2018-10-06 / Outdoors

INSIDE THE OUTDOORS

Cranberries Now ready For picking

Last week while traveling through southern Cameron County, I stopped to check out my favorite cranberry patch.

It had rained the previous day and the little cranberry bog had more water than it normally does. Most autumns I can usually carefully pick my way around in it wearing sneakers. That was not the case last weekend. I had to stay on the edge of the bog.

Nevertheless, before long I found what I was looking for. There is an excellent crop of cranberries this year. That isn’t always the case. It seems that about every third year there is an abundance.

Many people are surprised to know that cranberries grow in Cameron and Potter counties. They’re more often associated with the acidic bog habitats of the north country.

The bog that I visited is on top of the mountain in the headwaters of a small stream. The cranberry plants sprawl along the ground, spreading clonally to cover the suitable growing spots. They are only about four inches tall with tiny quarter-inch oval leaves that are green year-round. The tart red berries that I found last weekend averaged about a half-inch in diameter.


This is a good year for wild cranberries. They may not be easy to find in the Pennsylvania Wilds, but those who locate the tart fruit can stock up for the coming months. While scattered patches of American cranberries are present, the smaller northern cranberry is more abundant. This is a good year for wild cranberries. They may not be easy to find in the Pennsylvania Wilds, but those who locate the tart fruit can stock up for the coming months. While scattered patches of American cranberries are present, the smaller northern cranberry is more abundant. Upstream from where the cranberries were growing are straggly hemlocks, growing on top of hummocks, struggling to gain a foothold in the saturated ground.

Because of their straggly nature, the hemlocks allow plenty of sunlight to penetrate their canopy, creating enough space for viburnum and winterberry holly to grow in the swamp interspersed with the short, struggling hemlocks. It truly was a unique habitat for this part of the state.

In North America we have two species of cranberries. Both are found in Pennsylvania. Due to the small size of its fruit, I believe that the species of cranberry at the bog where I pick is the small or northern cranberry.

Interestingly, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Survey’s plant database website does not show Cameron County documented as having populations of cranberries. But I know first hand that both of the North American cranberry species can be found in Cameron.

A friend once invited me to pick wild American cranberries – the second of the domestic species -- at his secret spot in the Hunts Run drainage. These cranberries were much bigger than the ones I pick in southern Cameron County. They were marble-sized or bigger, with some that seemed to be nearly an inch in diameter.

Late September or October is the best time to pick cranberries around here. If you go too much earlier, the berries are not quite ripe. If you wait until mid-November, most of the berries are gone, and those remaining are beginning to spoil.

The berries should be washed and then air-dried. They have kept well for me for up to three or four months in a refrigerator without going bad. Any longer than that, though, and I would recommend freezing them.

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