Growing up on the Cape, I remember riding the bus to school at this time of the year and watching the helicopters come to pick up the boxes and boxes of cranberries from our local bogs. At Thanksgiving we had the obligatory cranberry sauce, and then when it was cold in the winter, we would skate on the frozen bogs. That was the extent of my interaction with cranberries.
Last year, through Island Grown School’s Harvest of the Month program, I developed a deeper connection to this native fruit that grows so well in our sandy, acidic soils. In the schools, we tasted cranberry relish with the children, and one student remarked, “It tastes like you passed out and went to heaven and ran into a waterfall of cranberries.” We read the book “Cranberry Day” by Jannette Vanderhoop, and Wampanoag children shared their special experiences celebrating the cranberry harvest as a sacred tribal holiday. We also went on field trips to Vineyard Open Land Foundation’s restored bog at Cranberry Acres in Vineyard Haven to pick berries and see the old equipment that sorted them.
This will be our second year celebrating cranberries in October, and it’s exciting to think about all of the opportunities the children on the Vineyard will have to interact with this special fruit. All through October and November last year, cranberries showed up in my cooking in a surprising number of ways. At least once a week I roasted them with salt, pepper and thyme to add into rice or to eat with squash. I baked with them, I puréed them into relish to serve with all types of meat, and I even made a few cocktails with them. This cranberry butter recipe was a big hit at one of our preschools, and it is perfect to add onto a fresh-baked loaf of bread.
1 cup softened butter
1 cup fresh cranberries (available locally from Vineyard Open Land Foundation)
2 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. orange juice
Put all ingredients into a food processor and pulse until cranberries are combined throughout the butter. Transfer to a bowl and chill until ready to use.
Emily Armstrong is the preschool coordinator for Island Grown Schools, the Vineyard’s farm-to-school nonprofit. For more information, visit islandgrownschools.org.