The Cranberry Story

The history of cranberries is older than the recorded history of America. Long before the first European settlers arrived, the Indians not only ate cranberries, but also used them as medicine and clothing dye. The Indians called the red berries "sasemineash" and also "pakimintzen."

The Pilgrims gave this fruit the name "crane berry" because its pink blossom reminded them of the head of a crane, a large wading bird. Over the years its name has been shortened to cranberry.

The New Jersey Pinelands is one of the few places where cranberries grow naturally. Cranberries grow on vines which are very close to the ground. They need sandy, acidic soil which has a high water table. This wet area is called a bog.

In New Jersey, cranberry farming began in 1835 in a bog near Burrs' Mills in Burlington County. Many other bogs were soon constructed wherever there was a good source of water. Some of New Jersey's first cranberry farms are still operated by descendants of the original owners

Harvesting in those days was a long, hard job requiring many workers who gathered berries by hand. Later, large wooden scoops were used.

Since the 1960's, the wet-picking method has been used. First, the bogs are flooded. Then a machine with a large water reel is driven through the bogs. This knocks the berries off the vines and they float on the water. The floating berries are pushed to one side of the bog where a conveyor belt lifts them to a truck. Next, the berries are taken to the sorting house where they are cleaned and sorted. Finally, they are shipped to a processing plant where they are made into the many cranberry products we enjoy, such as cranberry sauce.

Actually, it was a cranberry farmer who first made cranberry sauce in New Jersey. In 1917, Elizabeth Lee sold her canned sauce under the name "Bog Sweet." Later, she joined forces with Marcus Urann of Massachusetts who had started his company in 1912. Together they formed the company that became known as Ocean Spray. Today this is the largest cranberry growers organization in the United States.

In addition to the original sauce, cranberries are made into relish, jellies, cakes, pies, candy, a variety of juices, and even cranberry catsup!

Each autumn there is a Cranberry Festival in Chatsworth, New Jersey. As part of this festival, there are contests for the largest cranberry, cranberry floral designs, and tasty new recipes. This tangy red berry has now become a popular year-round favorite.