The cranberry is arguably the most American food (other than apple pie, but that’s a whole different story). All varieties of cranberries grow only in the Northern Hemisphere, and the most common eaten variety of them grows primarily in the United States.
If you didn’t know this much, here’s the real catch: most of us don’t even know how they’re grown or how they’re harvested, myself included before I ventured on a cranberry bog tour in Carver, Massachusetts.
We have all seen the goofy guys in the Ocean Spray commercials decked out in waders, speaking in New England tongue while waste deep in a cranberry-laden pond. Naturally, this leads us to believe these small, puckersome berries are grown underwater. Hate to break it to you, but they are not. Rather, cranberries grow on thick, very stubby bushes out in the open. Farmers cultivate the plants on the bottom of a swimming pool-like plot of land, sans water—in other words the bush grows below ground level. During harvest, in the beginning of autumn, farmers quickly flood one bog (or empty swimming pool) at a time. Flooding helps the cranberry naturally release from its parent bush. Because the berries have inherent air pockets within their meat, most float to the water’s surface. Large tilling machines help turn up the cranberries that do not naturally release.
Next, a large floating boom gathers all the fruit into one corner of the flooded bog. From there a truck with a vacuum-like attachment pulls the berries out from the water and transports them to the plant to be processed.
From flood to truck, workers act quickly as the cranberries cannot be “bogged” down with water for too long a time, as spoilage is imminent.
J and I were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this quick process. The cranberries, almost popcorn-like, danced and swayed on the water’s surface creating a like-life, moving pointillism painting showing off every shade of pink, from white to deep crimson.
We dipped our hands in the water to gather snacks along the way. If you’ve never popped a raw, fresh cranberries into your mouth then caution, these things are as tart as a lemon!
With Thanksgiving on the horizon, I deemed it only appropriate to create a recipe suited for the holiday table. I wanted to break the berry from its usual protagonist role in sauce, and give you an original alternative instead. This cranberry dessert is one light enough to keep your full belly grinning, is tart with an almost raw bite to the berry and a tangy whip from plain yogurt, and provides a warmth and winter essence from spices and orange. Did I mention there’s hardly any oven sharing at all? The bonus of this recipe is that only the crust bakes for 15 minutes, leaving your oven open and heated properly for the main events.
Cranberry Yogurt Tart with Cardamom and Orange
2 ½ Cups finely ground ginger snap cookies
6 Tablespoons melted butter
½ Teaspoon ground cardamom
24oz plain Greek or Icelantic style yogurt
1 ½ Cups fresh (or frozen & thawed) cranberries
1 Tablespoon honey
Zest of half an orange
1. Using a food processor, grind ginger snap cookies to a fine powder. Transfer to a bowl and mix in melted butter. Line tart pan with the cookie mixture to create a ¼ inch crust. Bake in a 350° oven for 15-20 minutes or until toasted.
2. Meanwhile, in a bowl mix yogurt with ground cardamom until combined. Once tart crust has cooled, pour yogurt mixture into the tart until even with the rim of the pan. Refrigerate to cool.
3. While tart is cooling, add cranberries, honey, and orange zest to a small saucepan. Over medium-low heat, mix until honey beings to melt and coats the cranberries, about 3-5 minutes.
4. Top the tart with the cranberry mixture. Serve immediately or keep in refrigerator until dessert time.
Leftovers make for a perfect breakfast bite. Add whole cardamom pods to your morning coffee to compliment the tart’s warming flavors.