‘Tis the Season for Cranberries

Now that the long hot summer is over, the Cape is coming into what many consider its best time of year.

This year’s Cranberry Harvest Festival will be held in October at the Coonamessett River Bogs. Come to the Palmer House to enjoy our cranberry nut muffins and cranberry sorbet. Not to mention our oatmeal cranberry raisin cookies for an afternoon snack.

Early fall or the shoulder season, is known for sunny days and comfortably crisp nights. It’s also cranberry harvesting time.
Cranberries attain their peak flavor and color and are ripe for picking from mid-September through the first week of November. Picturesque bogs brimming with the deep ruby-red berries dot the landscape against a backdrop of blue skies and fall foliage.

The cranberry is one of only three native fruits including the blueberry and Concord grape, commercially grown in North America. Massachusetts ranks as the second biggest cranberry producer behind Wisconsin. Despite unusual flooding in early spring and drought conditions throughout much of the summer, experts predict a bumper crop in the state this year. The US Department of Agriculture has reported that a crop of 1.95 million barrels to be harvested this fall, but weather conditions including the recent rain and heat wave can affect the output. Growers say that they don’t know what the crop is going to be until it is delivered.

Native American tribes of the area were the first to use the wild berry as a food, medicine and fabric dye. They called it sassamanash and ibimi ( meaning bitter berry). They introduced the Pilgrims to the multiple benefits of the fruit. The Pilgrims also found it to be a valuable bartering tool. The European settlers named the fruit the cranberry after the sandhill cranes commonly spotted around bogs at the time. American whalers and mariners brought cranberries on their voyages to ward off scurvy.

Commercial cranberry harvesting began in Harwich in 1847.

The Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ association was formed in 1888 and prides itself as being one of the oldest farming organizations in the US. The cranberry provided a needed source of income to many families during the economically depressed decades after the Civil War.

There are about 1,000 acres of bogs sprinkled throughout the Cape.

Cranberries grow on long-running vines in sandy bogs originally made by glacial deposits. A bog is a fragile ecosystem affected by climate and environmental conditions. Typically growers do not have to replant since an unmanaged cranberry vine can survive indefinitely. Some vines in Massachusetts are more than 150 years old.

In the beginning growers handpicked cranberries, then used wooden scoops to lift the berries off their vines. By the late 1800s machines were invented to make the job less labor intensive.

Two methods are used for gathering cranberries: wet and dry harvesting. Today, ninety-five percent of cranberries are wet-harvested in Massachusetts.