Garden Minute: Cranberry Farming

Cranberries are the most popular fruit of the season. In the first part of this series, Tina visits Lee Brothers Farm and talks about the history of farming cranberries in the region.

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

Though a well-roasted turkey may be the star of Thanksgiving dinner, the ruby-red, glistening side dish of cranberry sauce is always a stand out amongst the other like-hued offerings.

Likewise, the cranberry’s rich color and quirky harvesting make the bitter berry a serving of well-rooted Americana.

Cranberry plants are dwarf evergreen shrubs with vine like woody stems and leathery leaves that can grow up to six-foot long. They are found growing in sandy bogs and marsh lands in Wisconsin, Coastal Massachusetts and Southern New Jersey.

According to kitchenhistory.com, the cranberry was originally called “ibimi” or bitter berry by many eastern Native Americans. The Dutch and German settlers gave it the name of “crane berry” because the flowers look like the bill of a crane. Thus giving us the name we use today, cranberry.

The bright red color and semi-sweet flavor were believed to have many health benefits. Native Americans have many different uses for the berry.

They combined the fruit with deer meat and called it “pemmicanna,” once considered a survival food.

The Cape Cod Pequot and Leni-Lenape Indians in the eastern United States, also used it to make dyes for clothing, rugs and blankets because of its beautiful rich red color. It was also used medicinally.

According to the Natural Resource Educational Foundation/Lighthouse Center, It wasn’t until the early 1800’s when cranberries were planted commercially. In 1816 Henry Hall in Massachusetts was the first to grow the berry for production.

In New Jersey cranberries were first cultivated in 1840 by John Webb. In Ocean County the berries were brought to ship merchants and sailors on whaling ships to be eaten for its Vitamin C to prevent scurvy.

Now there are over 40,000 acres of cranberry bog in the Northern United States and Canada. New Jersey is the Third largest producer of cranberries. Many bogs producing cranberries today are more than 100 years old. Before the 1800’s, bogs were combed by hand, known as dry harvesting.

Since then things have changed and more efficient ways of harvesting the crops, know today as wet harvesting occur. The bog is flooded in October allowing the berries to float to the top.

Next week Garden Minute will visit one of the oldest Cranberry farms in Burlington County, New Jersey, Lee Brother’s Cranberry farm. The farm has been harvesting cranberries for over a hundred years and is part of the Ocean Spray Cooperative. We will talk about their methods of harvesting the cranberries from inside a bog.

A Little Fun Fact:

According to pineypower.com, cranberry grower Elizabeth Lee of New Egypt, New Jersey decided to take cranberries that were less than perfect, bruised or slightly damaged that would normally be tossed in the garbage. She boiled the berries into a jellylike sauce. It is believed that she like the sauce so much she started a business selling her “Bog Sweet Cranberry Sauce” beginning what is known today as Ocean Spray, which still operates in Chatsworth, New Jersey.