Happy Thanksgiving from Cranberry Land!

Happy Thanksgiving! What would today’s dinner be without cranberry sauce? I prefer the version made with fresh cranberries, especially since I live in an area famous for this ruby fruit.

Cranberry production is a major industry in the Pine Barrens, making New Jersey the third largest producer of cranberries among all 50 states. The Ocean Spray agricultural cooperative includes member growers from New Jersey. In her book Ghost Towns and Other Quirky Places in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, author Barbara Solem describes the cranberry growing and harvesting process: 

“The cranberry is a native North American plant that grows wild in low fields, meadows, and bogs and along streams. Native Americans used the cranberry as food and for medicinal purposes. Gathered for food by the early European settlers, it was eventually cultivated in Massachusetts around 1820 and in New Jersey sometime between 1825 and 1840. Cranberries are now grown in man-made bogs. The bogs are drained in spring after the last frost to ready the ground for an early bloom in June. In September and throughout October, the bogs are flooded for the wet-harvesting process that was started in New Jersey in the 1960s. Before the advent of wet harvesting, cranberries were picked by hand, and after 1925 they were picked using large wooden cranberry scoops. When the bogs are flooded in the wet-harvest method, the buoyant ripe cranberries lift off the bed of the bog and float toward the top. Workers then move around the flooded bogs with “beaters,” mechanical cranberry machines designed to free the berries from their vines. The cranberries, freed from their vines, are guided onto loading conveyors.”

Cranberry grower Sam Moore working his bog on Moore's Meadow Cranberry Farm in the Pine Barrens of Tabernacle, NJ.
Cranberry Harvest (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

In October 2019, I went on a tour of Quoexin Cranberry Farm in Medford led by biologist and Pinelands Adventures guide Steve Luell. Owned for generations by the Gerber family, the farm, one of the oldest in the state, still dry harvests cranberries. Most other growers use wet harvesting. Pinelands Adventures suspended all their tours in 2020 because of the pandemic. They reintroduced their popular cranberry tours in the Fall of 2022. 

I attended the new version of the tour I took three years ago this past October. Led by Jeff Larson, Pinelands Adventures’ most experienced tour guide, this tour took place at Moore’s Meadow in Tabernacle and demonstrated the wet harvest method.

Pinelands Adventures guide Jeff Larson leading a tour of a bog on a cranberry farm in the Pine Barrens of Tabernacle, NJ.
Cranberry Farm Tour (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

Owner Sam Moore came out of his bog to tell us about the history of his family farm, which stretched back seven generations. He also answered questions, explaining such details as the presence of white cranberries among the red.

Cranberry grower Sam Moore climbing out of his bog on Moore's Meadow Cranberry Farm in the Pine Barrens of Tabernacle, NJ.
Moore’s Meadow (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

“They’re unripe cranberries,” Sam told us. “They get sorted out. What happens is some of the white ones, if you go up to Wisconsin when they pick, they have the real cool climate. Their fruit’s almost purple looking because it ripens. That’s what it takes.”

Jeff, who worked as a truck driver on the Darlington family cranberry bog at Whitesbog for one season, showed us a multi-tined cranberry scoop used when dry harvesting cranberries by hand. “This is an antique. We don’t know exactly when it dates to, but we know it was after 1900,” he said.

Close-up photo of an antique wooden multi-tined cranberry scoop
Cranberry Scoop

We completed the tour by taking a walk through the bog. The harvest is a great time  to visit cranberry bogs, providing ample opportunity for stunning photos of vibrant Fall color and misty Autumn mornings. 

The early morning full moon reflected on the water of a mist-shrouded cranberry bog with blue sky and autumn color.
Moon over a Misty Cranberry Bog (Photo by Beach and Barrens)

Changes at Pinelands Adventures

Pinelands Adventures cranberry farm tours sold out quickly but should return next year. Most of the tour guides I met in 2019 no longer work there. However, I was pleased to have the opportunity over the past year to revisit, photograph, and share some of the tours I took before the pandemic. 

Steve Luell now works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Jeff Larson now serves as the primary guide for the cranberry farm tours and leads many other tours as well. In addition, Assistant Manager Allison Hartman rebooted the “John McPhee’s Pine Barrens Today” tour. Watch the Pinelands Adventures site to learn more about Jeff and Allison’s tours next year. 

Cranberry Recipes

When I took the cranberry tour in 2019, participants received a basket of cranberries and a collection of recipes. Although we did not receive the same after the 2022 tour, in honor of the start of the holiday season, here’s one of the recipes, courtesy of Pinelands Adventures and Quoexin Cranberry Farm!

Cranberry Chutney

    • 2 cups fresh cranberries
    • ½ cup water
    • ½ cup raisins
    • 1 small onion, sliced
    • 1 to 2 fresh jalapeno, seeded and thinly sliced
    • ½ cup sugar
    • ½ cup honey
    • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
    • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • 1 medium apple, grated
    1. Combine ingredients in a medium non-reactive saucepan.
    2. Cook uncovered over medium heat for about 15 minutes until reduced and thickened.
    3. Cover and let cool. Serve at room temperature as a condiment or in baked squash halves.

    I love cranberry juice and frequently drink pure unsweetened cranberry juice diluted with seltzer. A friend introduced me to a similar bubbly alcoholic version with the perfect holiday name. Enjoy!

    Poinsettia Cocktail

    • 1/2 ounce of orange liqueur (Cointreau, Grand Marnier), chilled
    • 3 ounces of 100% cranberry juice (not a juice blend), chilled
    • Sparkling Wine (Champagne, Prosecco), chilled
    • Fresh cranberries and a sprig of rosemary for garnish
    1. Pour cranberry juice and orange liqueur into a chilled Champagne flute. 
    2. Stir until blended.
    3. Add sparkling wine.
    4. Garnish with the cranberries and rosemary sprig.