Cranberries: More than Just a Tasty Salad Ingredient (but it is that too!)

public domain photo by Keith Weller | USDA-ARS

Harvesting Cranberries. Public domain photo by Keith Weller | USDA-ARS

As you sit down at the Thanksgiving table this week, you probably know where and how most of your food is grown and prepared. One part of the meal that always baffled me is the cranberries. Those guys in the Ocean Spray ads stand in water surrounded by cranberries, but certainly, I thought, they don’t just float there and grow. So I decided to do a little research and find out for myself how those morsels of yummy goodness found their way into my marshmallow and whip cream salad.

As it turns out, it all began with glaciers! Yes, that’s right all of you fellow geologists out there. We can thank those big ice sheets for our cranberry salad. Many, many years ago, glaciers carved out areas and deposited layers of clay, gravel, peat and sand. Many of these areas are now wetland bogs and marshes that are full of fresh water. The North American variety of the cranberry is named Vaccinium Macrocarponis and is grows on a trailing vine in these bogs. The plants are rooted in the glacial deposits in the base of the bog and the vine floats on the top of the water.

Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin grow the most cranberries in the country. While many growers will tend to their bogs by adding layers of sand every few years, the cranberry vines are perennial and can live for years. You can read more about the growing and harvesting at the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association.

So, enjoy your Thanksgiving and your cranberries. And, you need my Grandma’s cranberry salad recipe with marshmallows and whip cream, just give me a shout.

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