Cranberry growers, Ocean Spray trying to make sour sweet

“That’s why they say cranberries only began to be farmed in the 1800s — the Pilgrims didn’t like them,” explained A.D. Makepeace Farm’s Glenn Reid, who is assistant manager of cranberry operations there. “That’s when the sailors started coming over on the ships. They filled their barrels up to kill the scurvy on the way back.”

The sourness of cranberries is both a source of pride and authenticity for growers and a marketing obstacle. The myth is a comforting one, though, when faced with the idea that the berries will have to have mounds of sugar added for most people to eat them. As Reid said, “Even the Pilgrims didn’t like cranberries.”

It turns out that’s only partially true. Plimoth Plantation Colonial Foodways Culinarian Kathleen Wall said “sour was good” in the 17th century.

Cranberries were present in England before the Pilgrims came over. And while they never ate the berries “as a fruit,” they did use them “as a condiment” to make sour sauces.

“We don’t have any sort of story where Squanto takes the Pilgrims to a bog and hands them a cranberry to watch them make sour faces,” she said.

That’s something Reid does do with visitors to the 2,000 acres of bogs at A.D. Makepeace.

Standing in a bog of early blacks (a type of cranberry) Thursday, he bent down and snapped three off a vine and handed them to a visitor.

She ate them and made a face.

“These are the way a cranberry is supposed to taste,” he said. “If you want something sweet, go eat an apple.”

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