Meet the Cranberry Queen of Massachusetts
Industry expert Carolyn DeMoranville tells us about local heirloom varieties, and shares timeless recipes for making the most of our state berry.
You could say the berries run in her blood. Carolyn DeMoranville’s grandfather cultivated a 7.5-acre (bite-sized, in the business) cranberry farm. Her father, who would eventually take over the operation, was such a respected veteran researcher at the UMass Amherst Cranberry Experiment Station that he had a cranberry cultivar named after him. DeMoranville followed in his footsteps when she became director of the East Wareham research center, which focuses on supporting the Massachusetts cranberry industry. From the bog to the baking pan, DeMoranville is the state's resident expert on all things cranberry.
Amanda Kersey checks in to learn about heirloom varieties, the crop's place on our holiday table and which classic cranberry recipes never go out of style.
Why do you love the cranberry?
You know, it's unique, part of our local heritage. It’s part of my family heritage. I like the way they taste. They’re really easy to cook with on a simple scale. I mean, you can go crazy, but you can make an interesting salsa or sauce or chutney pretty easily, and there’s a lot of scope for creativity. But also think it's a very unique plant in the way it grows; it grows in these wetland areas with really acid soil. There aren't that many people that work on them as scientists. For all the fact that the research center is over 100 years old, there's still so much we don't know—that we're still learning a lot about the chemistry of the fruit, some of the health benefits, how it interacts in diet, and just learning how to grow it more efficiently, how to manage the water better. It's still evolving. It’s intellectually interesting.
What were some cranberry foods you ate growing up?
I have to admit that we—probably surprisingly—did not make homemade cranberry sauces. The little log with the ridges from the can? It was always what we he we had at our house. And I think part of it was because we were a part of the Ocean Spray co-op. That was one of their products. As far as cooking from raw cranberries, what we always had was a cranberry nut bread that has walnuts in it and fresh cranberries. And it uses the juice of an orange with warm water to make up your liquid, which is kind of different from every recipe I've ever seen. Most of them use orange zest or chopped-up pieces of orange rind, so it's much more subtle in its orange. It was a family recipe in the sense that my mother made it all the time, and it was one of my father's favorite foods. But the recipe actually came from an old UMass Extension publication.
Then there’s Cranberry Goodin Pudding, another UMass Extension recipe from the 1960s that you say is still a hit.
My mother made that a lot, too. In later years, they became popular—these recipes where you mixed all the ingredients and just poured in the pan and it formed its own layers. So it ends up with the bottom part is kind of dense with the cranberries and the nuts, and then the top is a crust. It's pretty tasty.
Are there heirloom cranberries in Massachusetts?
There are. So most of the fresh cranberries you see in the markets around Massachusetts—whether it's a farmer's market, or even the Ocean Spray or Paradise Meadow or Bluewater Farms you see at the grocery store—are heirloom varieties. The heirloom varieties, they just aren't marketed by name. So they just mark them as cranberries. But the two common heirloom varieties from Massachusetts are Early Black and House and they were selections from the wild in the mid 1800s that are still under cultivation today on some farms. They’re the smallish cranberries that we’re used to seeing as the raw cranberry. The newer cultivars are much larger. They're probably twice the size; some of them are fairly round. They look almost cherryish in their shape.
How does one successfully freeze cranberries to use year-round?
You take the bag and put in your freezer. That's pretty much it. I find it's easier to rinse them off when you take them out rather than trying to wash them first. They'll stay frozen long enough to get them chopped up. But the fresh preparations, you should really have some fresh cranberries.
How do cranberries fit into New England's Christmas traditions?
Cranberries have really excellent keeping quality, so cranberries have held through the holiday season — not just for Thanksgiving — as fresh produce, for many years. There was always a desire to have cranberries to hold for the Christmas market. From the decorating point of view, it’s been a longstanding tradition in New England to use strands of cranberries on the Christmas tree, perhaps alternating with popcorn. That’s certainly something we did as kids in my family. In this part of the country, it’s tradition to have turkey at Christmas, and they [cranberries] are certainly associated with it.
How will cranberries show up on your Christmas dinner table this year?
Well, if I have to be honest, we don’t do Christmas dinner. We eat on Christmas Eve and have leftovers the next day. But they will show up in the form of cranberry nut bread on the Christmas Eve buffet and anything left will be on our brunch table the next morning.
This interview has been edited and condensed by Amanda Kersey.
Jonesing for some cranberries now? Here are a couple of Carolyn's favorite recipes: