The Story Behind Thanksgiving

The Story Behind Thanksgiving

Alisa Opar
Published: 11/22/2010


Harvesting cranberries in a Wisconsin bog. Photo: State of Wisconsin.

Cranberries are a Thanksgiving staple, with many families passing along recipes from one generation to the next. Ted Williams takes a look at the history of these festive fruits.

In 1722, when Thomas More sent American cranberries to a botanist friend in London, he included a note in which he described the species as “a drunken rogue that will neither grow or keep without swimming in water; he makes the best tarts in the world and therefore highly valued among gluttons.” At the first Thanksgiving or shortly thereafter, the Indians provided this fruit to the Pilgrims, who later called it “craneberry” because the pink blossom reminded them of a crane’s head. The American cranberry also grows wild in wetlands from Newfoundland and the Maritime provinces to Ontario, and from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan to New Jersey, Long Island, and Massachusetts. Wisconsin produces about half the country’s commercial crop. Massachusetts produces another third, and the remainder comes from New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. Another New World species, not cultivated, is the small cranberry. Both species moved south with the Laurentide glaciers of the late Pleistocene Epoch.
 
For more on the plants and animals active right now, see Ted Williams Earth Almanac column in Audubon.