How cranberries get from the bog to your Thanksgiving table

How cranberries get from the bog to your Thanksgiving table

Whether you prefer your cranberry sauce made from scratch or straight from the can, cranberries are an essential part of the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Americans consume about 400 million pounds of the fruit a year. And 20 percent of that is consumed during Thanksgiving alone. 

Technology in cranberry farming has come a long way in just a handful of years. Farmers used to monitor cranberry vines by physically going out to the fields. Now, some are using drones with cameras to detect stress among cranberry vines.

The next step in production, harvesting, has also been impacted by technology. Cranberry bogs must be intentionally flooded to easily collect the fruit. While that used to be done manually, now it's just a smartphone tap away.

"One thing that growers have been doing a lot is starting their irrigation systems with their smartphones," said Hilary Sandler, director of the Cranberry Station at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a research center that supports the Massachusetts cranberry industry. 

Once collected, the fruit has to be inspected for consumption. This used to be done with a bounce test. Growers would take the berries and drop them into a machine outfitted with angled, wooden slabs. If a cranberry bounced high enough to make it over the board, it was of high enough quality for consumption. Today, most farmers use lasers and cameras to identify which berries are best.

With all this tech and work involved in producing cranberries, it's not surprising that Sandler is a purist when it comes to cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving Day. She makes a fresh relish — with a twist. Here's the recipe she's been making for years:

CRANBERRY SAUCE WITH PORT AND ORANGE

This sauce is a rich and sweet whole-berry sauce. Sandler suggests using only 1/2 cup of sugar if you prefer a more tart cranberry sauce.

Ingredients:

1 medium orange, zested and juiced (about 1/3 cup of juice)

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Port wine, enough to make 1 cup of liquid with above ingredients

12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries, cleaned and destemmed

3/4 cup sugar

Directions:

1. Put the orange juice, orange zest, Grand Marnier, port and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil.

2. Add cranberries and bring to a gentle boil.

3. Boil gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Turn off the heat and let the sauce cool to room temperature.

5. Pour into a mold and refrigerate.

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