As Thanksgiving approaches and traditional family dinners are being planned, many of us will be buying cranberries. The Pilgrims first found them growing over low swampy areas at Plymouth Rock. The small white flowers that grow on the thornless vines are not eye-catching - the treasure produced by these plants, of course, is the red berries. The colonists noticed that cranes loved to eat these berries, so they called them “crane berries” and the name then evolved into “cranberries.”
The wild ones were plentiful in November, though there is no record that they were eaten at the first Thanksgiving dinner. We do know, however, that hunters were sent out and killed enough fowl to serve everyone for a week. The Indians contributed three bears to the menu. The American cranberry is native from Nova Scotia in the north, to North Carolina in the south, and to Wisconsin in the west. It likes sites that flood in winter and drain in summer.
Originally early settlers harvested cranberries from the wild vines until Henry Hall in 1816 began to cultivate the fruit in Massachusetts. Today growers and canners produce far more berries than can be used at Thanksgiving, so the challenge is to market them for consumption year round. Choose flowers for your Thanksgiving table that have rich mellow hues and they will blend with the deep red of the cranberries.