Though the cranberry is most often associated with Thanksgiving, our state’s most famous fruit is worth celebrating year-round. Cranberries are important to Wisconsin’s economy, and can be an essential part of a healthy diet.
Cranberries, native to North America, have a strong tie to Wisconsin. The first marshes in the state date back almost 200 years, to the 1830s. According to the U.S. Cranberry Marketing Committee, Edward Sackett of Sackett Harbor, N.Y., first traveled to Berlin, Wis., to inspect some land. There, he found 700 acres of wild cranberry vines and decided to cultivate the marshes. Since Sackett’s time, growers in Wisconsin have been tending to and caring for this little red super fruit.
Today, more than 250 cranberry growers can be found throughout central and northern Wisconsin. The sandy soils in these regions are perfect for the tart berries. Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not grow in water. Cranberries are a perennial plant that grow on vines in special fields called bogs or marshes. When it is time to harvest the berries, the marshes are flooded with water. Thanks to a pocket of air with four chambers inside of the cranberry, the berries float to the surface of the water when the marsh is flooded. Harvesting equipment can then collect the berries. Each year, cranberries are harvested from late September through the end of October.
In 2018, Wisconsin cranberry production totaled 5.5 million barrels (each barrel weighs in at 100 pounds). In early times, cranberries were shipped to market in wooden barrels, transported by train. Although many years have passed since cranberries were shipped in barrels, this unit of weight remains the industry standard. Altogether, Wisconsin’s cranberry production accounted for more than 62% of the nation’s cranberry supply in 2018. The next leading state was Massachusetts, producing less than half that of our state’s growers.
The majority of cranberries harvested in Wisconsin are processed into cranberry products able to be enjoyed year-round. Though cranberry juice and cranberry sauce may come to mind first, the list of ways to enjoy cranberries seem almost endless. Have you ever tried cranberry cheese? What about cranberry salsa? Also be sure to try cranberry ice cream, cranberry mustard and cranberry sausage!
No matter what cranberry product you choose to enjoy, you can be sure your choice is a healthy one. According to the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, cranberries score among the highest of all fruits in antioxidants. Diets that include fruits and vegetables with high-antioxidant values, like cranberries, may help support memory function and coordination. Cranberries are also cholesterol-free, fat-free and low in sodium, and help maintain a healthy heart.
This spring, celebrate the little red fruit that packs a big punch. Not only are cranberries healthy, but they’re also delicious. These berries represent Wisconsin’s rich agriculture history and are truly woven into the story of our state. Learn more about our state’s fruit and find recipes for your next cranberry dish at wiscran.org.
Martin is the 72nd Alice in Dairyland.