Trail Conditions: Very Good (for this year) Fresh snow Saturday. Groomed and tracked Saturday.
Now that fresh snow is covering Crossroads at Big Creek, one might expect to see only white. But shrubs along our trails provide plenty of color. Dogwood stems are a bright burgundy and the berries of highbush cranberries are a stunning red. Hikers often ask if they can eat highbush cranberry or make cranberry sauce with them. Yes: You can eat them. Yes: You can make cranberry sauce with them. Would you want to? NO!!! NO!! They are vile.
A quick check of the Internet will provide lots of recipes for highbush cranberry sauce. But even dedicated foragers call the results “funky” or “dirty sock sauce” and one writer suggested that if you wanted to make highbush cranberry jam, (which is still awful even with a whole lot of added sugar and orange juice) it would be a good idea to do the cooking outdoors.
Highbush cranberries actually are not cranberries at all. They belong to the viburnum family. Even hungry birds avoid them until spring,….an birds eat them only after they have fermented. Real cranberry sauce requires real cranberries.
Real cranberries—Wisconsin’s State Fruit— were historically grown in Door County out in Kellner Fen (near Lake Forest Park Road between Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan) A manmade drainage ditch and dam allowed flooding of the fields for harvest, but it didn’t work out too well because Door County soil is just not acidic enough to sustain cranberries. (Apparently, the commercial frog farm out in the fen didn’t pan our either.)
According to Evergreen Nursery President Ron Amos, “Cranberries are one of only three native fruits in North America, the other two being blueberries and concord grapes. Although we don’t grow cranberries in Door County, we do start plants in our greenhouses. What we do at the nursery is grow the high-yielding hybrid cranberry plants that are then planted in the most productive growing areas in our state.”
On Tuesday, February 24, at 7:00 as a part of the Door County Master Gardeners Lecture Series, Amos will present a free public program called, “Cranberry Production” exploring the cranberry industry in Wisconsin and describing the major role Evergreen Nursery plays in that effort.