My childhood Thanksgiving table had a beautiful glass dish where we put delectable rounds of jellied cranberry sauce straight from the can. I knew that was how cranberries came because I got to cut the “log” of jellied berries into equal rounds. As a city girl I never inquired further about the source. I knew that cranberries came from a can!
As the years passed, the Ocean Spray cranberry farmer commercial made me realize that there was something called a cranberry bog. Since this cranberry bog was in Massachusetts, cranberry bogs still didn’t seem real to me living in the West.
Like many, I was surprised to learn that the cranberry, America’s native fruit, is grown locally in great quantity here in the West. In fact, about one-third of the nation’s cranberry crop is produced in Washington State. And many of those cranberry farmers sell to Ocean Spray. That’s where the can comes in right?
Long Beach Cranberries
On visits to Washington state’s Long Beach Peninsula, I saw cranberries growing in what looked like dry reservoirs. The red berries were growing on short bushes. But it wasn’t until October that everything made sense.
Late September through early October, the Long Beach Peninsula is busy with the cranberry harvest. Drive along the roads and you’ll see water-filled bogs, some with beautiful cranberries floating on the surface of the water. If you inquire, many cranberry farmers will allow you to watch the harvest. (Be sure to park away from the activity and the route of the packing trucks.)
Not all the cranberries grown on the Long Beach Peninsula go to Ocean Spray to end up in those round cans. In 2010, young farmers Jared Oakes and Jessika Tantisook took Starvation Alley Farms to transition the cranberry bogs to organic farming. Starvation Alley was the first certified organic cranberry farm in Washington. They produce pure, organic, unsweetened cranberry juice.In fact, if you venture into a high-end bar in Portland or Seattle and order a drink containing cranberry juice you may well be enjoying the fruits of their labor.
Jared and Jessika invited me to a cranberry harvest. Family and friends (and even dogs) gathered in the water-filled bogs with long booms to push the cranberries toward a mechanical loader. Children helped and even visitors took turns raking the cranberries toward the end of the bog. By sundown, the bogs were empty and the crates full. The cranberries were headed out to be made into juice, another process few get to witness.
At the local Cranberry Museum, we watched mechanical beaters making their rounds in the watery bog, beating the cranberries off the plants so they would rise to the surface. The “corralling” we watched at Starvation Alley farm was repeated and cranberries from those bogs were loaded into crates.
Down the road, during October at Cranguyma Farms, you can pick your own cranberries, or purchase sacks of the beautiful red fruit to take home to make sauces, juices, and cranberry breads. Cranguyma fresh cranberries will keep in the refrigerator at least three weeks. Or, you can freeze them in an airtight container for up to a year.
You’ll probably get hungry while touring the bogs. Most local restaurants feature cranberry dishes on their menus, including The Cove Restaurant, where I enjoyed a carved turkey sandwich on house-baked bread with local cranberry sauce.
The cranberry is so important on the Long Beach Peninsula that once a year the community comes together to celebrate this precious fruit. At the Cranberrian Fair, held at Ilwaco’s Columbian Pacific Heritage Museum, you can enjoy cranberry foods (don’t miss cranberry-peach pie) and cranberry vendors, craft demonstrations, and take a ride on the Cranberry Trolley, which takes visitors on bog tours. It was at the Cranberrian Fair that I purchased my bottle of Starvation Alley Cranberry Juice to take home.
As I sip my tart juice, mixed with sparkling water, the fun of the cranberry harvest comes flooding back. I’ll never again acquaint cranberries just with round cans. – Elizabeth Rose, RFT Contributor
If You Go
Visit the Long Beach Peninsula
Check out these cranberry recipes: