The Moore American

November 21, 2012

Cranberries rich in history, healthy nutrients

The Moore American

MOORE — There is a certain brand of juice that has some really hilarious commercials.

Pondering cranberries and how we seasonally devour them, my own curiosities yielded some information I was completely unaware of.

We Oklahomans are far removed from the growing regions for cranberries. So I thought you might enjoy the history lesson as I did.

And with the holidays upon us, cranberries are on the brain.

How many types of berries can you name?

Of all fruits, only three — the blueberry, the Concord grape and the cranberry — can trace their roots to North American soil.

The cranberry has helped to sustain Americans for hundreds of years. Native Americans used cranberries in a variety of foods. The most popular was pemmican — a high protein combination of meat, berries and fat.

Cranberries also were used by Native Americans as medicines to treat arrow wounds and as a dye for rugs and blankets.

Cultivation of the tart berry began around 1810, shortly after Capt. Henry Hall of Dennis, Mass., noticed that the wild cranberries in his bogs grew better when sand blew over them. Hall began transplanting his cranberry vines, fencing them in and spreading sand over them.

Cranberries, or craneberries as the pilgrims called them, can only grow and survive under a very special combination of factors. They require an acid peat soil, an adequate fresh water supply, sand, and a growing season that stretches from April to November.

Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not grow in water. Water is used to flood the plants when it is time to harvest. The hollow berries float to the top and are easily corralled. Cranberries actually grow on vines in impermeable beds where the soil profile consists of sand, peat, gravel, and clay, in that order. These beds, commonly known as ‘bogs,’ were originally made by glacial deposits.

Normally, growers do not have to replant since an undamaged cranberry vine will survive indefinitely. Some vines on Cape Cod are more than 150 years old.

The evergreen cranberry vines love acidic soils, and are primarily grown in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, British Columbia, Quebec, Washington and Oregon.

Recently, cranberries have been cited as being very healthy for you, loaded with vitamin C, and a good source of fiber. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that women who drank cranberry juice were 58 percent less likely to have infection-causing levels of bacteria in their urine than women who didn’t drink the juice.

The cranberry harvest starts in September and continues through November. So the fresh berries are only available for a short amount of time.

However, they can be frozen and also are readily available as juices, dried snacks, and sauce throughout the year.

When selecting fresh berries, they should be brightly colored: fully red or yellowish-red with a smooth and glossy, firm skin. Shriveled, soft, wrinkled berries or those with surface blemishes should be discarded.

Tracey Payton Miller is a horticulture extension educator with Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service in Cleveland County. She can be reached at 405-321-4774.