No Thanksgiving table is complete without cranberry sauce; the cranberry, in fact, may be the quintessential American fruit. Native Americans, who ate the berries in cakes made with parched corn, taught the pilgrims how to harvest them. And thanks to their high vitamin C content, cranberries protected New England sailors from scurvy -- just as English ships carried limes, American vessels packed barrels full of the tart red berries.
There are 38,000 acres of cranberry bogs in America, many of which are located where the industry originated -- in Cape Cod and Plymouth County, Massachusetts, where the climate, soil, and lowland swamps are conducive to a good crop. Cape Cod's cranberry bogs are often family owned, passed from generation to generation and tended as carefully as kitchen gardens.
According to John Decas, of the Decas Cranberry Company in Carver, Massachusetts, there are two methods of harvesting cranberries: wet and dry. Ninety percent are harvested wet and turned immediately into juice or sauce. In a wet harvest, the bog is flooded, and the berries are knocked off the vines by a harvesting machine called an eggbeater. The berries float to the surface, where they can be corralled with rakes and floating boards called booms. Once they are contained, they are transferred to trucks and taken to the cleaning plant.
Dry-harvested berries are the cream of the crop, picked by hand or raked off the vine with a hand-operated machine called a Furford picker. They must be large, healthy, and unblemished, for they are packaged and sold fresh to be made into homemade sauces and desserts. All cranberries have air pockets that allow the fruit to float in water and bounce on surfaces like a tiny rubber ball. When harvested dry, the berries must bounce over hurdles at the packing plant in order to be sold fresh. The ones that don't bounce at least two to three inches high are discarded or turned into juice.
Decas Cranberry Co.