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Thursday, November 27, 2014

The beloved cranberry

The standard southern Thanksgiving dinner, as I remember it, is turkey, dressing (based on cornbread and celery), cranberry sauce, a green bean casserole, and sweet potato pie. Other items might be included, but those were the core. The cranberry sauce has been my favorite all along. I used to marvel at the ridges of the jelly as it slid out of the can.

Propelled mainly by the relentless and masterful marketing campaign of the Ocean Spray cooperative, annual production of cranberries in the U.S. has increased from 1.3 million barrels in 1964 to 8.6 million barrels in 2014. That's a compound annual growth rate of 4%. Does any other native agricultural product have a success story like that? Now we are offered cranberry beverages, loose cranberries for use in baked goods, and dried cranberries as alternatives to raisins. I'm sure that new products are in the labs at Ocean Spray.

Although native Americans introduced the local cranberry to settlers from England — the American fruit differs from the European fruit — I give a nod to the Chinese who popularized the sweet-and-sour combination that cranberries typify, like ketchup. Unfortunately, cranberries are so sour that it takes a huge amount of sugar to make them palatable in most contexts. Ounce for ounce, the familiar Ocean Spray Cranberry Cocktail has more calories than Coca-Cola. Watch the portion size of any cranberry product, especially if you are diabetic.

Other things that you might not know about cranberries:

  • Wisconsin provides two-thirds of the crop. Sorry, Massachusetts.
  • Blueberries are in the same genus. The blue pigment and red pigment are variants of the same chemical, anthocyanin, one of nature's basic paints.
  • There is no evidence that cranberries prevent or alleviate urinary tract problems. (That said, when you see someone in pain walking out of a grocery store with a bottle of cranberry drink, the obvious thought is "kidney stone".)
  • Iron ore discovered at the bottom of cranberry bogs enabled Americans to win the Revolutionary War.
Happy Thanksgiving! And remember, gratefulness is a fundamental spiritual practice. Try it daily. You'll be glad you did, and so will everyone else.