Cranberry Season Musts in Massachusetts
Ruby red in color, the cranberry has that trademark flavor combination of tart-meets-sweet.
Massachusetts’ state berry brilliantly and deliciously colors the landscape — especially in late fall, when harvest festivals, cranberry-studded recipes and bog tours welcome visitors.
It’s natural to be interested in the farms where Massachusetts cranberries grow. These are not your average farm tours, however. Cranberry farms are termed bogs. The bogs are beds of layered sand, peat, gravel and clay. The berries grow on vines within these bogs from April to November. They require plenty of fresh water to reach their ripest point in fall. This is the time to plan your tour, as most bogs require advance reservations. Some tours allow visitors to put on waders, or rubber pants, and actually step into the bog. Other tours take place on dry land. All share information on the harvesting and history of cranberries, including how Native Americans are believed to have introduced them to European settlers in the 1600s. Expect samples of the berries’ bright red fruit and juice, as well as the opportunity to buy fresh berries and artisanal food products made with them. Piquant cranberry pepper jelly, cranberry-infused honey and cranberries dipped in decadent dark chocolate make delicious take-away items.
These hard, tart berries are a favorite during Thanksgiving and are often simmered down into a thick and delicious sauce.
Fall is also the time to join in on a cranberry festival. At the Harwich Cranberry Arts & Music Festival in September, locally made crafts, live music and local foods round out the celebration. In Wareham, the October Cranberry Harvest Celebration features harvest and cooking demonstrations, a craft fair and paddleboat rides on beautiful Tihonet Pond. On postcard-pretty Nantucket, the Cranberry Festival, also in October, showcases island-grown berries against the fiery colors of fall leaves. (Cranberry juice and chocolate-dipped cranberries are crowd favorites at this event.)
At annual cranberry festivals, fresh-pressed juice is a crowd favorite.
On the Menu
Massachusetts’ chefs love using local ingredients, and cranberries are well suited to both sweet and savory preparations. Find them anywhere in the state from restaurants to bakeries, and from creative, upscale dishes to comforting, traditional classics. Imagine golden French toast served with a colorful compote. For lunch or dinner, a chef might lend the berries’ tart pop to a velvety soup of carrots and coconuts, and then blend the berries with smoky peppers for a flavorful sauce to drizzle over tender pork. Dessert is full of possibilities, though a crisp is a classic, complementing the berries with a sweet, crunchy topping.
Cranberries can be used in a wide range of recipes, but many prefer its tart flavor paired with a fluffy loaf of sweet quick bread.