At Work in the Cranberry Bog

Museum shows cranberry bog harvest with handcrafted tools


| December 2000



A cranberry bog at Kingston, Mass.

A cranberry bog at Kingston, Mass. The ditches are used to channel water for bog flooding, an important part of cranberry cultivation.

When cranberries are cooking, have you ever wondered why you can hear the berries popping in the pan? Or why, if one falls to the floor, it bounces? 

Those unusual actions are due to the cranberry's unique design, which features air pockets in each berry. When the berry is fresh from the cranberry bog and healthy, the pockets are full of air, giving it a good bounce. When the berry deteriorates, the pockets deflate and the bounce is gone. When fresh berries are cooked, the air inside heats up, causing them to explode.

Cranberries have been a part of our culture since native Americans introduced the wild fruit to the early New England settlers in the 17th century. The Cape Cod Pequots and the New Jersey Leni-Lenape tribes called the cranberry "ibimi" (or bitter berry), but it was the Pilgrims who gave the berry its modern name. To them, the shape of the plant's bloom resembled the head of the sandhill crane, a heron-like bird common to the area, so they called the fruit a "crane berry," which later evolved into "cranberry."

Just a short walk from Plymouth Rock on Cape Cod Bay, where the Mayflower landed in 1620, is the Cranberry World Visitors Center. Sponsored by Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., the center includes a small museum celebrating a farming industry that has been a part of local life in southeastern Massachusetts for almost 400 years.

Ray Poole, a tour guide at the center, can answer any questions a visitor may have about the cranberry.

"When the Pilgrims landed, the cranberries were growing wild," he said. "The native Americans helped them out with food and shelter, and showed them the berries that grew in the bogs. They showed them how to make pemmican, which was dried cranberries and dried venison mixed with lard. They made it into hamburger-size patties, baked them in the sun, then put them in baskets made of reeds to store for the winter. They were a source of vitamins and protein."