Sloan Column: A must-have for any Thanksgiving
When we think of Thanksgiving, certain things come to mind: Turkey, dressing, yams or sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and pecan or pumpkin pie. The holiday just isn’t the same without them, right?
There’s one most important thing left off this list. It’s synonymous with Thanksgiving. In fact, it is certain to have been served when the Pilgrims and Native Americans hunkered down at the dinner table together for the very first time. To this day, it would be quite rare to find a Turkey Day spread without this item somewhere in the table.
Have you guessed what it is?
Like it or not, the answer is … cranberries. Whether it is in congealed jelly or sauce form, the crimson-colored berry is a holiday must-have. There is no question cranberry sauce is a yea or nay, take-it-or-leave, love it-or-hate it food, but the fact still remains that Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving without it.
Like egg nog at Christmas, cranberries disappear once the holiday feast is in the rearview mirror. Who drinks egg nog in July? Good luck finding cranberry sauce in your local grocery store anytime other than November.
Mom always made fresh cranberry sauce, pretty much because it was one of my favorites. My big brother Perry is a very finicky eater and my step-dad Hal did not do turkey, thus he had very little use for cranberry sauce. Hal grew up on a farm and he got his fill of eating chicken “every cotton-pickin’ meal.” By his mid-20s, he had sworn off what he called “barnyard fowl.”
Cranberries in other forms can be found regularly. Cranberry juice is always a breakfast option. Dried cranberries have become a favorite salad garnishment. There is even the craisin, the aptly named hybrid between the cranberry and its cousin the raisin.
If you’re looking to gobble up some of the sauce, however, you’re probably just going to have to wait until the leaves start to turn.
For whatever it’s worth, here are few other interesting facts about cranberries:
• Cranberries were a staple for Native Americans, who harvested wild cranberries and used them in a variety of remedies, foods and drinks. The berries were even used in an energy bar-like food called “pemmican,” which served as a vital source of nutrition for fur traders during the winter months.
• Cranberries get their name from settlers who thought the blooming flowers on the vines resembled the head and beak of a crane. Hence, craneberry. The name was eventually shortened to cranberry.
• Cranberries are grown in bogs. At first growers would pick the cranberries by hand. Today most cranberries are harvested using a technique known as wet harvesting. That’s when the bog is flooded with water and the cranberries float to the surface, where they are easily scooped up. Some cranberry bogs are more than 100 years old and still produce today.
• Most cranberry bogs are found in the Northeast and Northwest. The top cranberry-producing states, in order, are Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington.
• Cranberry sauce may be a Turkey Day staple, but it wasn’t available in a can until 1912, when a farmer/lawyer named Marcus L. Urann developed a recipe for a sauce that could be prepared in very large batches. He eventually formed a cranberry cooperative that renamed itself Ocean Spray. By 1940, cranberry sauce had become the jiggly, canned log beloved (and argued over) by millions of Americans.
• Americans consume some 400 million pounds of cranberries a year 35 percent of which are digested during Thanksgiving week.
• Cranberries are rich in anti-oxidants, thus making them what modern nutritionists call a “superfood.” The berries are said to be able to help with protecting against liver disease, lower blood pressure, improve eyesight, and improve cardiovascular health.
Interestingly enough, they are also thought to help whiten teeth.