No matter where you sit down to your Thanksgiving meal this Thursday, your cranberries may well have been grown in Wisconsin. We produce more cranberries here than any other state. Cranberries were grown here before Wisconsin achieved statehood in 1830. Your cranberries may have come from one of 13 commercial beds that have been producing cranberries more than 100 years.
These tart, little berries are grown today on 18,000 acres supported by 120,000 acres of wetlands, reservoirs and forests in Wisconsin. Modern methods like laser-leveled fields are increasing production to keep up with growing world demand. Since Craisins were introduced, a lot more people find cranberries a possible munchie. Evidently people in Japan and France particularly love U.S. Craisins.
Cranberry beds are often flooded to harvest them. But cranberries do not grow in water. They are a broadleaf evergreen, woody vine that grows about 8 inches tall. The leaves are green in summer and red in winter.
Cranberries were the target of a massive food scare in 1959. Just a few weeks before Thanksgiving that year it was announced that a small number of cranberries had been contaminated with aminotriazole, which caused cancer in lab rats. While almost all cranberries were fine, the contaminated batch got mixed together at processing plants, and the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare advised housewives to avoid cranberries.
Major slam to cranberry industry, and perhaps unwarranted. The government tried to back pedal. The Secretary of Agriculture publicly promised to have cranberries for Thanksgiving. Vice President Richard Nixon ate four helpings of cranberry sauce. Senator John F. Kennedy drank two glasses of cranberry juice.
Today cranberries are considered a healthy choice.
Half a cup of fresh cranberries has about 25 calories. (by the time you make them taste good to you – the calorie count will have gone up a bit.) It also contains 10% of your daily requirement of vitamin C, some dietary fiber, manganese and vitamin K.
Cranberries may help prevent bacterial attachment to the lining of the urinary tract and even the stomach lining.
The same component that gives cranberries their deep red color indicates a high content of the phytonutrient anthocyanin, which may protect our cardiovascular system and our liver.
Keep in mind that cooking or baking is going to destroy most of the nutritive value.
A great no-cook cranberry sauce recipe:
- 2 c. fresh cranberries blended with
- ½ cup pinapple chunks,
- 1 quartered, peeled orange,
- a sweet apple and
- as many walnuts and/or pecans as you like.
- If it’s still not sweet enough, drizzle with maple syrup.
Organic cranberries are probably healthier yet, but they can be hard to find. Organic cranberry farmers get about a tenth of the harvest from an acre as a conventional farmer. I don’t know all the details, but I suspect that like in other areas of agriculture, small, organic operations and family farms are a more sustainable way to make cranberries available. We need to support family farmers if we want food in the future.
Check out this neat video about a cranberry operation that is grown organically and harvested by hand.
Categories: SUSTAINABLE FOOD