Growing Cranberies in New

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The Heart of New England
Bogged Down in Cranberries
by Jeanne Sable

It's nearly November as we cut
the last of our Swiss chard, cover
carrots with mulch hay, haul the carnage of spent vines off to the compost pile,
and concede another season's harvest to Jack Frost.

But wait—the harvest isn't over yet. One hardy  perennial crop remains to be
picked. It grows in an area I consider part of my "extended" garden—the
woods, meadows and fields beyond my home.
In this case, it's a nearby
cranberry bog.
Who can resist picking berries one last time before winter sets

Cranberries aren't as abundant in New Hampshire’s Monadnock region as
their close relative, the blueberry, but they do well in certain areas where
they've established a stronghold.

Unlike blueberries, cranberry bushes like to keep their feet wet. Look for
wetlands overgrown with a thick carpet of low, scrubby bushes.
Their small leaves, shaped somewhat like those of the blueberry, are deep
green tinged with, well—cranberry color, which deepens as autumn
progresses.  If you look closely at the base of these plants at this time of year,
you'll spot the ripe,  red fruit, often submerged in water like rubies under
glass. Upon closer inspection, they look surprisingly like miniature apples.

Wade Right In

Cranberry picking isn't for everyone, but it can be fun. You'll need a good pair
of tall rubber boots or waders and a bucket or large container. An old-
fashioned cranberry rake might help to "comb" the berries off the branches, but
fingers work just fine. Rubber gloves are welcome in a chill wind.

The quantity of berries one gathers seems directly proportionate to how
waterproof his or her gear is on a seasonably cold day. But it's hard to avoid a
soaking sooner or later. If you're the adventurous type, you might dispense
with footwear all together,  as indigenous cranberry gatherers once did—that
is, unless you get cold feet.

Bogs have an aura of mystery about them. It's easy to conceive of these spongy
wetlands as bottomless. As you wade in, terra firma seems to fall away, and
you find yourself knee-deep in water, though your feet may never actually
touch the bottom. You "float" instead on a soggy mass of vegetation that
undulates as you walk, creating waves forceful enough to pitch an adjacent
partner into the drink, if you're not careful.

Stooping to pick berries on this shuddering substrate is rather like trying to
play hop scotch on a giant water mattress.  Naturally, kids love it. Before
everyone gets too wet, a family can gather at least enough berries to serve up
with Thanksgiving dinner, and bring home a good story to go with it.

What to do with Hand-Picked Cranberries

Cranberries can be flash-frozen whole on a cookie sheet to save for future
meals or traditional holiday decorations. The berries are strung together with
needle and thread, often alternated with pieces of popcorn. Unlike modern
tinsel, these decorations can be recycled to the wild birds and animals after the

Cranberry sauce is easy and fun to make from whole berries. They burst open
with a loud popping sound as you boil them in water. Of course they require
ample sweetener to offset their inherent bitterness. I use honey.  Before adding
a thickener, I like to save out some of the juice as a beverage. It's excellent
served hot, spiced with a bit of cinnamon, ginger, and/or cloves.

The high acidity of the fruit also acts as a natural preservative, giving
cranberry products a remarkably long shelf life. I proved this accidentally one
year by leaving a pan of cranberry sauce on the counter at a friend's summer
cottage in the fall. When we returned the following summer it looked and
smelled as fresh as the day we made it, with nary a trace of mold.

So if you're lucky enough to find a cranberry bog, why not wade in and pick
some berries? It’s a great way to extend your garden, and prolong the berry
picking season—right to the bitter end.

About the author

Jeanne Prevett Sable is an organic gardener, editor, and freelance writer
specializing in farming and environmental issues, with hundreds of articles
published in local, regional, and national publications. She has written
environmental scripts for children's television, live puppet theater, and the
Web. She is also the author of
Seed Keepers of Crescentville, her first novel.
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