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The history of cranberry in North America is long, glorious and intriguiging. Natives used it for food, medicine and dyes.
Cranberry belongs to the family of Ericaceae along with blueberries and rhododendrons, but surprisingly the first settlers were unfamiliar with the versatile berry that grows on low vines. Bees pollinate the fruit.
Cranberries are harvested in two ways – wet or dry. Wet harvesting requires flooding the field and floating the berries, which are corralled and collected. This type of harvesting yields fruit for processing.
Dry harvesting occurs by combing and requires more labour, but yield intact fruit suitable for drying and fresh marketing.
Cranberry harvesting occurs from September – October, but fresh fruit keeps in good condition for at least two months.
Natives used cranberry for pemmican meat. Suet, strips of meat and cranberries are pounded to produce a paste, which is rolled into slim sticks and air dried. Any meat (beef, buffalo, venison, even lamb) can be employed to produce pemmican. The high acidity of cranberry helps preserve alkaline food.
Wisconsin is the largest producer in the USA followed by Massachusetts. In Canada, all eastern provinces, Quebec, and Ontario produce significant quantities. Presently 16,000 hectares (40,000 acres) are under cultivation in both the USA and Canada. The fruit is twice the size of a cultivated blueberry, thick skinned, and very acid. White cranberries are harvested before they turn red.
Professionals in the medical and nutrition fields believe there is a clear link between a vegetarian diet and a low risk of chronic disease. Cranberries are high in antioxidants and other phytochemicals. Antioxidants are recognized as premiere disease fighters and cranberries contain more antioxidant phenols than commonly consumed fruits.
Cranberries are effective in curing urinary tract infections, ulcers and periodontal diseases. Some medical professionals recommend cranberries to prevent heart diseases, cancer and as an anti aging food.
Cranberries are available fresh in season (September to October), as juice (sweetened) dried and in sauces.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu
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