If there is one berry that is most beloved in America, it is the native cranberry! England may have its currants, Italy its grapes but America loves its cranberries! And the history of this little berry is just as fascinating.
Cranberries are a member of the heather family and are related to blueberries, bilberries, and lingonberries. They grow on a vine throughout the year happily tucked away in the bogs until the autumn when they are ripe. Their cheerful red color is a welcome sight in the dying brownness of the woods. They are one of the few indigenous plants of North America.
For many hundreds of years, the Native Americans of the East Coast of America relied on them as a food source gathering them each autumn. Cranberries grew wild in the bogs and sandy marshes around the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts. The Indians would dry them, mix them into pemmican or make an early form of cranberry sauce. One of the names the the Native American Indians gave the berries was “sassamanesh”. Go ahead, try saying that out loud 🙂
When the early settlers to this country encountered these bright red berries, they at first called them “craneberries” for their supposed resemblance to a crane or for the love that the cranes around the marshes had for them. They were also sometimes called “bounce” berries by the early American colonists as good, fresh cranberries bounce when they are ripe.
It wasn’t until the 1800’s that cranberries began to me grown, harvested and shipped commercially. This was when the first hand held rake for harvesting cranberries was made like the one picture above. Later, the wet picker was invited to make the job easier. Cranberries continue to be cultivated mainly in the New England states primarily Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maryland, though there are several cranberry bogs in Wisconsin too.