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Liven Up Thanksgiving With Cranberry Fun Facts

American cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon.

Can't talk about politics or religion at Thanksgiving dinner? No problem. Talk about cranberries, instead.

I know, I know. It doesn't seem like you could fill much time with cranberries. But Susan Playfair, author of America's Founding Fruit: The Cranberry in a New Environment, and I talked about cranberries for an hour, and spent much of it laughing. Here are just four of the most memorable facts from that conversation:

  1. The cranberry - Latin name Vaccinium macrocarpon - is one of just three cultivated fruits native to North America. Seriously. The other two are blueberries and Concord grapes.

  2. The name "cranberry" is a derivative of "crane berry." You only have to look at a plant to see why. The droop of a laden cranberry branch evokes the slender neck and head of a crane.
  3. Sea captains used to make their crew eat a tablespoon of cranberries - unsweetened, unadorned cranberries - each day to avoid scurvy. Dry-harvested berries can last for months under the right conditions, making them ideal for long voyages.
  4. Cranberries are also excellent at fighting urinary tract infections, thanks to an abundance of chemicals called proanthocyanidins, or PACs for short. It's one of the things that has launched the berry into the "super fruit" category.
  5. Cranberry processors use a bounce test to gauge the quality of berries. The practice apparently dates back to approximately 1880, when John “Peg-Leg” Webb dumped a crate of cranberries down his loft stairs and noticed that only the best ones bounced all the way to the bottom.

It might be edging a bit too close to politics for Thanksgiving dinner conversation, but it's worth remembering that climate change poses a serious risk to cranberry cultivation; enough so that some growers have started buying land in Canada to hedge their bets. Currently, cranberries grow in just a handful of states in New England, the Pacific Northwest and around the Great Lakes. Personally, I'd be sorry to see them go.

Credit http://www.susanplayfair.com/cranberries.html
Susan as a toddler on her great-grandparents' cranberry bog.

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