Yesterday I toured Wetherby Cranberry Company and jumped right in (literally!) Located in Warrens, Wis., (Cranberry Capital of the World!) Nodji Van Wychen and her family boast big red berries that are in high demand.
Wetherby Cranberry Co. was founded in 1903 and began to pack cranberries at the location in 1905. Today, the marsh has approximately 200 acres of cranberry vines. Head over to www.freshcranberries.com!
The cranberry is a staple of Wisconsin agriculture and has earned the spot as our state’s official fruit. Our state ranks #1 in the nation for the production of this tart red fruit as it is our number one fruit crop, both in acres planted and in economic contribution. Here in Wisconsin, we produce 64% percent of the nation’s cranberries and on a global scale, produce over half the world’s cranberries.
These berries were first discovered in this country by early settlers, who initially called them “crane-berries” because the blossoms resembled the head and beak of a sand hill crane. Cranberries were first harvested around 1860 in Berlin, Wisconsin and are now grown in 20 counties on 21,100 acres throughout Central and Northern Wisconsin.
Contrary to popular belief, cranberries don’t grow in water. They are grown on low-lying vines in well-drained, sandy soils with a low pH. However, these cranberry marshes are established near an adequate water supply, both for irrigation and for harvesting purposes. This water supply can also be used to protect the berries from harsh Wisconsin weather as the water freezes, producing a thin protective layer of ice over the vines.
Harvest can be broken down into two separate categories: wet and dry. Berries destined to be sold fresh fall into the dry harvest method. The bed will be flooded with a minimal amount of water to float the berries upward, while a picking machine combs through the vines to gently remove the berries, which then flow freely to the surface and are collected. This method ensures that the berries are handled gently and stay intact to be sold fresh. Wet harvest is used for cranberries that are set to be processed into juice, sauces, or sweetened dried cranberries. Beds are flooded with eight to ten inches of water and a machine with a circular beater is driven through the beds to release the berries from the vines. They are then corralled into a corner and conveyed onto a transport truck. 95 percent of the cranberries harvested in Wisconsin are destined for processing, while the remaining 5 percent are marketed fresh.
Of all the cranberries we produce in a year, 20 percent are consumed during the few short weeks of Thanksgiving and the holiday season, but cranberries are great any time of the year. For baking, cranberries are the ideal fruit due to their natural tart flavor. This tartness helps to round out the sweetness of baked goods for a tasty dessert. The bright red color of cranberries also adds to breads, muffins, and cookies. On the savory end of the spectrum, cranberries help to add an extra tang to pork, venison, or beef in the form of chutney and relishes. Make sure to stock up on fresh cranberries when they hit store shelves in the fall. These berries can be frozen for up to a year and pulled out of the freezer to use all year long.
In addition to its deliciousness, a cranberry is also packed with nutrition. Cranberries are a low calorie, high vitamin and high mineral fruit with great fiber content. These traits are important in todays health conscious society.
Take pride in Wisconsin’s cranberry industry by purchasing berries grown right here in Wisconsin for your next recipe. Check the packaging and search for the “Wisconsin Cranberry” logo. Chances are, the majority of products on shelves here in the state will contain Wisconsin cranberries, as we continue to lead the world in production of this nutritious, and delicious, fruit.