V. trilobum – nope, not this one!
Not to be confused with the pictured cranberry, Viburnum trilobum (high bush cranberry), which makes a fantastic jelly but grows on compact shrubs, or the ornamental V. opulus and other Viburnum species and cultivars which are gorgeous but not edible, the cranberry we associate with holiday feasting in Canada and the United States is the totally unrelated Vaccinium macrocarpon. (The viburnums are actually kin to elderberries and are not true cranberries). V. macrocarpon is native to North America. The vines grow in marshy areas, and commercial cranberry fields are flooded during harvest times, to make it easier for growers to gather the fruit. (I found a good video showing the process here).
Nor this one…V. opulus
When British colonists first came to America, the First Nations peoples educated them about the value of “craneberries” (called Sassamanash by the Algonquin and Ibimi by the Wampnanoag), which had been used for centuries for dye and fibre, and for food and medicine. The colonists quickly recognized that the berries were good for staving off scurvy, so they became a staple on board trading vessels of the time. The berries also became massively popular as a culinary delight in England, and commanded top dollar as an export. Apparently, cranberries could appease grumpy kings, as well: in 1677, they were sent to Charles II when he became overly fussy about the colonists minting their own currency. If only international politics were so manageable nowadays!
In 2007, 79,163 metric tonnes of cranberries were harvested in Canada (primarily from operations in British Columbia and Quebec), which translated to $44.3 million in exports and $17.2 million in imports. That’s a lot of cranberry sauce!
This recipe for cranberry fudge is a holiday staple at my workplace, as one of our former managers still pops by every Christmas with a huge plate for all of us to share. Even if you’re totally cratered by sugar at this juncture in the holiday season, bookmark this one for next year’s cookie plates…you’ll love both the taste and how easy it is to make.
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup icing (powdered) sugar
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz dried cranberries
Prepare an 8″ square pan by lining it with plastic wrap or baking parchment.
Combine chocolate chips and syrup in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high until melted and smooth. (Keep checking it so you don’t overheat it. The wattage varies depending on what model of microwave you have, so I haven’t listed a specific time here). If you don’t wish to use the microwave, you can do this step in a small saucepan over low heat on the stovetop.
Remove the chocolate and syrup mixture from the heat. Add icing sugar, evaporated milk, and vanilla. Stir until mixture is shiny. Add dried cranberries and combine well. Pour into prepared pan and tap the bottom of the pan gently on the countertop to level the mixture. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. Cut into small squares and serve.
What are your favourite cranberry recipes?
Further Reading: Decking the Halls: The Folklore and Traditions of Christmas Plants by Linda Allen (2000, Willow Creek Press, Wisconsin)
Source: Crop Profile for Cranberry in Canada, prepared by Pesticide Risk Reduction Program, Pest Management Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, September 2007