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Cranberry Harvest In New Jersey
It’s cranberry harvesting time in New Jersey. How does one tell if a cranberry is ripe? See if it bounces – ripe cranberries bounce because they have air pockets. The cranberry is one of three fruits native to North America. The other two are the Concord grape and the blueberry (how New Jerseyans usher in their summer.)
The cranberry has been in New Jersey for thousands of years and was used by the Lenni Lenape Indians for food, medicine, dye, and as a sign of peace during tribal feasts. They referred to it as “pakim” or “ibimi” for bitter berry. The Lenape made a favorite dish known as “pemmican” which involved mashing cranberries into deer meat, shaping it like a cake, and allowing it to dry in the sun. Naturally dehydrated, pemmican stayed fresh for a long time.
It wasn’t until German and Dutch settlers arrived in New Jersey in the 17th and 18th centuries that the name “crane-berries” was introduced based on the shape of the plant. It had a long vine that twisted resembling the head, neck and bill of a crane. In 1789, New Jersey was the first state to regulate the harvest of cranberries. It passed a law making it a crime to pick cranberries prior to October 10th. The punishment was a fine of ten shillings.
New Jersey cranberry harvest, circa 1870s
John Webb, a one legged school teacher from Cassville, NJ (Ocean County) commenced the first official cranberry farm in New Jersey in 1840. He cultivated the cranberries in a bog, barreled them, and sold them to whaling ship merchants in Philadelphia. The high Vitamin C content in the cranberries served to ward off scurvy on long voyages.
No one knows exactly when cranberries were introduced to the American Thanksgiving meal, but references to cranberry sauce go back to the early 1700s. The first official use of cranberries at Thanksgiving occurred in 1864 when Major General Ulysses S. Grant ordered that Union troops be served cranberry sauce as part of their holiday meal. It has been a staple ever since.
At its peak in 1910, New Jersey had over 12,000 acres of cranberry bogs leading the nation in cranberry production. The sandy, acidic soil on top with nutritious loamy soil underneath make for ideal growing conditions and the wet bogs make for the most efficient way of harvesting. During World War II, American soldiers consumed about one million pounds of dehydrated cranberries per year – the majority of which came from New Jersey.
Current Cranberry Harvest in New Jersey
The leading grower in present New Jersey is William S. Haines of Chatsworth with over 700 acres planted in cranberries. The Haines family has been in the cranberry business since shortly after the Civil War and built the original bogs in an area known as “The Birches.” So when you buy cranberries for this Thanksgiving, buy local and think New Jersey grown!
From your “Running Realtor,” Andrew Gonzales……