Skip to main content

Cranberries – History and Recipes

While my wife does most of the cooking in our home I have always enjoyed going into our kitchen periodically and whipping something up.

Cranberries being harvested in a New Jersey pond.  Cranberries grow naturally in marshes or bogs.  Commercially grown cranberries are grown in man-made bogs.

Cranberries being harvested in a New Jersey pond. Cranberries grow naturally in marshes or bogs. Commercially grown cranberries are grown in man-made bogs.

Cranberry History and Lore

Cranberries are both a popular American food and closely linked to our history.

Many books and websites list the cranberry as one of three fruits that are native to North America, the other two being the blueberry and the Concord grape.

However, this is not true as there are numerous other edible fruits native to North America.

A better phrasing, which some sources use, is that cranberries are one of three fruits native to North American that are commercially grown on a large scale .

Large being the operative word here as other varieties of native fruits are also grown commercially.

The name cranberry is actually a shortened version of crane berry or cranberry , which is the name given to the fruit by early settlers in North America because the shape of the flowers of the cranberry bush have a resemblance to the head of a crane.

Probably because cranberry sauce is a traditional Thanksgiving dish and Thanksgiving is associated with the Pilgrims in Massachusetts people often associate cranberry production with Massachusetts.

Massachusetts is both a major producer of cranberries and the home of the first company to produce and sell canned cranberry sauce commercially. The Cape Cod Cranberry Company produced and marketed in Massachusetts the first canned cranberry sauce in 1912 under the name Ocean Spray Cape Cod Cranberry Sauce. The Cape Cod Cranberry Company later evolved into today's Ocean Spray Corporation.

While the home of early commercial development of cranberries, Massachusetts is no longer the only state where cranberries are grown commercially. Other major cranberry producing states are New Jersey, Oregon, Washington state and Wisconsin.

Cranberries a Key Ingredient in Making Pemmican - A Fast Food Staple for Indians and Colonial Explorers

While cranberries may or may not have been served at the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621, the Pilgrims were aware of cranberries having been introduced to them by the local Wampanoag Indians.

Native American tribes had long used cranberries in their own cooking especially in the making of pemmican, a nutritious, high energy food that had a long shelf life but was also compact and traveled easily.

Pemmican generally consisted of mostly dried deer meat (elk, bison or meat of other available game was often used in place of deer) and fat along with various other ingredients such as dried fruits (cranberries being one option), maple sugar, dried, corn, etc. depending upon availability.

After drying, the meat and any other ingredients used were pulverized and mixed with fat to make the pemmican which was the main food eaten by Indians, the French Courier de Bios (fur traders in New France who traveled west from Montreal by water to trade, often illegally, with the Indians for furs) and nineteenth century Arctic explorers, while on long wilderness trips.

1864 Civil War Siege of Petersburg Introduces Cranberry Sauce to Thousands of Union Troops

Beginning in the early nineteenth century, farmers began producing cranberries commercially for both domestic use and export to Europe.

During the long siege of Petersburg, Virginia (June 15, 1864 - March 25, 1865) in the Civil War, the Union General Grant ordered cranberry sauce to be included with the supplies shipped to feed his troops. This was probably the first large scale use of cranberry sauce as a food and.

Given the large number of Union troops involved in the siege, enough apparently brought home fond memories of cranberry sauce that its popularity as a side dish caught on. Since cranberry sauce goes well with poultry, especially turkey, it soon evolved into a Thanksgiving staple.

Cranberry Recipes

Traditional Recipe for whole berry cranberry sauce

This is the classic basic recipe for making cranberry sauce. While I like whole berry cranberry sauce, I find it easier to simply buy this in a can rather than going to the trouble of making it. While I have made this, and it is good, the main difference between this recipe and canned whole berry cranberry sauce is that this recipe has the consistency of a sauce while the canned version is jelled.

Scroll to Continue


¾ cup of water

1 ½ cups of sugar

3 cups of cranberries (the standard 12 ounce bag is about 3 cups)

Put all the ingredients into a 2 quart pan and bring to a gentle boil.

The heat should be kept just high enough to keep the mixture boiling and the mixture should be stirred periodically to keep sugar from burning and giving a burnt taste.

Boil gently until all of the cranberries have popped open (will take about 9 - 12 minutes) while stirring periodically. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool. It will thicken as it cools.

My Favorite Cranberry Bread Recipe

My sister and I originally found, some thirty years ago, a recipe for cranberry bread in Early American Life magazine. The basic recipe is the same as the one we first found however, over the years I have come across other recipes as well as have experimented on my own to tweek it to what my children and I like. The version of the recipe below is a composite with optional items marked as such. The unmarked items comprise the basic recipe which appears to be basically the same regardless of source. I am sure there are also additional options that can be added.

For myself, I never use the nuts as I generally don't care for them in breads or cakes. While orange juice is readily available in stores and dried orange peel is usually available in the baking section of most grocery stores, I usually find it easier to simply purchase a large orange, squeeze the juice out of it and then grate sufficient peel for the recipe (I have never used orange peel in anything else which is why I simply grate what I need for this recipe rather than purchasing it commercially and having the excess take up shelf space in my cupboard. I also scrape out the orange and include pulp obtained in the recipe. I do include the molasses which gives the bread a sweeter taste and often include the allspice as well as I like the resulting flavor. I have never bothered with the powdered sugar.


