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Cranberries: Wisconsin’s superfruit

closeup of cranberries on the bush
VERSATILE: Only 5% of Wisconsin’s cranberry crop is sold as fresh berries. The other 95% is made into sauce, juice, dried fruit and other foods.
Alice in Dairyland: Wisconsin is No. 1 in the nation in cranberry production.

By Kaitlyn Riley

Is it a bird? Is it a crane? No, it is a cranberry.

The cranberry was once called a “crane berry” by settlers because its blossom resembles a sandhill crane. Cranberries were first harvested in Wisconsin around 1860 in Berlin. They became Wisconsin’s official state fruit in 2004. Today, more than 250 growers in central and northern Wisconsin produce cranberries across 20 counties on nearly 21,000 acres.

Our cranberries may not wear capes and fly, but they have a large bounce in economic value. Wisconsin cranberry production totaled 5.37 million barrels in 2017. Wisconsin is expected to harvest 5.9 million barrels this year, according to Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers. Each barrel of cranberries weighs about 100 pounds.

Wisconsin is proud to be the nation’s top producer of cranberries, growing 64% of the total. In fact, Wisconsin’s total cranberry production is more than twice that of the next leading state, Massachusetts. Wisconsin’s nearly $1 billion cranberry industry provides nearly 4,000 jobs, according to Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers.

While there are many myths and legends about Wisconsin cranberries, they do not grow in water. The fruit grows on low-running vines in sandy bogs and marshes. Those marshes are flooded with water to help with the harvest. The tiny, tart berries soar to the surface, where they are collected by harvesting equipment in late September and October. One of the highlights of my year as Alice will be touring a marsh and diving into a cranberry bog full of this season’s produce for the full Wisconsin experience.

Some may only think about cranberries during the holiday, season paired with a Thanksgiving turkey or strung around a Christmas tree. That is understandable considering only 5% of Wisconsin’s cranberry crop is sold as fresh berries. The other 95% is made into sauce, juice, dried fruit and other foods. However, cranberries pack a punch in more than 1,000 food and beverage products on the market. The popularity of cranberries is making a splash as we discover how versatile the tangy, red berry is.

I can still recall purchasing my first bag of fresh cranberries at Warrens Cranberry Festival nearly four years ago. Not knowing what to do with the fruit, I was hesitant to purchase too many. After finding fun, delicious recipes at home, I regretted not purchasing more. See one of those recipes below. The subtle, popping sounds of cranberries cooking on our stovetop was soothing on a chilly fall day. A delicious balance of tart and sweet made our desserts almost impossible to share with friends and family that Thanksgiving, as I kept eating just one more piece.

Healthy fruit
No matter how you enjoy them, cranberries are among the highest of all fruits in antioxidants. Diets that include high-antioxidant foods may help support memory and coordination, according to Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers. The antioxidants can support a healthy immune system to keep common colds and the flu at bay during this upcoming winter.

Whether it is their economic impact, health benefits or delicious taste, Wisconsin cranberries come to our aid in many ways. The superfruit does not wear a disguise. In fact, there is a list of where to find Wisconsin cranberries online at wiscran.org. That website also includes information about recipes, tours and more. Additionally, you can follow my adventures at aliceindairyland.com or on social media to get a glimpse of my visit to a marsh! When will you call on the state’s superfruit?

Riley is the 71st Alice in Dairyland.

Cranberry Topping

3 cups fresh Wisconsin cranberries
1¼ cup sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ cup orange juice

Mix all ingredients. In a saucepan on the stove, cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. As the cranberries cook, they will begin popping. When they are finished popping, they are done. Cool.

Simply add on top of your favorite cheesecake recipe, ice cream, or other dessert and enjoy!

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