Mahon Stacy, of Pemberton, NJ wrote a letter to his brother in England dated April 26, 1680. In it we find solid information about cranberries: "We have from the time called May until Michaelmas a great store of very good wild fruits as strawberries, cranberries and hurtleberries. The cranberries, much like cherries for color and bigness, may be kept until fruit comes in again. An excellent sauce is made of them for venison, turkeys and other great fowl and they are better to make tarts than either gooseberries or cherries. We have them brot [sic] to our homes by the Indians in great plenty." It is well to note that the Indians were aware of nutrition in an instinctive way, but that fact seems lost on the settlers. The study of nutrition would wait for science to open the door. "
Cranberries and the First Thanksgiving
Many references to the first Thanksgiving in history claim that the cranberry did not appear on the table. We question this. Roger Williams' account of the first of this holiday states that the Pilgrims "ate plentiful of strawberries that grew abundantly in place." Surely, he was guided to this statement by the color red, but no strawberries were in season. Could he have referred to the only fruit available - the cranberry?
John Adams mentions cranberries in his diaries, stating that he "found a fine Wild Goose on the Spit and Cramberries stewing in the Skillet for Dinner" at the home of a Dr. Tuft. He goes on to say that Tufts invited him "to dine upon wild Goose and Cramberry Sauce." Adams must have loved these meals for, on March 23, 1798 it was then-President Adams signature on the proclamation that made Thanksgiving a national holiday .
Cranberries as a Bribe - Approaching King Charles II
The early colonists hoped to get the Acts of Trade and Navigation relaxed. Call it a gift, or call it a bribe, they presented to King Charles II ten barrels of cranberries, two barrels of cornmeal mush (called samp), and three thousand codfish. Whether it was the acidic cranberries, or something to do with fish that had crossed the ocean, we do not know, but King Charles was not impressed, and the laws remained the same. Some of the English enjoyed cranberries, however, as they were sold on the Strand at four shillings a jar. When cranberries arrived in France, the French were not impressed, however the Germans who eat tart and fruity sides dishes with their heavy meat diet, took to the cranberry.
Abraham Lincoln and "Cranberry Laws"
In debate with Stephen Douglas, on July 10, 1858, Abraham Lincoln illustrated his understanding of the wide variety of foodstuffs in the country, and the ensuing necessity to allow States Rights:
"I have no controversy with Judge Douglas about that. I shall
very readily agree with him that it would be foolish for us to insist upon having
a cranberry law here in Illinois, where we have no cranberries, because
they have a cranberry law in Indiana, where they have cranberries. I should
insist that it would be exceedingly wrong in us to deny to Virginia the right
to enact oyster laws, where they have oysters, because we want no such laws
here. I understand, I hope, quite as well as Judge Douglas or anybody else,
that the variety in the soil and climate and face of the country, and consequent
variety in the industrial pursuits and productions of a country, require systems
of law conforming to this variety in the natural features of the country."
Lewis and Clark find Cranberries
From the journal
of William Clark: "I prosued this gang of Elk through bogs . . .
and many places I Sunk into the Mud and water up to my hips without finding
any bottom on the trale of those Elk. Those bogs are covered with a kind
of Moss among which I observe an abundance of Cranberries." Obviously, food was merely to stave off hunger, not provide nutrition"
Cranberries in Pennsylvania - Craze or Scandal?
Cranberries became a successful commercial crop. Pennsylvania did not have productive cranberry bogs and eyed the cranberry success of Massachusetts and New Jersey with envy. Not available commercially until after the Civil War, the Pennsylvania Dutch were at a serious disadvantage at holiday time. Though Pennsylvania had rich farm lands, the farmers irrigated their land creating boggy patches of soil. A Connecticut entrepreneur, one T. Trobridge who ran a cranberry nursery in New Haven, devised what he believed would be a money-maker. He would sell cranberry plants to the farmers, selling them on the idea by stating that the boggy soil would be perfect for cranberries. Anxious to sell, he took large, expensive ads in the German-American newspaper, Der Amerikcanishce Bauer. Encouraged by the money they made from the ads, the editors of the paper wrote editorials encouraging the farmers to cultivate cranberries.
History would prove that cranberries would not become a Pennsylvania crop. With their limited harvest time, it proved to be a costly crop to plant, with an outlay that filled the coffers of the good Mr. Trobridge, but not those of the farmers. The craze died and cranberries were relegated only to holiday pies, their nutrition unknown.
Cranberries and "The Sopranos"
Fans of "The Sopranos" will never forget the classic episode when Christopher and Paulie think they have murdered a member of the Russian mob. They wrap the body and put it in the trunk of their car and head to the Pine Barrens to dump the body. Unfortunately for Christopher and Paulie, the Russian is not dead and escapes into the woods. In pursuit, the two mobsters get lost. They find a van and try to survive the chill in the van. Buried in the van are packets of frozen ketchup which they eat to stave off hunger, hardly a source of warmth or nutrition.
Unknown to these two, who more resemble the Keystone Kops (Keystone Killers?) than mobsters, the cranberry bogs are in the Pine Barrens. With a little hunting, they might have fortified themselves on the very nutritious cranberries that might have been frozen under their feet. Would the course of Soprano history have been different if cranberries had nourished these two popular gangsters? Would Christopher and Paulie have gone straight and become cranberry farmers? And what happened to the wild Russian? Is he lying frozen among the bobbing red cranberries? Alas, we will never know how the course of mob history might have changed if Christopher and Paulie had had cranberry awareness.