Americans gobble down over 5 million gallons of jellied cranberry sauce a year. That’s Ocean Spray’s term for the canned cranberry jelly that retains the shape of the can as it plops out onto your serving dish. That volume equates to 4 million cranberries or 200 berries per can. Consider that only 2% of the entire U.S. cranberry harvest is sold as fresh fruit. That’s why the fresh ones are so expensive, and why they seem to be only available around the Holidays. They’re the only native American fruit commercially grown.
This canned product is a bit like its canned meat cousin, Spam. It has sort of a low brow perception, but the majority of people secretly love it. It’s easy, sliceable into any desired thickness, tart, sweet and delicious. They can be cut into shapes with cookie cutters and used as garnish or decoration on casseroles and baked goods. I know at our family Thanksgiving, no matter what cranberry sauce someone has made from scratch, we always have the canned version sliced alongside it. My young niece calls them “CANberries”! Only about 26% of Americans make their own cranberry sauce. Consider that 100 years ago cranberries were only available fresh 2 months out of the year.
That was until a brilliant businessman, Marcus L. Urann, in 1912 decided to change the cranberry industry forever. We can call Mr. Urann the father of our canned cranberry sauce. Urann quit his lawyering career to buy a cranberry bog. With altruistic motives to help his local cranberry farmers in Massacheusetts, he immediately sought to find a way to expand the two month cranberry season. Canning and juicing were the perfect way.
Marcus L. Urann, the Father of the Canned Cranberry Log
Native Americans were the first to cultivate the cranberry, but it wasn’t marketed and sold until the middle of the 18th century. Revolutionary war veteran Henry Hall was the first to plant the first commercial cranberry bed in 1816 in Dennis, Massacheusetts. His family still operates and sells berries from this original bed.
In 1930 Urann convinced his competitors AD Makepeace Company, the largest grower at the time, and the Cranberry Products Company of New Jersey, to form a cooperative called Cranberry Canners, Inc. This coop minimized risks from the crop’s price and volume instability. In 1946 the coop became known as the National Cranberry Association, and by 1957 had changed its name to Ocean Spray, borrowed from a fish company in Washington State. Today Ocean spray is still a coop of over 600 individual growers.
It was at the time of the formation of the coop that production methods turned from dry to wet harvesting for cranberries. Cranberries grow in sandy, acidic soil and require a long dormant period during the long, cold winters. So, they are localized to areas like Massacheusetts and Wisconsin. Although they’re also grown in parts of Washington, Oregon, and New Jersey, Wisconsin grows over half of the world’s cranberries. The berries can be picked by hand from the vine using a combed scoop device, or flooding the bog at the time of harvest. The water helps separate the berry from the vine and little pockets of air inside the berry help it float to the top of the water, as you see in the Ocean Spray commercials. About 90% of cranberries are harvested by the wet method today.
Although Urann began canning and juicing the tart berries in 1912, it wasn’t until 1941 that the jellied cranberry log that we know and love became available. It’s been gracing Thanksgiving tables every since, a truly American product.