Cranberries have an interesting history in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.
They are one of only three fruits native to North America, Blueberries and Concord Grapes are the others. Dating back almost 1000 years, wild cranberries played an important role in the lives of Native Americans. Wild cranberries, eaten fresh, were an essential part of their diet. They were also dried for later use, or ground or mashed with corn meal and baked into bread. One tribe is known to have sweetened the berries with maple sugar or honey before eating. Native Americans also created "pemmican" by mixing dried cranberries with venison, fat and wild onions. Next, they boiled the mixture, mashed the pulp, and formed it into cakes to be dried on racks. They also found the juice of the cranberry well suited for coloring rugs and blankets. Another major use was as a medicine to heal scrapes, sores and wounds caused by poisonous arrows. When used as a tea, it was thought to calm the nerves.
Although various Native American tribes had different names for the cranberry, the name the Pilgrims found outlasted them all. Beginning in the late 1600's, they called the fruit "crane berry" because the plant's tiny stem and pink blossoms resembled the neck, head and beak of a crane. Over time, the name was shortened to "cranberry". In the early 1800's, as the Europeans explored the Northwest Territory, their appreciation of the wild cranberry grew. French voyagers bartered with the Algonquin Indians for fruit to consume. The first commercially produced cranberries were harvested in 1865.
Today, successful cranberry cultivation depends on a combination of wetland soil and geology, the right climate, and a skilled grower. They keep a watchful eye on the progress of their annual crop. Adequate water is very important to cranberries during the growing season. Because cranberries are susceptible to frost damage, when the temperature gets cool, growers must keep "frost watch", starting sprinklers as it approaches freezing to prevent severe crop damage. It takes the berries from spring to fall to grow to full size and turn just the right shade of red. By late September or early October, the busiest time of the year at the marsh has arrived: harvest! Cranberry farmers utilize systems of ditches and canals to move water from the reservoirs onto the beds. The flooding of a bed allows the picked fruit to float to the top for easy gathering. Although the fruit was once picked by hand, growers today use specially designed mechanical rakes to remove the berries from the vines. The berries are taken to warehouses and plants for packaging or processing. Cranberry juices, sauces and fresh fruit are shipped to grocery stores throughout the United States and all over the world.