October just left us with blistery cold snowy reminder that the growing season is over. Now we can turn our focus to our families, friends, and neighbors to celebrate the holidays together. When I think of November two things come to my mind - turkeys and cranberries. Americans consume nearly 400 million pounds of cranberries every year. The top five cranberry producing states are Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington.
While Illinois is not known for cranberries, American cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, is native to North America including Illinois. Also known as the “crane berry” as European settlers thought the flowers had resemblance to the sandhill crane. Cranberries have a history of being used for medicine, decorations, aromatherapy, and most notably for food.
Cranberries are a tart berry packed with nutrients like vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants. When consumed they are often sweetened with sugar, honey, or sweet fruits such as oranges, pineapple or apples, to tone down the sour factor. For long-term storage of cranberries they can be preserved by canning, freezing or drying. For more information on preserving cranberries, see Illinois Extension’s Live Well. Eat Well. blog and the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Grown in sandy swamps and bogs, cranberries prefer acidic soils (pH 4.0-5.5) like their cousins the blueberry. The swamps and bogs are well drained and high in organic matter for these perennial crops. Cranberry plants can produce over 60 years. The bogs are flooded only twice during the growing season, once during harvest for the ripe cranberries to float to the surface. The second time is to overwinter the already growing cranberries for the next season. Cranberries take 16 months to grow and produce a fruit. This means that during harvest, there are two seasons worth of cranberries on the vine at one time. Cranberry flowers are pollinated by bees to produce the berries.
With so many cranberry products available throughout the year, I encourage you to buy the fresh to taste the fruit to experience it’s tart flavor. Whether you use fresh or processed cranberries this holiday season, give thanks to the cranberry farmers and growers. Happy Fall, all!
About the author: Bruce J. Black is the University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator serving Carroll, Lee, and Whiteside, & Boone, DeKalb, and Ogle counties. Black’s primary areas of expertise are in fruit and vegetable production, plant propagation, and community and youth garden education.