We are in the middle of the humble cranberry’s biggest season. Did you know the cranberry is Massachusetts’ state berry? Or that Massachusetts is one of the largest producers, if not the largest, of cranberries? Cape Cod is dotted with acres of cranberry bogs, adding their deep garnet color to autumn’s rich palette.
The cranberry is native to North America, an honor shared with only the blueberry and Concord grape. Cranberries grow on vines in sandy, peaty bogs. Cultivation began in the mid-nineteenth century. The fruit was first harvested by hand, then with a wooden scoop until the 1950s when wet harvesting was begun. A bog is flooded and a machine creates turbulence in the water above the berries, causing the fruit to detach from the vine and float to the surface.
Native Americans called the berries sassamanesh and ate them raw or cooked them into sauces and jellies. The settlers also ate the berries raw, but sweetened the cooked berries with sugar and maple syrup. A mixture the Native Americans made of cranberries and venison, called pemmican, provided a healthy level of vitamin C for them over the winter. It was such a good source of protein and vitamins, Robert Peary took pemmican on his expedition to the North Pole.
To know if pasta is cooked, you toss it onto the wall. If you doubt your cranberry is good, bounce it. A good cranberry bounces. It also floats.
Here’s where a good cook would add a recipe. Mine is this: Follow the directions on the package of fresh berries, but substitute somewhat less Splenda® for the sugar. Now you have healthy cranberry sauce that is pleasantly guilt-free.