Cranberries are naturally very nutritious and very sour.

Cranberries are naturally very nutritious and very sour.

Get Your Annual Vaccinium Every Year

Frozen cranberries are just as sour as fresh ones.

I know that because when I was a kid skating on frozen ponds in Maine the clinging cranberries above the ice were a nibble of sorts. We never identified them or told anyone, we just kind of assumed they were edible and that was that. Kids are that way, which is a good reason to channel that propensity towards organized foraging.

My next youthful cranberry surprise came when one day I discovered cranberries don’t have to grow in water. I found a patch atop a small hill watered only by rain. They were still sour.

Fresh cranberries

Cranberries are such a common commercial crop that few people ever think of collecting them in the wild. Unfortunately cranberries have also become identified with mostly Thanksgiving leaving the berry to languish the rest of the year, its only saving grace to be made into juice to reduce urinary infections. One of my favorite uses of prepared cranberries is to add them as flavoring to a mix of wild rice and chopped walnuts. The character of the cranberries makes it a delightful dish.

There are three or four species of cranberry, and as usual, botanists don’t all agree with their classifications and distinctions. The most common in the eastern US and northeast is Vaccinium macrocarpon (vak-SIN-ih-um  mak-roe-KAR-pon.)  Others include Vaccinium oxycoccos or Oxycoccos palustris (common in Europe, Asia and northern Canada)  Vaccinium microcarpum or Oxycoccos microcarpus (Small Cranberry) found in northern Europe and northern Asia. There is also Vaccinium erythrocarpum or Oxycoccos erythrocarpus which is found in the upper elevations of the Appalachian Mountains and in eastern Asia.

Skating on ponds in the winter.

Skating on ponds in the winter.

Vaccinium macrocarpon means “big cow fruit”  or maybe “Big dark red fruit.”  Vaccinium was the ancient Roman name for the bilberry, also a Vaccinium and vaccinum does mean of or from cows. Why it is associated with cows no one, tellingly, ever said. A different view is that cows have nothing to do with it at all. Vaccinus may be a corruption of the Greek word hyakinthos, which means purple or dark red.  There are similar words in other ancient languages.   “Big dark red fruit” makes more sense than “big cow fruit.” The name “cranberry” came from “crane berry” which early New Englanders called the plant because they thought it resembled a crane.  Canadians called it mossberry. Cranberries were called Fenberry by Old World English, since fen means a marsh.  Some Native Americans called Cranberries Sassamanash or Ibimi. They were used for food, medicine and dye.

Lingonberries in Lichen

Because of pictures of commercial operations at harvesting time, people think cranberries grow in water. Usually commercial operations are flooded at harvest time or to cover the plants and protect them from cold weather. As I mentioned I found a patch near my home in Maine growing on a low hill. About 95% of commercial cranberries are processed into juice drinks, sauce, and sweetened dried cranberries. The remaining 5% are sold fresh.  Fresh cranberries can be frozen and will keep more than a year (I have several pounds in my freezer.) They can be used directly in recipes without thawing. Cranberries are a significant crop in Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Quebec, southern Chile, the Baltic States, and in Eastern Europe.

Cranberries are cousin to bilberries, blueberries, and huckleberries, which are all Vacciniums. All berries with a crown are non-poisonous, but they are not all palatable. Closely related and worth mentioning is the Lingonberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, (VYE-tis eye-DEE-ah.) It is also called the Mountain Cranberry and Low Bush Cranberry. Unlike cranberries Lingonberries are not a commercial crop but are collected in most countries around the top of the world, Canada, Scandinavia, Northern Asia  et cetera. The many recipes below work with either Lingonberries or Cranberries.

What vitis-idaea means is a good guess. The standard interpretation by botanists who only speak English is that it means “Cow Grape from Mt. Ida”  (in Greece.) That really doesn’t make sense to me. Another view is that it means “Dark Red Grape of Mt. Ida” … closer but no cigar in my view.  My guess is that it means “dark red grape above all.”  Ιδία (ee-THEE-ah) in Greek means above all and the Lingonberry, which likes to hug the arctic circle, certainly grows above all.

 Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Low growing mat, usually less than one foot. Small, glossy, leathery leaves, bronzy in spring and dark-green in summer, white to pink, tube-shaped four-petaled flowers in clusters and followed by a dark red, edible fruit.

TIME OF YEAR: Fruits ripen in September or October.

ENVIRONMENT: Likes sandy soil, will grow in bogs or dry land.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Many, whole or as a sauce. See some recipes below. They can also be eaten fresh on the trail or picked frozen off the bush, but they are sour.

Cranberry Sauce

4 cups cranberries

2 cups sugar

Wash berries, add sugar, stir thoroughly and cook slowly without additional water (just what is on the berries from washing).

Boil 10 minutes.