2 Cups of Flour

1 Cup of Sugar

1 ½ Teaspoons of Baking Powder

1 Teaspoon of Salt

½ Teaspoon of Baking Soda

¾ Cup of Orange Juice

2 Tablespoons of Vegetable Oil (older recipes call for ¼ cup of shortening instead of vegetable oil)

1 Tablespoon of Grated Orange Peel

1 Egg, well beaten

2 Cups of Fresh or Frozen Cranberries, coarsely chopped

½ Cup of Chopped Nuts (optional)

¼ cup of dark Molasses (optional)

¾ teaspoon of Allspice (optional)

Powdered Sugar (optional - to sprinkle on top of bread after removing from oven)

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.

Mix together flour, sugar, allspice (if desired) baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl.

Stir in orange juice, vegetable oil (or shortening), grated orange peel, molasses (if desired) and egg.

Mix until well blended.

Stir in chopped cranberries and chopped nuts (if you like nuts in the bread).

Spread mixture evenly in loaf pan.

Bake for 55 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool on a rack for 15 minutes and remove from pan.

Chocolate Cranberry Bread

This is a new recipe which my sister first told me about a couple of years ago. Initially I couldn't imagine chocolate and cranberries but, after trying it, found that I (and my family) like it as much if not more than the traditional cranberry bread. The last time I made this I used semi-sweet chocolate chips rather than chopping the chocolate - if I could have found them, bittersweet chocolate chips probably would have been better but the result was good anyway. While variations of this recipe can be found all over the web, it appears to have been developed by or for the Goodiva Chocolate Company and a recipe, using Godiva Chocolate, can be found at http:\\


1 ½ c. all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

¾ cup sour cream

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

6 Tablespoons of butter, softened (some versions call for unsalted butter.)

1 cup granulated sugar

2 Lg. eggs ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped

2 bars (1.5 ounces each) chopped bittersweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350º F.

Using shortening or butter, grease the bottom and sides of a 9" x 5" loaf pan.

Using a wire whisk (or spoon), stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium mixing bowl.

In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and cocoa until well blended - he mixture will be fairly stiff.

In a large bowl, using a hand-held mixer set at medium speed, beat the butter for 30 seconds, or until creamy.

Beat in the sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy in texture and color, about 2 minutes.

Beat in the eggs one at a time and then add the vanilla and beat.

Using the mixer's low speed, alternately add flour mixture and the sour cream mixture to the large bowl containing the butter, etc.until just combined - The batter will be thick.

Stir in the cranberries and chopped chocolate.

Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean.

Let the bread cool for 15 minutes.

Run the tip of a knife around the edge of the pan. Invert the bread onto a rack and let cool completely before serving. (The bread is the easiest to slice if allowed to sit for at least 2 hours.

Slice the bread using a sharp or serrated knife.

I have never made, nor even tried, pemmican. However, here are some links to sites to sites that I found with random searches, that contain recipes for pemmican as well as some that sell ready made pemmican. While I can't vouch for these sites or the making or eating of pemmican, I am providing these sites as a starting point for those who may be interested in trying pemmican. - this is recipe for a vegetarian pemmican

For those who either don't want to go to the trouble of making pemmican or would prefer to try it before going to the trouble of making it, here are sites that offer ready made pemmican bars for sale:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2008 Chuck Nugent


Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on November 11, 2014:

Catherine - Thanks for your kind comment. I'm glad you enjoyed my Hub.

I checked your Hub on cranberry recopies and your apple cranberry sauce looks good. I bookmarked that Hub and hope to be able to try it for the holidays. Time permitting, I will try some of the other cranberry recipes on your Hub as your pictures made them look delicious.

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on November 11, 2014:

I enjoyed learning about the history of the cranberry. I noticed you hub because I just did my own cranberry sauce recipe hub, but I didn't go into the history the way you did. Cranberry chocolate bread sounds interesting and wroth a try. I love chocolate. My recipe is somewhere between a sauce and a jelly. The pectin in the apples helps to thicken it. You may find that my recipe is so much better than the canned variety that you will want to take the trouble to make it. It's fairly easy to make.

amritpal bhatia from New Delhi, India on September 14, 2010:

Cranberry has medicinal value also. Its juice is useful in treatment of obstinate/recurring urinary tract infections.

Betty Reid from Texas on March 08, 2010:

Cranberries are so good, sometimes I just eat them raw. I also like to put them in oatmeal or smoothies.

Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on March 12, 2008:

Moonlake - thanks for visiting my Hub and for your comments.

I visited your recipe Hub and saw the cranberry recipe which is different from mine and looks good. The other recipes on that Hub are also tempting. Here is a link to your recipe Hub for others who might want a variation on the two cranberry recipes that I published above: For those interestd, the cranberry bread recipe is about the eighth one down on the page.

moonlake from America on March 11, 2008:

We have two Cranberry Bogs near us. Eagle River has the Cranberry Festival. I also have a Cranberry recipe on my hub.

Bob Ewing from New Brunswick on March 09, 2008:

i enjoy cranberries, thanks for the recipes.

Related Articles