Yes, November 23 is Eat a Cranberry Day. Nobody seems to know where this originated, nor is Ocean Spray*, the giant cranberry cooperative, taking credit. Let’s make the bold assumption that it was someone with one foot in the bog (and the other heading to the cash register), versus another theory that it was created by someone promoting healthy eating.
*Join the Cranberry Club on their website!
One can enjoy cranberries, and cranberry mélanges, 365 days of the year. But Thanksgiving is the big day for their appearance at dinner tables across America, appropriate since they are one of the few fruits we enjoy which is actually native to North America.
They are so “American” that it is surprising to find them elsewhere, particularly labeled “local”. But there they were, at Vienna’s Café Landtmann www.cafe-wien.at after the most Viennese of local activities, watching trainers lovingly put the famed Lipizzaner horses through their exercises to beautiful music. The venison ragout came with local cranberries, potato croquettes, and the epitome of understatement, “mushrooms” which were boletes and other fresh wild mushrooms.
And, we have all heard about how cranberries are harvested, by flooding the bogs and gathering them as they float, having been jarred loose by an eggbeater type machine. This is only partially true.
If your cranberry sauce came out of a can (which is just fine, by the way), that is exactly how they were gathered and then quickly sent off for processing.
If your cranberries arrived fresh, they were harvested dry, with a machine that looks like a lawn mower, sending the berries into the air to be caught in harvest bags. This is a less efficient way of gathering the fruit, but will not spoil quickly and remain in excellent condition by the time you are ready to cook them.
As a side note, there used to be a well-known business school case study about the challenges of sorting the berries for quality, and the genius who solved the problem had seen how they self-selected for size and quality based on how far and how fast they bounced down a staircase.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, whether you enjoy your cranberries jellied from a can (the ultimate comfort food which, married with gravy, salvaged the overcooked turkey during many of our childhoods), sauce from a can, in a cranberry juice based cocktail, in chocolate covered craisins, in scones, in many more variations than the Pilgrims ever would have imagined.