In New Jersey, October Is Cranberry Season

During October, most of us are dreaming about apples and pumpkins, but there’s another big crop being harvested locally this month. Cranberries! Even though consumers might not start thinking about cranberries until it’s time to pass them around the table at Thanksgiving, New Jersey growers are already harvesting them in October. 

In honor of that, it’s time to test your knowledge of cranberries!

Cranberries grow under water.

FALSE! They grow on woody vines in acidic, sandy bogs with good drainage. When the fruit ripens to a rich red, some of the berries are picked and then sold fresh. After that, farmers flood the fields. This makes it easier to harvest the berries since they float. The harvester passes over the bog, using a large water reel (nicknamed an “egg beater”) to free the berries from the vine. The berries then float to the surface and farmers can use wooden planks or rakes to guide them toward the truck that will transport them away from the bog. Cranberries that are harvested this way are usually processed into juice or cranberry sauce.

Fresh cranberries bounce.

TRUE! In fact, one large producer uses a “bounce board” to efficiently separate fresh cranberries from spoiled ones. Legend has it that this method has been used since the mid-nineteenth century. At that time, a New Jersey resident named John “Old Peg Leg” Webb was unable to haul the cranberries downstairs. He let them roll down the stairs and noticed that the good ones bounced all the way to the bottom.

Cranberries were introduced to North America from Europe.

FALSE! Native Americans had been eating cranberries and using them medicinally long before the first Europeans ever arrived. They called the berries “sasemineash” and “pakimintzen.” Pemmican, which sustained North Americans throughout the winter, was a cake made with dried meat or fish and cranberries.   

Cranberries can be used as a natural dye.

TRUE! Today, cranberry juice is recommended as a natural easter egg dye, and long ago the berries were used to dye blankets and rugs.

Cranberry sauce was first marketed in New Jersey.

TRUE! In 1917, Elizabeth Lee, a New Jersey cranberry farmer, sold a cranberry sauce she called “Bog Sweet.” The Native Americans used to make a sauce from cranberries as well, sweetening it with maple syrup.

White cranberries are grown separately.

FALSE! White cranberries grow on the same vine as the red cranberries, but they are white because they grow lower on the vine and don’t receive as much sunlight.

New Jersey grows the most cranberries in the nation.

Sadly… FALSE. That honor belongs to Wisconsin, but New Jersey isn’t far behind! The Garden State produces 45 million pounds of cranberries on 2,500 acres, making it the 3rd largest producer of cranberries, just behind Wisconsin and Massachusetts. 

Cranberries were originally known as “crane-berries.”

TRUE? FALSE? Nobody really knows for sure. The story goes that the flowers reminded people of the red head of a sandhill crane, but then again, other sources say they were called crane-berries because cranes liked to eat them. And then there are also early accounts of the berries being called “cramberries.”

Sandhill cranes.

Farmers frequently have to till the soil where cranberries are grown.

FALSE! The soil in a cranberry bog is very different from typical agricultural soil. The bog is made up of layers of organic matter and sand, and these layers do not get tilled or mixed together but remain undisturbed.

In New Jersey in 1789 it was a crime to eat cranberries before they were ripe.

TRUE! In that year, the state made a law that anyone who picked wild cranberries before October 10 had to pay a fine of 10 shillings!

The Wolff family has a favorite cranberry recipe.

TRUE! Absolutely! It is Mrs. Wolff’s Cranberry Relish. It only takes 10 minutes to cook, and then you just let it cool and thicken. Get the recipe here!