The province’s commercial cranberry industry is still relatively small with just a handful of growers concentrated on the Laurentian Shield and in areas in eastern Ontario where granite bedrock creates the right growing conditions. However there are literally thousands of acres of bogs and sandy soil land across the province that are well suited for cranberry production. And the timing for expanding this sector has never been better.
Ontario is already a significant importer of cranberry products. Close to $10 million annually to be exact. With health-conscious consumers driving up demand worldwide for cranberry products, and the formation of the Ontario Cranberry Growers organization, all the right ingredients are in place to help the province’s cranberry industry blossom.
When it comes to health, there is extensive research that indicates cranberries can help to prevent or ease urinary tract infections. Scientists have found that a compound known as proanthocyanidins seems to inhibit bacteria such as E. coli from adhering to the urinary tract. In addition, cranberries are packed with Vitamin C and are rich in flavonoids which may have a role in fighting diseases such as cancer.
Cranberries grow on a perennial evergreen vine that loves bog life and although it would appear at quick glance that cranberries grow in water, this is not the case.
They do require an abundant supply of water however as well as acid-rich peat and sand and good soil drainage during the growing season. Water is also used to flood the bogs and during the fall harvest many farmers employ water reels, which are much like huge egg beaters, to loosen the berries from the vines. Because cranberries contain pockets of air, they float to the surface of the water which makes harvesting an easier process.
As any cranberry lover knows, the berries are wonderfully tart and flavourful. Native to North America, the Aboriginal peoples ate raw berries. The fruit was also dried, boiled, sweetened with maple syrup, and used to make pemmican, a mixture of dried food containing meat and berries.
Fresh cranberries can be stored for several weeks in the refrigerator in the original plastic bag. Before use, simply rinse and remove any remaining stems and leaves and then freeze. While cranberries are traditionally cooked and used as a jelly, sauce or relish, they are perfect in a fruit crisp or a tart. The juice can also be used as a base for sherbets or to flavour meat sauces.
From cocktails and chutney, to chili and chicken stew, cranberries are the ideal super food that delivers over-the-top taste and health benefits.
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