Each fall, tart red berries are separated from low-growing vines in what is an annual scene in Southeastern Massachusetts – the cranberry harvest. The state is the second-largest cranberry producer in the U.S., so the small berry is pretty big here. In fact, cranberries got their name from early European settlers in the area.
Cranberry bogs are often photographed flooded with water, with the red berries floating on the top. But that's only the scene during a so-called “wet harvest.” Throughout most of the growing season, which lasts from April through November, the low-growing vines crawl across dry land mixed with sand and clay, irrigated via channels that criss-cross through the bogs.
A wet harvest, in which the fruit is separated from the vines and the berries bob up to the top of the water, is just one method for harvesting the cranberries. It is often used for berries that will be turned into juice or another product. Fruit that is sold dry and whole is "dry harvested," collected by a type of machine on dry land. The fruit is then separated from any remaining stems or leaves.
During a tour of Flax Pond Farms, a cranberry and Christmas tree farm in Carver, Massachusetts, I learned that the farm was over 100 years old, and that deer like to rest in the bogs at night because it’s a good place to see predators. I also learned that the cranberry-tea drink simmering in a crockpot inside the store was delicious, and that there are many more products made from cranberries than I would have thought.
If you want to learn more about cranberries and harvesting, there are some farms in Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod that you can visit. This online guide to cranberry farms in the area from the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers' Association tells which ones offer tours. Another resource is the Harwich Historical Society Brooks Academy Museum, which has a section on its website on "cranberry culture". Finally, an annual Cranberry Festival, hosted by Ocean Spray Cranberries and held in October at Edaville USA in Carver, has events around harvesting and cooking.
Here are some facts on the delectable fruits:
- Ocean State Cranberries – the largest distributor – is headquartered in Massachusetts and purchases many of the berries farmed here.
- Other states that harvest cranberries are Wisconsin, New Jersey, Washington, Oregon, and Maine, which has a small crop.
- The cranberry is Massachusetts' official state fruit.
- Cranberries are native to Massachusetts. Native Americans introduced the fruit as a food to the Pilgrims.
- Pilgrims called cranberries "crane berries" because the plants resembled a sandhill crane, a type of bird with a red forehead, according to the Cape Cod Cranberry Grower's Association.