Cranberries date back to medieval Europe, where they were known as marsh-worts, fen-worts, and moss-berries. Across the Atlantic Ocean, Native Americans living in the America’s were also eating and using cranberries for centuries before settlers even came to the America’s and eventually incorporated them into their Thanksgiving dinner.
Traditionally found in bog or swamp environments, cranberries grow on a vine that can be found mostly submerged in water, which perpetuates the common misconception that they grow under water. The settler’s term “cranberry” was derived from the fact that the appearance of the berry was similar to that of the beak and head of a crane. Native Americans, who used the fruit in its raw form as well as dried out to preserve meats, preferred their original term, sassamensesh.
Due to the bitter, sour taste of the cranberry it was and still is most commonly sweetened and used as a condiment or side dish. There is no proof that cranberries were incorporated into the first Thanksgiving dinner between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, which took place in October 1621, but it is believed that the Native Americans may have brought it as a generous contribution. The prime harvesting time for cranberries takes place between September to December, which would allow for the perfect ripe cranberries for the Native Americans to share with their newfound kin.
Overtime, cranberries continued to have a significant impact on the New England food scene, quickly becoming a staple for the holiday season. The Cape Cod Cranberry Company, who marketed the product as, “Ocean Spray Cape Cod Cranberry Sauce”, first canned cranberries in 1912. Ocean Spray is now the leading corporation for cranberry products.
Cranberries are most often prepared during Thanksgiving dinner in the United States and Canada and during Christmas in the United Kingdom.
The preparation and taste of cranberry sauce varies depending on the area it was harvested and the ingredients added. Almonds, orange juice, zest, maple syrup, port, and cinnamon are all common flavors added for sweetness. The versatile fruit can be transformed into a variety of delectable treats such as cranberry bread, cranberry pistachio biscotti, and cranberry chocolate devil’s food cake.
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