Friday, November 15, 2013

Gathering Cranberries

What a rush and pleasure to discover a new crop to harvest, especially one I haven't grown it myself. Tended only by nature at the edge of a reservoir, a bountiful harvest of cranberry is there for the diligent gatherer.

With temperatures in the high 40s and a steady breeze, a friend and I were nonetheless warmed by the strong sun and our efforts, a little walking, lots of bending and constantly moving, searching fingers.

We walked about 1/2 a mile through the forest that borders the reservoir. As we approached the water, there were lower shrubby plants. Then  we entered the swampy zone where low grasses and cranberries hug the water's edge.

This area is unusual for its varied microclimates. (Or maybe many areas would be as diverse if I crawled around in them keenly investigating large areas of ground.) There were spots where the cranberry plants were nestled among mosses. In other zones nearby, the cranberry stalks seemed to come right out of the sand. In those spots the cranberries that had fallen were well preserved and easy to collect. In some areas the picking was good, and you didn't notice how wet it was until your toes were wet and cold. Not far away, you could sit comfortably in a thick patch of cranberry and rake your hands along collecting.

Can you spy the cranberries? It's like finding Waldo in a red striped picture.

We spent 2 pleasant hours, chatting, picking and picnicking and collected 4 to 5 cups each. As usual, harvesting food yourself gives you a great appreciation for the effort it takes. Of course, the cranberries in our supermarkets are not hand harvested. Bogs are flooded and machines collect the cranberries that float to the top of the water. You can see a National Geographic video of cranberry harvesting here.

In prior years when I've purchased bagged berries, I would diligently go through them and remove any that were soft or too blemished. I will be much more accepting of this year's well earned harvest. The softer berries will be made into sauce for Thanksgiving. The firmer ones will go into a bread. After having picked cranberries myself, I will be much less picky.

Check back soon for the delicious results.

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