Fall is in full swing these days. I feel fortunate that last week's weather didn't knock off all the leaves so there is still more time to enjoy the fall colors.
There is also time to get out and enjoy the rest of nature's bounty. October is a great time to get out and enjoy the rest of what our plants have to offer. Among these are rose hips, a couple more edible mushrooms and last, but not least, are cranberries.
A lot of people look at me quizzically when I tell them I'm going cranberry picking. I think most believe that cranberries come from some farm in Wisconsin or New Jersey. Actually, they are rather abundant growing wild in our area if you are willing to go out and find them.
The true wild cranberry or "lowbush" cranberry can be found in the area's marshes and bogs. If you can find sphagnum moss you are probably in the right place.
The plants prefer to be in full sun, so if there is much tree cover, they probably will not be very abundant.
The cranberry plant is a small evergreen vine typically reaching not more than 5 inches tall. The vine has small slightly pointed alternating leaves. The berries are typically red with a hint of white or green. These are available from the end of August through October.
The snow cover can also insulate and preserve them to the point that they can be found in the spring after the snow melts.
These can be prepared in the same manner as the store-bought cranberries.
My favorite method is to can a simple cranberry jam to surprise friends and family over the coming holidays.
The other cranberry we have in the area is called the "highbush" cranberry. It is actually not a cranberry at all but has a taste similar to cranberries. The fruits are actually on a bush in the honeysuckle family. The bush reaches heights approaching 15 feet tall and can be found in semi-marshy areas.
A good place to look for them if you want to see an example is around Swedetown Pond. They tend to prefer areas bordering wetlands.
The leaves, looking similar to maple leaves, or even thimbleberry leaves, will be turning yellow-red to purple-red at this time of year.
The fruit are clusters of red berries with a single stone or seed. There are several ways to prepare these berries that result in a similar product to cranberries, including jams, catsups and even flavoring for liquors.
I have found although the end product tastes similar to cranberries, they always have a musty, perhaps even unpleasant odor to them. I have read that if you pick them before the first frost, before they soften up, or add orange peel while preparing them that the odor isn't present.
After my initial attempts I haven't really bothered with them, but that isn't to say they can't be good. Mine were certainly edible but I couldn't get over the smell. There are plenty of references for recipes online if you wish to give them a try.