Why are cranberries so called?: Information Roundup
Cranberry is the Anglo-Saxon form of craneberry and is related to German Kranichbeere. Just why the plant and fruit were originally called craneberry is not known. One theory is that the name referred to the fact that at blossoming the slender, curved stem of the shrub was fancied to resemble the head, bill and neck of the bird called the crane. A similar comparison with this long-necked bird gives us crane in the sense of a machine for raising, moving and lowering weights. Many plants are named after the birds, animals and other creatures that feed upon them, and another theory is that the cranberry was so called because people supposed that cranes were fond of the berries of the plant. The name was originally applied to the small European cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos), which thrives in peaty swamps in northern climates and which was one of the plants sacred to the Druids. It bears bright red berrylike fruit about one-fourth of an inch in diameter and pleasantly acid in taste. This species is not cultivated commercially. The native American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpus), a different species of the heath family, bears dark red berries about twice the size of those of the small European variety. This species was native in bogs and swamps in eastern America from southern Canada to the Carolinas. In his History of Virginia (1705) Robert Beverly wrote that native American cranberries "are of a lively red when gathered and kept in water, and make very good tarts. I believe these are the berries which Captain Smith compared to the English gooseberries, and called Raw comens, having perhaps [page 81] seen them only on the bushes, where they are always very sour." The berries or cerises (Viburnum lentago) of the French Canadians are also sometimes called cranberries, but they belong to a different plant family. These small, shriveled, raisinlike berries appear on the markets in Canada and New England, where they are relished by some and regarded as insipid by others. The traditional cranberry served with Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey originated in Massachusetts. The cultivation of native American cranberries began in 1808 in the Cape Cod district, which still produces two-thirds of the American cranberry crop. Canada, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Washington and Oregon also produce cranberries in commercial quantities. Cranberries are used not only in sauces but also in pies, tarts, jellies and cocktails and other beverages, and the dried berries are strung for Christmas-tree and other decorations. Many people refer to them as "cramberries." They are a seasonal crop and "as busy as a cranberry merchant" is a proverbial saying.