Episode Guide: Cranberries in Massachusetts Img

In this episode, we delve into the heart of cranberry country in Massachusetts, where Capri explores the rich history and vibrant present of cranberry farming. From wet harvesting in bogs to indigenous culinary traditions and modern-day preservation techniques, this episode is a celebration of one of America’s native fruits — the cranberry.

Bogger Experience & Cranberry Harvest Dinner

Our journey begins at Benson’s Pond, a multi-generational cranberry farm near Cape Cod, operated by Erin and Cass Gilmore. This farm, with its 40 acres of cranberry bogs, represents the dedication and love of a family that has been cultivating cranberries for three generations. Cass’s parents, Carolyn and Kirby, purchased the property 40 years ago, and today, Erin and Cass continue the tradition while also embracing agritourism to share their passion with the public.

Capri dons her waders and joins the “Bogger for a Day” event, where guests get a firsthand look at the wet harvesting process. Erin explains that cranberries don’t actually grow in water. They grow in low-lying areas. To harvest, they flood the fields and use water reels, or eggbeaters, to loosen the berries, which float due to tiny air pockets inside them. Capri is thrilled to participate in netting the floating cranberries, experiencing the process from start to finish.

After a day in the bogs, Capri sits down with the Gilmore family for a special cranberry-inspired dinner. The menu, prepared by local caterer Cranberry Vine Catering, features dishes like cranberry and brie bites, beef brisket with cranberry sauce, and cranberry chocolate chip cookies. Capri talks with Carolyn and Kirby about the evolution of their farm and the addition of agritourism events. They reflect on the changes over the years, noting how modern techniques have streamlined the harvesting process while events like the bogging experiences bring the community closer.

Historic Harvesting Methods & A Time-Honored Recipe

Carolyn takes Capri on a journey back in time to explore historic cranberry harvesting methods. Using an antique wooden scoop, Carolyn demonstrates how cranberries were dry harvested in the past. This tool was used for generations before modern machinery. Capri tries her hand at harvesting, marveling at the simplicity and effectiveness of the traditional methods.

Next, Carolyn leads Capri to the cranberry screening house, where fresh cranberries are sorted by size and bounce. “Cranberries were traditionally sorted this way before the advent of wet harvesting in the 1950s,” Carolyn shares. She explains how wet harvested berries are typically used for juices and dried snacks, while dry harvested berries are often sold fresh or used in simple recipes like cranberry sauce.

In the kitchen, Carolyn shows Capri how to make a classic cranberry sauce with fresh dry harvested berries, sugar, and orange juice. Cranberries naturally contain pectin, which helps the sauce set up like a jelly during cooking. The resulting sauce is a vibrant, tart-sweet delight, perfect for any meal.

Cranberry Sauce Recipe

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar (adjust to taste)
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  1. Prepare the Cranberries: Rinse the cranberries under cold water and drain.
  2. Combine Ingredients: In a medium-sized pot, add the cranberries, sugar, and orange juice.
  3. Cook the Sauce: Place the pot on the stove over medium heat. Stir occasionally as the mixture heats up.
  4. Simmer: Once the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the cranberries burst and the sauce thickens.
  5. Cool: Remove the pot from the heat and let the sauce cool to room temperature. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.
  6. Serve: Serve your homemade cranberry sauce chilled or at room temperature.

Indigenous Cooking with Cranberries

Capri travels to Uncasville, Connecticut, to meet Rachel Sayet, a writer and chef of Mohegan ancestry. Rachel has dedicated her career to preserving and sharing indigenous food traditions, including seasonal eating and traditional cooking methods.

Rachel introduces Capri to Johnny Cakes, a traditional traveling food made from cornmeal and water. She explains, “Johnny Cakes were essential for long journeys, providing sustenance and energy.” Rachel demonstrates how to make Johnny Cakes with both fresh and dried cranberries, highlighting the different flavors and textures each brings to the dish. Capri tastes the cakes, noting the burst of flavor from the cranberries.

Rachel also shares her unique recipe for a Johnny Cake turkey sandwich, featuring oven-roasted turkey, watercress, and cranberry relish. The Johnny Cake Sandwich is a perfect example of how traditional foods can be adapted for modern tastes.

