Gardener's Notebook - Childhood memories of cranberry picking

With Thanksgiving just past, the memory of delicious food is still with us, and perhaps you are still enjoying delicious turkey sandwiches and cranberry sauce.  Cranberries are shrubs that grow easily in our climate, and they might be the perfect addition to your yard!

One of my many happy childhood memories is picking cranberries out at the farm.  At different seasons, we used to go and pick morels (heavenly cooked with green onions and cream!) but we also used to pick cranberries.  They were beautiful as we picked them, just like rubies in our pails, and when we got home Mom would begin cooking them to make the most delicious jam.  I still remember the aromatic steam rising from the bubbling pot of jam, and when it was ready to put in jars, Mom always set some aside so that Daddy and I could enjoy some still-warm jam on the amazing whole wheat buns she used to bake.  The jam was the color of liquid gemstones, like melted garnets, and it was as delicious as it looked.  Truly, flavour doesn’t get much better than that!

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(Remember, these are not like the cranberries we buy in bags at the store for the holidays.  Those cranberries are from low-growing perennial vines, Vaccinium macrocarpon.  These are considered true cranberries.  I read that the highbush cranberry is not really a cranberry, since it belongs to the viburnum family, but that’s a technical detail, isn’t it!  A cranberry by any other name is still just as yummy!)

So what kind of shrubs are cranberries?  Cranberries that are hardy here are often the highbush cranberry, viburnum trilobum.  These lovely shrubs give beauty all season, from clusters of white blooms in the spring to ruby berries in the fall, accompanied by deep red foliage.  The berries hang in clusters; they are not as large as commercial cranberries, and a good portion of the berry is taken up by the seed.  But still, cooked and put through a mill or colander, they are a tangy fall ambrosia.

The cranberry does not take up too much space; it can grow up to ten feet high, and six or eight feet across.  It’s a very easy-going plant, enjoying full sun or partial shade.  It likes average to moist soil, but would not like a dry location.  It doesn’t have any pest-problems, and if you have deer visitors in your yard, they probably won’t give your cranberry bush a second glance.  And guess what, the cranberry is long-lived, so you can enjoy it for decades.

We have cranberry bushes in our yard, but we don’t use the berries.  By leaving them on the shrubs, we are blessed to have an abundance of birds coming to enjoy the buffet over the winter.  When the waxwings come to visit on a snowy day, they look just like a Christmas card, nestled there on the snowy branches munching on the bright red cranberries.

The structure of the cranberry bushes is also important to the birds; the branches come out from a central base, and each stem has many off-shoot branches.  Even without the leaves, the dense maze of twigs gives shelter and safety for the birds to rest.  

This is a great shrub, and one that you might want to consider if you are doing some landscaping in your yard.

The weather is still lovely, giving us a chance to do some last-minute tasks like weeding.  Yes, weeding!  Some of those healthy looking weeds growing now will be the first things appearing next spring, so best to get rid of them now!

Thank you to our friends at Yorkton This Week for their great work.  Let’s pray for health and healing for all, and more of this wonderful autumn weather!  Have a great week!

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