The cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) has always had a role on our Thanksgiving Day table. Some years it was the can-shaped jelly blob and others it was a combination of cranberries and sugar—heavy on the sugar. It wasn’t until my aunt brought a fresh cranberry salad to a family gathering that I truly began to appreciate this small fruit.
In my constant drive to produce as much of our food and medicine as possible, the cranberry is something I would like to grow. Did you know that cranberries do not need to be grown in a bog? I think it’s a common misconception. There is a very popular fruit growing consortium with cute commercials involving men dressed in waders that perpetuates this idea, but the flooding of a cranberry field is actually temporary and only done for ease of harvest. The air pockets inside the fruit make them float.
In actuality, cranberries prefer clay soil that is on the acidic side. Adding a good amount of sand on top of your clay allows for proper drainage but can also change the soil pH to a more cranberry-favorable condition. When cranberries are first getting established, they like to be watered fairly regularly, but do be careful not to let water stand. While it looks great on the commercials, the cranberry doesn’t actually like to have wet feet for prolonged periods and can victim to a variety of molds.
Cranberries are hardy throughout the northeastern parts of our country, even as far south as Virginia and extending out a bit into the Midwest. Technically, it likes hardiness zones 3 to 8 and makes an evergreen carpet in these areas that provides visual interest through all seasons.
Why Grow My Own Cranberries?
Have you noticed how expensive cranberries are around the holidays? It isn’t a cheap process to harvest these berries en masse. If you grow your own, you can pick them fresh in early fall with no need to flood a bog, and they store very well in your refrigerator or freezer. You might grow just enough for the Thanksgiving table in the first year, and expand to cover the occasional orange-cranberry scone recipe.
Not Just For Salad
You may, of course, freeze cranberries or can juice to preserve this valuable medicinal plant. Drying is another great way to keep cranberries on hand if you or a member of your family suffers from frequent cystitis or urinary-tract infections. The phytochemicals within the cranberry lower the pH of urine and create an environment in which the bacteria cannot survive. This is, of course, only true if you do not cancel out the effect with a lot of sugar.
If you are growing your own cranberries and making your own juice, you are able to make it purely from the fruit with no added sugar. This type of preparation is pretty tart, but it’s much more effective if you want to use the fruit medicinally.
My Cranberry Salad Today
Today, my cranberry salad is fairly close to the one my aunt brought to the table many years ago. I throw a couple cups of cranberries into the food processor along with one to two whole, peeled oranges depending on size. These days, I add about 1/2 cup of evaporated cane juice, 1/4 cup water kefir and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. The difference is that I am now creating a lacto-fermented side dish to aid with the proper digestion of that large Thanksgiving meal. I take the mixture out of my food processor and dump it into a quart jar, cover it with a coffee filter and screw on a canning ring. My cranberry salad then sits on the counter for one to three days before finally heading to the refrigerator.
Give this a try this year instead of your usual cranberry side dish—that is if it hasn’t all been eaten before the big day.