Game time for cranberries comes once a year when they’re asked to singlehandedly offset savory Thanksgiving plates. Otherwise, the cranberry doesn’t get much love. They’re absent at juice and smoothie stands, rarely appear in pies, never in Starburst and other corn syruped candies. We don’t adventure out into cranberry bogs on Sunday afternoon like we do with apples in orchards and blackberries in the thickets. Only 5% of cranberries are eaten raw, and drinking juice can sometimes stir trouble as Billy Costigan found out in a dingy Boston bar.
The cranberry is one of those underdogs who’s never gonna get a rise of the cranberry story. They’re entrenched in American history – with references going back to 1550 – unique, but low low on the fruit hierarchy. Major cran successes are the result of piggybacking on the apple and grape. Ed Gelsthorpe, inventor of roll-on deodorant and sloppy joe sauce, created cranapple juice in the ’60s, and in 1989, Ocean Spray spliced and sugared a dried cranberry. “We’re pretty ticked off,” National Raisin Co. President Ernest Bedrosian said at the time. “All the millions we’re spending to build the raisin industry, and they come along and use our name by putting a ‘c’ in front of it.” The Craisin turned out to be watershed, giving cranberries their first spot in the packaged good industry through cereals and granola (and salads). Since 2003, Craisin sales have tripled and now account for 1% of Ocean Spray’s yearly $1.5 billion.
Bringing the bog to the people
Still, cranberries aren’t exactly top of mind. Three-quarters of the country have never heard of a bog before (Red Bull has: Wakeboarding in a Wisconsin bog), so to capture our imagination, bogs are going on tour. The initiative, called Bogs Across America, brought a pop-up bog to New York and Epcot Center and a working bog near Gillette Stadium in Mass. Tuesday and Wednesday, a 1,500 square-foot rectangular bog popped up in Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan. Surrounding the bog were sign boards accenting cranberries’ history and showcasing berry-farming gear. On sunny Tuesday, chef Ming Tsai hosted 30 guests in waders to lunch on a menu from Ocean Spray’s wettest dreams. Chicken satay with cranberry chutney, cranberry red roast duck legs, braised short rib with cranberry glaze. Not all the dishes had crans, but the drinks did, solidifying the cranberries role as a mixer, not a culinary staple.
On windy Wednesday, the well-manicured pool caught more rain than tourist attention. The Ocean Spray gazebo was empty, and none of the authentic cranberry harvesters who were supposed to hype the cran stuck around. Arguable whether Mother Nature’s jab hurt more than the expected media coverage that never came to fruition. Manhattan media must be apple fans.
Greg Spielberg | October 20 2011
Good to know: Ocean Spray was founded in 1930 as a seal used by the Cranberry Canners Inc., a cooperative growers who banded together to keep cranberry prices up and competition down. The cooperative has stayed independent since then, even rejecting a $100 million PepsiCo bid to become a joint venture.
This paragraph is plagiarized word for word from Wikipedia’s History section: In 1550, James White Norwood made reference to Indians using cranberries. In James Rosier’s book “The Land of Virginia” there is an account of Europeans coming ashore and being met with Indians bearing bark cups full of cranberries. In Plymouth, Massachusetts, there is a 1633 account of the husband of Mary Ring auctioning her cranberry-dyed petticoat for 16 shillings. In 1640’s “Key Into the Language” Roger Williams described cranberries, referring to them as “bearberries” because bears ate them. In 1648, preacher John Elliott was quoted in Thomas Shepherd‘s book “Clear Sunshine of the Gospel” with an account of the difficulties the Pilgrims were having in using the Indians to harvest cranberries as they preferred to hunt and fish. In 1663, the Pilgrim cookbook appears with a recipe for cranberry sauce. In 1667, New Englanders sent to King Charles 10 barrels of cranberries, 3 barrels of codfish and some Indian corn as a means of appeasement for his anger over their local coining of the Pine Tree shilling. In 1669, Captain Richard Cobb had a banquet in his house (to celebrate both his marriage to Mary Gorham and his election to the Convention of Assistance), serving wild turkey with sauce made from wild cranberries.