September 28, 2015

Picking Cranberries

By Dave Erler, Senior Naturalist

Mountain cranberry. Courtesy Jonas Bergsten (wikimedia)
Cranberries are one of the strangest fruits to find and pick in the wild. Traditionally they are thought of as a Thanksgiving side dish or beverage option. Most people, think of them only as growing in commercial bogs harvested by flooding and floating the berries (think of the Ocean Spray cranberry juice commercials).

In the past three weeks I had the opportunity to pick wild cranberries in three very different locations. The first was at the top of Mt. Eisenhower. I had a day off and decided to do a hike and take advantage of the perfect weather. Once above tree line I found plenty of Mountain Cranberries, Vaccinium vitus-ideacea, (not to be confused with High Bush Cranberry, Viburnum tribolum, which is a popular landscape shrub). Like the bog cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, Mountain Cranberries are low creeping woody-like vines with small ¾to ½-inchevergreen leaves. Mountain Cranberries are about half the size of bog cranberries, but what they lack in size they make up for in flavor, tasting a lot like apples. Although it takes a bit of crawling around to pick them I found enough to fill my lunch bag On returning home I put some of them to good use making my all-time favorite dessert cranberry pie cake. See the recipe below.

The second location where I picked was closer to home. Along the road less than a mile from my house, cranberries grow in the ditch. These are bog cranberries and although the berries are larger, the plants are small and easily overlooked. While I only picked a handful some passers-by stopped upon seeing me stooped over and inquired if I was picking blueberries. They were surprised when I told them it was cranberries. They drove off with a puzzled look in their faces.

The most recent cranberry picking occurred while I was hiking with one of my daughters in the beach dunes on Cape Cod. After slogging through a mile of sand going up and down over the dunes, we came to a low spot and found a large patch of large just ripening cranberries. In about 20 minutes we picked a gallon. Right now they are in my refrigerator just waiting to be made into a few more cranberry pie cakes.

Cranberry Pie-cake

  • Line a 10" pie plate with your favorite pie crust.
  • Into this put 2 cups of cranberries, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup chopped nuts.
  • Make Batter: Cream 3/4 cup softened margarine and 1 cup sugar. Add 2 beaten eggs and 1 cup flour. 
  • Pour batter over cranberries and bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes. 

Recipe Credit: Cape Cod National Seashore 1980

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