Spiced Cranberries

(A good pickle to serve with meat or game)

5 lbs. cranberries

3-1/2 cups white vinegar

2 tablespoons cinnamon or allspice

1 tablespoon cloves

Boil for 2 hours.

Place in hot sterilized jars and seal.

Cranberry Orange Relish


4 cups (1 lb) cranberries

2 oranges, quartered (seeds removed)

2 cups sugar


Put berries and oranges (including rind) through food grinder (coarse blade).

Stir in sugar and chill.

Makes 2 pints.

Keeps well for several weeks stored in refrigerator.

Cranberry Pie


1 (9-inch) baked pastry shell

1 cup Cranberry Berry Sauce (see recipe)

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup water

2 egg whites

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup heavy cream


Cook berry sauce and cornstarch until thickened. Cool and keep for top.

Cook sugar and 1/3 cup water to soft ball stage (238ºF). Add gelatin softened in 1/4 cup water. Slowly pour this syrup over stiffly beaten egg whites, beating constantly. Add salt, lemon juice and almond extract, continue to beat until cool. Beat cream and combine with egg white mixture. Pour into pie shell. Chill. Spread cranberry Sauce over top and place in the fridge until serving time.

Cranberry Coffee Cake


Melt 2 tablespoons butter in an 8-inch square pan.

Spread 1/4 cup of sugar over the melted butter


1 cup cranberry sauce

1/2 cup pecans, chopped (or walnuts)

1 tablespoon grated orange rind.

Spread this mixture over sugar.

Sift together

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sugar

Cut in 1/3 cup shortening until it resembles corn meal.

Beat 1 egg and add 1/2 cup of milk. Add to dry ingredients, mix only until all the flour is dampened. Turn into pan on top of partridgeberry mixture. Bake in preheated 400º oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on a rack for about 45 minutes, then turn upside down on a serving plate. Serve warm.

Cranberry Bread


2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons double acting baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

Juice and grated rind of 1 orange

2 tablespoons melted shortening

1 egg, well beaten

1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts, other if you desire)

1-1/2 cup partridgeberries


Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt.

Combine orange juice, grated rind, melted shortening and enough water to make 3/4 of a cup, then stir in beaten egg. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients, mixing just to dampen.

Spoon a layer of batter into a greased 9″x5″x3″ loaf pan, spreading evenly; sprinkle cranberries over this layer, add more batter, sprinkle with berries, then repeat until all is used up. Bake in a preheated 350ºF oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool. Store over night for easy slicing.

Steamed Cranberry Pudding


4 tablespoons butter, melted.

1 cup sugar

1 egg

2 cups flour (1 pastry flour, 1 bread flour)

(Note:- I use all-purpose flour)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk and water

1 cup Cranberry sauce


Sift together, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Beat egg and water-milk mixture together. Stir into dry ingredients. Lastly, add vanilla and melted butter. Mix well. Pour into a greased mold, cover or tie waxed paper over the top. Place on a rack or trivet in a deep kettle, pour in boiling water to half the depth of the mold and cover kettle. Steam for 2 hours, replenishing water (if necessary) with boiling water to original depth. Served with heated cranberry sauce OR sauce may be put in the mold first and batter added and the whole steamed together.

Cranberry Crumbles


1 cup uncooked rolled oats

1/2 cup flour

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup butter

2 cups (1 lb) cranberry sauce


Mix oats, flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter until crumbly. Place half this mixture in an 8″x8″ greased baking dish. Cover with cranberry sauce. Top with rest of mixture. Bake in a preheated 350ºF for 45 minutes. Cut into squares, while hot. Serve topped with scoops of vanilla ice cream or with cranberry sherbet. May also be served cold as cookie bars.

Serves 6 to 8.

Cranberry Punch


1 quart berries

6 cups water

2 cups sugar

1 cup orange juice

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 quart ginger ale.

Cook berries in 4 cups water until soft.

Crush and drain through cheesecloth.

Boil sugar and remaining 2 cups water for 5 minutes, add to berry juice and chill.

Add fruit juices. Just before serving, add ginger ale.

Cranberry Muffins


1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup 2% milk, soured

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 large egg

11/2 cups cranberries

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt


1. Combine milk and oats.

2. Mix egg, oil, and sugar.

3. Mix dry ingredients.

4. Add berries to dry ingredients till coated.

  1. 5.Mix all ingredients just till blended.
  2. 6.6.Bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes.

Cranberry Salsa

*  12 ounces cranberries, fresh or frozen

* 1 bunch cilantro, chopped

* 1 bunch green onions, cut into 3 inch lengths

* 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

* 2 limes, juiced

* 3/4 cup white sugar

* 1 pinch salt


Combine cranberries, cilantro, green onions, jalapeno pepper, lime juice, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a medium blade. Chop to medium consistency. Refrigerate if not using immediately. Serve at room temperature.   


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