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.

I’ve been eating cranberries for years, and I just found out how they grow.

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.




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9 replies

  1. Thanks for that link, Joanna. I wonder if saute is as harmful as deep fat frying. I like to toss some onions in a pan with a little canola oil and then add whatever else is on hand.

    Probably the main reason I do a raw cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving is that almost everything else in the meal is cooked, and it adds a little variety. We often have cooked cranberries on pumpkin pancakes.

    I like to get 20 pounds of frozen cranberries from one of the northern growers who comes to the farmers’ market.

    Thanks again. I always learn something when you comment.

  2. Not sure what sauteing does but the literature suggests that searing food is not too healthy, so slowly cooked is okay and since you are vegetarian, from what I remember, then the extra oil is probably necessary for you anyway. I think people forget that fat in one form or another is still necessary for the body, just not in the quantities regularly consumed

    • Yes, I feel the amount of vegetable oils I eat are good. I use canola because it can stand the heat for cooking. The rest of the time I use olive oil. Sadly, there is no local olive oil. We do have locally grown sunflower oil.
      I always used to love butter, but now we have replaced it with almond butter with preserves, olive oil for bread and non-fat yogurt for pancakes.

  3. I love cranberries and am somewhat annoyed that the only time they are available around here is now, before Thanksgiving and Christmas. Then they disappear off the grocery shelves. So I stock up, freeze the cranberries and have them available for cooking later.

  4. I agree with you, Monique. Cranberries are good all year long. In fact, the 1959 cranberry scare that crashed an entire year’s sales caused Ocean Spray to start trying to find ways to market cranberries all year long as juices and Craisins.
    Craisins are of questionable health value I suspect. they cut them open, remove the juice, add sweetner and partially rehydrate them. That doesn’t really sound like a way to preserve nutrients to me.

    But all the cranberries ripen and are harvested in a very short time, and they don’t keep indefinitely, so freezing probably is the best way to keep them year round.
    I understand that hand harvested berries keep better because they are not so bruised in the process.

  5. We have wild ones in our forest and they kept a very long time in the fridge. I am beginning to appreciate the eating in seasons though, prolonging where possible but also just accepting when things are in season and when they are out of season, makes the yearly diet more varied.

    By the way Denise thank you for your kind comments earlier, it is fantastic that we have the opportunity to feed each others knowledge. I am also learning a lot from your site too.

    • I totally agree with you on both points, Joanna.
      I too have really gotten into the seasonality of food. We try to eat just about everything locally, and it’s a real joy to taste that first asparagus in the spring as well as the last, softening apples in the winter. It keeps us connected to the life/death cycle we are enmeshed in. I’m not usually a Bible quoter, but I think they got it right with “to everything there is a season.”
      And I too really enjoy our interchange. Isn’t it intriguing to be exploring what are for the most part traditional ways of living through this technology that did not exist a few years ago?

  6. Astonishing the rich vein that can be mined of traditional practices via the internet. It has aided me a lot in preserving food and looking at other opportunities to make our lives more sustainable.

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