The Truth about Bogs, Straight From the Bog™
So what the heck is a bog anyway? Is it a lake? A swamp? A marsh? A farm? Or just a funny sounding word we made up? Actually, a bog is an area of soft, marshy ground, usually near wetlands, where cranberries love to grow. During the harvest, water is pumped in and out so it gets really wet. Which explains why we like to wear waders. It's also what makes the cranberry such a unique fruit.
Cranberries grow on long-running vines in sandy bogs and marshes. Places like Cape Cod usually come to mind when you think of a cranberry bog. But Ocean Spray also has farms all over North America: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and parts of British Columbia and Quebec. Many of our grower owners' farms are handed down from generation to generation, and they take a lot of pride in getting the very best out of their cranberries. You could compare them to wine growers in that sense. Except they wear waders.
It's Fall. Time for the Harvest.
One of the things that make cranberries so unique, besides their flavor and health benefits, is how they're harvested. And, of course, most people have no idea how we get the cranberries off the vines. Well, let it be a mystery no longer. In fact, the process is as unique as cranberries themselves. Every autumn, usually from mid-September until around mid November, depending on climate and that year's weather, the cranberries reach their peak of color and flavor and are ready for harvesting. That's when our growers harvest millions of pounds of cranberries. And, although we're biased, it's really quite beautiful. Imagine deep red cranberries floating against the backdrop of colorful fall foliage and you get the idea.
Harvesting cranberries has evolved quite a bit over the years. The first cranberries were painstakingly picked by hand. Then growers got clever and started using wooden scoops that look like large combs to lift berries off their vines. Today most cranberries are "wet harvested." This is done by flooding the bog with water so the berries float to the surface. This is the image most people associate with cranberry bogs.
A lot of people think that cranberries grow under water. Probably because a common image of a bog is one with cranberries floating on top of water. But as you've already learned, cranberries grow on vines. But water does play an important role in the way they're harvested.
Wet harvesting actually begins the night before. A grower floods the dry bog with up to eighteen inches of water. The next day, water reels--we like to call them "egg beaters"--loosen the berries from the vines. And, here's the clever part, since cranberries contain pockets of air, the freed berries float to the surface of the water. Pretty cool, huh? Then these floating berries are corralled in large booms by people wading through the bog and loaded into trucks. Wet harvested berries are used to make Ocean Spray juices, sauces and other products.
The freshest berries, the ones you buy in the produce aisle every fall, are harvested using the dry method. It's the best way to get the absolute freshest of berries. For this, cranberry growers use a mechanical picker that looks like a large lawnmower. It has metal teeth that comb the berries off the vine and deposit them in a burlap sack at the back of the machine. And because bogs are delicate ecosystems helicopters are sometimes used to transport the sacks to protect the vines from the traffic of heavy trucks.
Bouncing Cranberries. Another little known fact.
At Ocean Spray we take a lot of pride in our cranberries. Only the best make it into our products. But how does one judge a cranberry? Well, we start by judging their color, size and freshness. And, surprisingly enough, by their ability to bounce. That's right. Bounce. You see, an early New Jersey grower, John "Peg-Leg" Webb, first noted this special property of the cranberry. Because of his wooden leg, he couldn't carry his berries down from the loft of his barn where he stored them. Instead, he'd pour them down the steps. He soon noticed that only the firmest and freshest berries bounced down to the bottom; the soft and bruised ones didn't make it. This led to the development of the first cranberry bounce board separator, a device we still use today, to remove damaged or sub-standard berries.
As you can see, a lot goes into growing and harvesting cranberries. And it all starts with the bog. From there all those fresh cranberries end up in your favorite Ocean Spray products. Juice drinks, Craisins®, cranberry sauces. They all have one thing in common. They all start with fresh cranberries harvested straight from the bog.