As Thanksgiving approaches, New Yorkers (along with other Americans) begin thinking about the holiday feast.
One of the items that is paramount to the Thanksgiving table is the cranberry, that luscious burgundy fruit that is native to the swamps and bogs of the Northeast. According to history.com, it is probable the Pilgrims did have cranberries at their first Thanksgivig feast, but not in the sauce form most enjoy today.
Native Americans ate cranberries and used them as a natural dye, the website states. “The Pilgrims might have been familiar with cranberries by the first Thanksgiving, but they wouldn’t have made sauces and relishes with the tart orbs. That’s because the sacks of sugar that traveled across the Atlantic on the Mayflower were nearly or fully depleted by November 1621. Cooks didn’t begin boiling cranberries with sugar and using the mixture as an accompaniment for meats until about 50 years later.”
Nonetheless, a lot of people today wouldn’t think of putting on a Thanksgiving spread without the cranberry. In New York state, there are two cranberry farms — one in Williamstown in Oswego County and one in Brasher Falls in St. Lawrence County.
While they both churn out those tangy berries during each October harvest, the farm owners grow them differently.
Peter Paquin, owner of Deer River Cranberries in Brasher Falls, grows about 80 acres of cranberries and does wet harvesting, which means the area where the berries grow is flooded and the berries are harvested.
Most of the cranberries grown in the Northeast are grown and harvested from bogs, which are areas of low, soft, marshy ground usually located near wetlands. According to the website for Ocean Spray (responsible for 75 percent of the cranberries sold worldwide, says encyclopedia.com) bogs are where “cranberries love to grow.”
Paquin began his New York operation (he already runs some cranberry bogs in Massachusetts) in 2004 after buying a former hay and crop farm in 1999. It took him a few years to get the ground ready, leveling the soil, digging a reservoir, putting sand in the area and then planting the cranberry plants.
He said the yields are good and the quality is excellent. He sells his berries to companies that freeze them and sell in stores and to some who make nutritional supplements from cranberries.
He also sells berries to customers who come to the farm during harvest season from Oct. 1 through Oct. 15.
In Williamstown, in eastern Oswego County, 180 acres of cranberries are grown in sandy, acidic fields (just right for cranberries) and are dry harvested with machines plucking the berries off the vines. You won’t find any water or bogs here.
“This is non-conventional upland harvesting,” said farm owner Marc Bieler.
The Oswego County farm — which was the first cranberry farm in New York state — is owned by Atoka Cranberry of Manseau, Quebec, the largest cranberry growing and processing company in Canada. Manseau is about 93 miles east of Montreal near Quebec City.
Atoka’s President Bieler bought the farm’s harvest in 2002 when the Oswego Cranberry Co. — which then owned the farm — was going out of business.
Then Bieler and Atoka bought the entire farm. Since then, Atoka has been dry harvesting the berries each October.
Wet harvested cranberries are used for processed items, such as juice or sauce. Dry harvested berries can be used for fresh sale or items such as dried cranberries. Only 2 percent of commercial cranberries are harvested using the dry method. The majority are harvested by flooding the fields and scooping up the floating berries.
Berries harvested in Oswego County go to the processing plant in Quebec where they are cleaned and frozen for use in juice concentrate and as sweet and dried cranberries.
Bieler said Atoka makes juice and concentrate for many different labels. Depending on the bid from various grocery stores, he said, people in Central and Northern New York could at one time or another be drinking cranberry juice made from Williamstown berries.
**Cranberries are one of the most nutritious foods a person can eat.
**One cup of whole cranberries has just 46 calories, no fat, cholesterol or sodium, 18 percent of the daily requirement of fiber, 22 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin C, 5 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin B-6 and 1 percent of the daily requirements of vitamin A and magnesium.
**That cup also has just 4 grams of sugar.