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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Cranberries

Red to purple, bitter 'till sweetened, behold the cranberry or "ibimi" as the North Altantic First Peoples called this versatile berry.

By Lois Barton

Posted on Dec 4, 2004

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"An Oregon Coast Cranberry Bog," photo courtesy of the Port Orford Cranberry Farm Tour

When I was a kid back in the 1930s we sometimes strung popcorn and cranberries to make a decoration for our Christmas tree. (See Some Christmas Memories by Lois Barton.) That covered my experience with the fruit until after my marriage when we have often served cranberry sauce with holiday meals.

My husband of more than fifty years has told many stories over those years about his family's vacation trip to Bandon on the southern Oregon coast when he was a youth.

I'd never been as far south as Bandon, so a friend and I drove there one day to see what we could see. The most rewarding experience of the trip was a visit to a cranberry bog.

I've always pictured cranberries growing in a kind of swampy place. They're called bogs. What a surprise to see a mechanically created, carefully leveled basin maybe four feet lower than the surrounding area. There was a grassy dike around all four sides of this half-acre plot we visited wide enough to drive farm machinery on.

When we were there that sunken field sported a rough vegetative cover, but there was no visible water in it. The prickly looking plants were cranberries, our guide explained, and the water would be added when the berries ripened.

In the visitor's center we purchased a small booklet which included many pictures as well as a history of cranberry production across the country. (CRANBERRIES Fruit of the Bogs, by Diane L. Burns. Carolrhoda Books, Inc. Minneapolis $7.95)

Our guide had explained the harvesting operation. How the ripe berries are knocked off the plants by a water reel, sometimes called an "eggbeater," to float in the now flooded basin. There are small air pockets inside each berry which is why they float. The berries are scooped together by a boom and loaded into trucks for market.

The booklet explains that berries harvested by "eggbeaters" can be bruised. Only sound firm berries are sold fresh. The bruised ones are made into juice, jellies and other foods.

Farmers can use dry harvesting in which the beds are not flooded and the berries are picked by rubber-tired machines. Metal teeth along the front edge comb the berries from the plants and place them in a sack.

The booklet includes the following history. "Long before European settlers arrived in North America, a wild red fruit dotted boggy places of the north Atlantic coast each autumn. This red fruit was called ibimi or "bitter berry" by the native people who lived along the shore.

When the European pilgrims arrived, some of these Native Americans shared the ibimi with the newcomers to help them survive the long, cold winter. The pilgrims enjoyed the tart fruit which was rich in vitamins C, A and B. Since they had eaten only dried meat and bread during their many months at sea, the ibimi tasted especially good to them.

The arched pink-white ibimi flowers reminded the pilgrims of the neck, head and beak of a common European bird, the crane. Because of this the settlers began to call ibimi by another name, "crane-berry." Over time the word was shortened to cranberry," pages 5-6.

The cranberry plant is a creeping woody vine that forms a dense green mat wherever it grows. They grow naturally in cool northern bogs of North America, Asia, Europe and Greenland. In North America cranberry farms are found in four Canadian provinces, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington.

The booklet describes how a farming bog is created, discusses planting, caring for and harvesting in detail. It has many excellent pictures.

About 400 million pounds of cranberries are harvested in North America each year. Possibly fifty percent of the annual crop grows on Atlantic coast farms. Wisconsin yields thirty-three percent. Washington, Oregon and Canada each ten percent.

As I composed this article about cranberries I wondered whether the bog we visited had originally been a wetland. How innocently we viewed our discovery. When I went to the computer for more information I learned that cranberries had been grown in Bandon since 1885. "Charles McFarlin planted vines he brought from Massachuusetts." (Bandon Cranberries search topic.) He had originally come to pan for gold in California. He didn't make his fortune, or even a living, so he turned to what he knew best. His original bog near Hauser in Coos County produced cranberries for eighty years. Further information from that source notes that "Today more than 100 growers harvest about 1000 acres around Bandon, raising ninety-five percent of Oregon's cranberries".

When we were coming home from that Bandon trip my friend mentioned that she thought there was a bog owned by Native Americans. My computer also furnished information about that project of the Coquilles First People. Their crop is organically grown and principally dry harvested for sale as fresh fruit.

I treasure the remembered mental picture of that Bandon bog we visited which so surprised me. How pleasant to have added to my fund of information the details about an entirely new (to me––an old farm girl) this field of food production.

Copyright ©2004 by Lois Barton

Now Available on Compact Disk: Stories from The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte

Three and a half years of years Lois Barton's stories–so you can read them without going online!

Lois Barton's Selected Works
Volume I, Chanticleer's Tales
Send $10, plus postage of $1.50 to
84889 Harry Taylor Rd.
Eugene, OR 97405

Writer and historian
Lois Barton

Lois Barton is an 85 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Follow the links of the Voices of Spencer Creek for the most recent articles by Lois Barton, including The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Endurance Riding,
The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Butterflies and Community Development,
and The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Last Gift.

See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:
Visit the Heron Rookery
Sauerkraut and All That
Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?
The Midwife- The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.
The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.
Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By

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