Crazy for Cranberries

Cape Cod is cranberry country and this is cranberry season! From main roads to lazy scenic byways across the Cape, keep your eyes out during the next few weeks and you’re sure to see local cranberry growers harvesting their bogs. A rite of the fall season, this year’s harvest is projected to be among the finest.

There’s nothing quite like the view of a crimson sea of berries corralled on a glittering, flooded bog. Wet picking is the method of harvesting that commonly comes to mind. Red berries and blue sky reflecting in the mirrored surface of a watery bog create a classic Cape Cod scene. Wet harvested berries are sold for processing into finished products like juice, cranberry sauce and sweetened, dried cranberries.

Dry harvesting is less visually dramatic but much more laborious. Only about 10% of area berries are dry picked. Dry picked berries actually bring a higher price at market and provide the fresh berries sold at farmer’s markets and grocery stores. No longer picked by hand with wooden scoops, the berries are now mechanically picked by what looks like a self-propelled mower. The mower is guided by an operator and the berries are caught in a burlap bag somewhat like a leaf-catcher on a home lawn mower. As each bag is filled, the operator attaches a fresh bag, circling or crossing the bog until the harvest is complete. Individual bags are combined into larger containers, sometimes carted off the bog by hand, other times loaded into large plastic bins weighing up to 300 pounds when full. Some growers utilize helicopters to lift the bins. Others might use nothing but good old fashioned hard labor–and I can tell you, from experience, those bags are plenty heavy!

No matter what method you observe, a Cape Cod cranberry harvest is a time honored tradition. Learn more about cranberries on Cape Cod at the 8th Annual Cranberry Harvest Celebration, hosted by the A.D. Makepeace Company and the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ Association, October 8 & 9, 2011. Alternatively, stop by Niska Bog on the Yarmouth-Dennis town line; look for the cranberry and gold sign along Route 6A for a peek at the oldest operating bog on the Cape. You just might catch the proprietor at work–Kent Sargent might even take a break from his labors and regale you with some cranberry lore of his own. You can also celebrate the cranberry at Annie’s Crannies, another historic bog originally tended in the early 1800s.