Johnny Cake Turkey Sandwich

Cranberry Johnny Cakes:

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup fresh cranberries, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • Indigenous Cranberry Relish:
  • 1/2 cup cranberry preserves or jam (from a First Nations purveyor, if available)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Sandwich Fillings:

  • 8 oz turkey breast, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup dandelion greens, washed and dried
  • 4 slices cheddar cheese 
  1. Prepare the Cranberry Johnny Cakes: In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, chopped cranberries, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Add the milk and melted butter, stirring until well combined.
  3. Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat and lightly grease it.
  4. Pour 1/4 cup of batter onto the griddle for each cake, spreading it out slightly. Cook until bubbles form on the surface and the edges look set, about 2-3 minutes. Flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until golden brown. Repeat with the remaining batter.
  5. Make the Cranberry Relish: In a small bowl, mix the cranberry preserves or jam with the cinnamon until well combined.
  6. Assemble the Sandwiches: Take one Johnny Cake and spread a generous amount of cranberry relish on it. Layer with slices of turkey breast, dandelion greens, and a slice of cheddar cheese (if using). Top with another Johnny Cake.
  7. Serve the sandwiches immediately, while the Johnny Cakes are still warm.

Preserving Cranberries in Jams & Jellies

In Harwich, Massachusetts, Capri visits Debbie Greiner of Cape Cod Cranberry Harvest, a which specializes in homemade cranberry preserves. Debbie’s journey began 25 years ago at a children’s playgroup and has since grown into a successful venture with a wide range of products.

Debbie shows Capri how to make cranberry-blueberry jelly and cranberry chutney. She explains that cranberries have a natural tartness that pairs well with both sweet and savory flavors. Capri helps chop jalapeños for cranberry pepper jelly, a popular item known for its balance of sweetness and heat. 

Cranberry Pepper Jelly 

  • 1½ cups fresh cranberries, roughly chopped
  • 1½ cups red bell pepper, finely chopped (about 1½ peppers)
  • 2 large jalapeno peppers, finely minced (about ⅔ cup)
  • 2 serrano peppers, finely minced (about ⅓ cup)
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 6 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon pectin
  • 4 teaspoons calcium water (prepared according to package directions)
  1. Combine Ingredients: In a large deep pot, combine the cranberries, red bell pepper, jalapenos, serranos, and vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Prepare Pectin Mixture: While the mixture heats, prepare the calcium water according to the package instructions. In a small bowl, mix 1 cup of sugar with 1 tablespoon of Pomona’s pectin.
  3. Add Calcium Water and Pectin: When the mixture reaches a boil, add the calcium water and the sugar/pectin mixture. Stir well and bring to a boil again.
  4. Add Remaining Sugar: Once boiling, add the remaining 5 cups of sugar all at once. Stir to combine and bring to a rolling boil (a boil that continues even while stirring).
  5. Boil and Finish: Allow the mixture to boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat.
  6. Jar and Store: Pour the hot mixture into sterile jars. Process the jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes for long-term storage. Alternatively, store the jam in the refrigerator for up to a month or freeze for up to 6 months.

Debbie shares with us her favorite ways to enjoy her preserves, including serving cranberry pepper jelly with cream cheese on crackers and topping chicken salad with cranberry chutney. These preserves showcase the incredible range of flavors that cranberries can offer.

Cranberry Chutney Recipe

  • 1½ cups fresh cranberries
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 2 oranges, peeled and chopped
  • 1 green apple, peeled and chopped
  • ½ cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup cranberry juice
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  1. Combine Ingredients: In a large pot, combine the cranberries, raisins, oranges, green apple, apricots, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, and cranberry juice.
  2. Add Spices and Sugar: Stir in the brown sugar, allspice, ground cloves, cayenne pepper, ground cinnamon, curry powder, and ground ginger.
  3. Cook the Chutney: Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The chutney should thicken and the fruits should soften.
  4. Cool and Store: Remove the chutney from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Transfer it to sterile jars and store in the refrigerator for up to a month, or process in a hot water bath for longer storage.

Serving Suggestions:

Cream Cheese and Crackers: Spread cream cheese on crackers and top with a spoonful of cranberry chutney.

Chicken Salad: Mix chutney into chicken salad for a sweet and spicy twist.

Rice Squares: Serve chutney on rice squares for a unique appetizer.

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