting the berries; the other is for winter and frost protection. Cranberries are harvested anywhere between September and November.
The cranberry is a native to the United States. They were originally stored and shipped in wooden barrels weighing 100 pounds each. They aren’t shipped in barrels anymore, but the 100-pound “barrel” standard is still used today. The Wisconsin Cranberry Growers website (www.wiscran.org) has many more interesting factoids about the modern cranberry. For instance, the first cranberries were likely served back in the early 1860s and only five percent of the crop is sold as fresh berries.
If you’re looking for a new holiday recipe with cranberries, check out the Illinois Extension Eat. Move. Save. website. If during the holiday meal, you want something neutral to discuss, ask who can list all the foods today that contain cranberries? There are dried cranberries, muffins with cranberries, salads, fruit drinks, and many more. More than 1,000 food and beverage products today contain cranberries. Just some food for thought!
About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.