Spotlight Plant Of The Month For November: Cranberries
November is a time when outdoor gardening slows down and the attention shifts to the indoors. This is the beginning of the holiday season and the biggest food fest of the year, Thanksgiving, is the season opener. Many of the foods that we traditionally associate with this holiday have their origins in the New World: potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, squash, corn, and pumpkin come to mind. This is the time of the year when the cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, finds a featured spot on our holiday menus. This most American of fruits is steadily gaining in popularity, and it is not unusual to see the products of the cranberry in shopping carts any time of the year. We buy bags of cranberries, we buy cranberries in cans, but most of us do not know much about cranberries or how they grow.
Cranberries are a wonderful fruit. They are a rich source of Vitamin C, and have long been used medicinally for holistic treatments. Its uses as a natural diuretic and as a urinary tract antiseptic in particular comes to mind. Cranberries are also thought to provide some protection against cancers. The cranberry is a powerful antioxidant, great for boosting the immune system during the flu season, and is a good source of many vitamins and minerals and provide dietary fiber.
Cranberries are nigh on to impossible to eat “out of hand”. Extremely sour and tart, they transform into a wonderful, sweet-tart delight when sugared and cooked. One of the first uses for this ruby red fruit was as an addition to pemmican, a type of preserved meat used by the Native Americans/American Indians, and later adopted by European settlers. Cranberries preserve very well, and were thus a valuable food source in the pre-refrigeration and processing days. Wildlife is wild for the cranberry, and if you decide to devote a patch for these native fruits, be sure to save a few for the birds and other critters to scavenge.
You can grow cranberries without a bog. The main reason we associate cranberries with bogs is that in commercial plantings, cranberry fields are flooded to assist in the harvest and to prevent damage when frost threatens. The berries float, so it is easier for the commercial harvester to comb the fields and retrieve the floating fruits. At home, a bed devoted to cranberries would be rather small, so flooding would not be required. The soil needs to be acidic and well-drained, yet moisture-retentive. Mulch or protective floating row covers can be used when frosts threaten the harvest. In a small bed, hand picking will do. Cranberries do have runners of sorts, so it would probably be a good idea to maintain them in their own contained bed.
Cranberries sugared and dried, a great treat! Cook them in a pan with sugar, listen to them pop, smell the pungent-tart aroma. Wonderful! Cranberry wine, soft, clear, jewel-like red, acid and sweet, marvelous in a homey sort of way, great with a turkey dinner! String them for the Christmas tree, place them in a wildlife wreath, these are a beautiful and colorful addition to holiday decorations. Cranberry relish, cranberry muffins and bread, wonderful, scrumptious cranberries!