Cranberries are a bit of a strange fruit. Related to bilberries and blueberries they tend to get wheeled out only for the festive period in the form of a sauce or jelly to accompany turkey and all the trimmings. Either that, or we drink the juice, which reputedly has great qualities for curing bladder problems. The flavour of cranberries is certainly unique. They are very tart and can’t really be eaten without some dose of sweetener. I’m not sure if it’s the tartness but they have a strange after taste too which I find really hard to describe but which has a sort of drying effect on the mouth. I know, I wouldn’t get a job for the cranberry marketing board, would I?
They are mainly associated with America and Canada where they grow in moist, acid, boggy soils. It’s commonly thought that they grow in water but it is only at harvest time that the beds where the cranberries grow are flooded to aid the harvest. A special machine removes the cranberries from the plants and then the fruits float to the surface creating the spectacular sight of red covered lakes. I was surprised to find out that they do grow in the wild here in the UK. In fact, there used to be a place in Lincolnshire known as Cranberry Fen because of the quantity of the fruit that used to grow there in the peaty ground. Draining of the fens changed the growing conditions and the native cranberry declined but they can still be found in parts of the Peak District, Cumbria and the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire.
I have never been much of a fan of them to be honest but then we inherited a cranberry plant 2 winters ago when we took on our allotment. At first, we weren’t sure what the straggly looking plant in its own dedicated raised bed was. I had an idea it might be something that needed ericaceous growing conditions and so had a look through a few books before coming to the conclusion it must be a cranberry. The raised bed itself was in the way of my plans for a path on my newly designed allotment and so the cranberry was going to have to be moved. Wellyman and his reluctance to get rid of anything wanted to give the cranberry a go so we found a home for it in a large pot filled with ericaceous compost in a shady part of the garden at home.
From a central clump the cranberry sends out long stems, known as vines in the commercial cranberry growing circles, and if you had the right soil conditions could make good ground cover. It’s evergreen with the leaves taking on reddish tints from late summer and then, in spring, tiny pink flowers appear. As the summer progresses the tiny light green fruits swell and then start to flush red from August with them being ready to pick from November onwards. I hadn’t really given much thought to actually using them last Christmas but then I spotted a recipe card by Delia Smith in my local supermarket and thought why not give making my own cranberry sauce a go.
I can’t eat much sugar which means the whole festive period is a bit of a torturous experience but this recipe used mainly orange juice as a sweetener. Initially, I wasn’t so keen on the resulting concoction but after 24 hours in the fridge the flavours had developed and it did taste good.
This years crop is much smaller in comparison to last year. I think the flowers suffered from the cold spell, all the rain and the resulting lack of pollinators. There should still be enough to make some sauce for Christmas Day though.
Would I recommend growing your own cranberries? I guess it depends on how much you like them. I have come across several recipes that use them which don’t involve simply having them as part of a Christmas dinner, so they can be more versatile that you might first think. They are easy enough to grow but for me they are too much of a novelty to make them worth buying a plant or two. Still, if you have your own plant at least it means you don’t have to rely on your local supermarket providing them. I hear there have been runs on cranberries in some stores over the last few days.
If you would like your own cranberry plant there are several mail order nurseries that can supply you with one. Try Blackmoor Nurseries and Pomona Fruits.
Growing your own cranberries, fantastic! Worth it I think for your own sauce on Christmas Day, you seem to have quite a few from your one bush. I always seem to leave it too late to get some from the supermarket so maybe this is the way for me to go. Happy Christmas to you and Wellyman!
Even this year which hasn’t been a good one for fruit has produced enough for us to make some sauce. Last year we had lots more though. You do get a good crop from a small bush. Happy Christmas to you and your family Pauline. Hope you have a lovely,relaxing few days.
I’ll eat them but I’m not that fussed so they’re not something I’d grow. Thanks for an interesting, and informative, post. xx
Thanks Flighty. I know what you mean. I wouldn’t have gone out and bought the plant but seeing as we inherited it it was worth giving it a go. Have a great Christmas, WW x
Great post. Don’t think I can resist giving them a try in my garden, even if i am the only one that eats cranberry sauce at Christmas! Thanks for the advice.
Thanks James, It is quite a novelty to be able to make your own sauce. They don’t take up much space in a pot so can just fit on a patio or terrace near the house. Have a great Christmas. WW
I’ve always stewed them with a bit of sugar and a (few) splashes of vodka. Delish!
Cranberry and vodka is a classic combo, isn’t it? I haven’t tried that one but I’m always looking for new ways to use the stuff I grow. Have a great Christmas.
Anna B said:
I always thought you had to grow cranberries under water too. I think it’s really cool that you saved this plant and are now eating its fruit! My mum makes homemade cranberry sauce too and uses mostly orange juice, she’s not a big sugar fan. She buys her cranberries though. I might look out for a tree of my own! After all, with all this rain it is likely it would spend a lot of time under water!! Merry Christmas Wellywoman 🙂
It’s quite a novelty being able to make our own cranberry sauce. Will this rain ever stop, certainly good weather for bog loving plants ;). Have a great Christmas Anna, best wishes WW x
Not a great fan of the taste of cranberries WW but they do look most attractive. Do the birds nibble?
Mmmm, they are an acquired taste. They do look lovely and no the birds don’t go for them at all. They aren’t a juicy fruit which might explain that. Have a great Christmas, Anna. WW x
Thanks for the links to nurseries selling cranbury plants. I can’t buy cranburries in Italy (definately not part of the culture here) but I do like them with Christmas turkey. It is probably much too hot for them and I’ll have to plant them somewhere close to the water supply so they get enough water. Have a great Christmas, Christina
They don’t like to dry out apparently. No danger of that here but you’re right it may be too hot for them in Italy. Hope you have a great Christmas, Christina. Best wishes, Wellywoman X
Mark Willis said:
Based on your comments I think I’ll use my available space for growing Blueberries, and just buy a pack of Cranberries from the supermarket for making the sauce for Christmas dinner!
If space is tight then that’s a wise move. Having said that my pot doesn’t take up much space. i do think it’s more of a novelty factor though. Have a great Christmas.
I’ve never eaten cranberries other than in a sauce on Christmas Day, or as a juice. Merry Christmas, I hope you have a wonderful time over the festive period.
Hi Jo, Cranberries are certainly a bit of an acquired taste. Still it’s nice to have something on the plate this Christmas that we actually grew. I hope you and your family have a great Christmas. Best wishes WW x