Got a cranberry sauce topping for Thanksgiving? You can probably thank a Wisconsin farmer. – Chicago Tribune

Cranberry Casserole is one of the easiest Thanksgiving recipes to make. It slides on a serving plate while maintaining its cylindrical shape—and even some can grooves. Cut it into rings and you have the perfect circles of tart jelly to serve alongside traditional American dishes.

Sauce is “the same product you rely on year after year,” said Joan Driggs, vice president of IRI, a marketing research firm. And this year marks the 110th anniversary of the sauce, which was invented in 1912 by Marcus Uran, a farmer from Massachusetts.

Less than two decades later, in 1930, Uran founded the Ocean Spray Cooperative with two other cranberry farmers: John Makepeace, also of Massachusetts, and Elizabeth Lee of New Jersey. Their canned dipping sauce became available nationwide in 1941, and now their cooperative has grown to be owned by 700 family farmers.

Ocean Spray sold 75 million cans of cranberry sauce last year, with the bulk of sales — 85% — coming during the holiday season.

Part of that popularity can be attributed to younger millennials and Gen Zers who have taken over their Thanksgiving plans from their older relatives, Driggs said. They also double or triple the preserves when they host other small Thanksgiving celebrations, like Friendsgiving, before the actual meal.

The price of the sauce is up about 21% from last year, but there are no supply chain issues this year, Driggs said. In fact, she said, cranberry production is up about 4% as farmers across the country prepare a year ahead to harvest about 15 billion plump red cranberries just for canned jelly.

About 1,100 farms grow cranberries in the United States, and this year’s crop is estimated to be about 8.3 million barrels, or about 830 million pounds, of cranberries, according to Karen Cahill, director of marketing for the Cranberry Marketing Committee.

Many farms, such as the 300-acre one in Cranmoor, Wisconsin, are family-owned. In operation for 76 years, the farm has shipped berries to Ocean Spray for the past 50 years, now providing about 1 million pounds each year, a number that has grown throughout the farm’s history with the co-op, said Lisa Rezin, the farm’s owner. .

To grow 1 acre of cranberries, a farmer needs another 5 to 7 acres of supporting land, Rezin said, just for the farm’s reservoir system. Contrary to popular belief, berries do not grow in water, but in a moist, well-drained environment. When the berries are ready to pick in September and October, these cranberry beds, also called bogs, are flooded with water – about 18 to 30 inches.

“It’s about knee-high,” Rezin said. “It just depends on whose knees you’re measuring.”

When the bed is flooded, fully grown cranberries, which have four air pockets, naturally rise to the top. Farmers use hand rakes and tractors to pluck the berries from the vines, saving the cranberry buds for next year’s harvest. Then the collected berries are placed in yellow protective caps, the same as those used to contain oil spills.

The ruby ​​pool of picked berries gets smaller and smaller as it is loaded onto the conveyor belt at the edge of the cranberry bed. A conveyor belt dumps the berries into a truck, and farmers free the fallen berries from the vines before the truck heads to their cleaning facility.

At the sewage treatment plant, the berries are transferred to another conveyor. There, they are rinsed with water that is returned to the farm’s tank system for use in the next cranberry bed, and any water left over their heads is directed to other nearby farms.

After cleaning, the berries are sent to Ocean Spray’s receiving facility in Babcock, Wis., one of several in eight states where farmers drop off cranberries. There, the cranberries are cleaned again and frozen until they are ready for processing.

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Back on the farm in January, more water is added to the flooded beds to freeze the cranberry bush and protect the buds from the harsh Wisconsin winters. Every few years, farmers also put about a half-inch layer of sand over the ice. When the ice melts in the spring, sand settles around the vines, helping to promote new growth and prevent fungus.

During the day, frozen cranberries are transported from the receiving facility to Ocean Spray’s production facility, pictured here in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where they are inspected by laser to ensure that each berry meets the company’s specifications for color and size.

The berries are passed through a machine that removes the skin and seeds, resulting in a smooth puree. The second puree is made from what the company calls press cake, other reserved skins and seeds from other Ocean Spray products, which contains pectin, which gives the sauce its gelatinous texture. When preparing the puree, corn syrup is mixed in. After the mixtures are filtered and mixed, they are sent to be packaged in cans.

Empty cans move down a conveyor where they are inspected for defects and rinsed before going to the filler, the machine that fills the can. Hot cranberry sauce is poured into the jar and closed with a lid. Random jars are checked to make sure they are filled to the right height and that the sauce has the right texture. The sealed cans are then sent to a cooler for cooling.

Cans are coded, labeled, boxed, shrink-wrapped, and palletized for shipping.

Attentive consumers may notice that the labels are upside down. That’s on purpose: The arrangement means the cans will sit upside down on store shelves, making it easier for the cylinder of sauce to wriggle out of the can and onto Thanksgiving plates, a long journey that ends with a nice swish.

c.2022 The New York Times Company

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