In several New England states and Southern Canada, the cranberry is king. In bogs along the shores of several rivers and lakes, cranberries grow until the fields are flooded for the fall harvest. This is when it's time for a cranberry festival in a dozen or more cities, a time to partake in cranberry-centric recipes, tour a bog or just be merry with the community.
More than anything, a cranberry festival is held to celebrate history. Officially named Vaccinium macrocarpon, this fruit is one of a few native plants grown in North America when colonists arrived from Europe that is still widely consumed in 2011, along with corn, grapes, plums and blueberries. According to The Cranberry Institute, the first commercial cranberry operation was started by Henry Hall in Dennis, Massachusetts, in 1816. The American Cranberry Growers Association in New Jersey, however, believes that its state cultivated the first cranberry crops, some two decades later. In 2011, about 40,000 acres of cranberry plants grow, mostly used for making juice.
The state of Wisconsin is credited with having, by far, the most successful cranberry industry. This state is responsible for about half of all the cranberries harvested in the United States. According to the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, that fact is what led to a cranberry festival being held annually in at least five cities: Eagle River, Stone Lake, Manitowish Waters, Warrens and Wisconsin Rapids. Each city has a Web site devoted to its cranberry festival. Activities vary for each, from the hokey to the humongous.
In its 39th year, perhaps the largest cranberry festival is in Warrens, Wisconsin. As many as 1,250 booths, which will stretch for three miles, are planned for the festival taking place the weekend of 23 September 2011. Various contests, from biggest berry and best scarecrow to most stunning photography and fastest cranberry eater, will help keep this festivals' more than 100,000 annual attendees busy whenever they are not trolling for food, perusing the crafts, watching the parade, or touring the bogs.
Behind Wisconsin in cranberry production are the U.S. states of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maine, Washington and Oregon as well as several Canadian provinces — each with their own growers' associations and scattered harvest festivals. In New Jersey, the cities of Chatsworth and Bordentown hold festivals with parades, crafts and bog tours. In Massachusetts, a National Cranberry Festival in Edaville competes for credence with Wisconsin's largest cranberry festival. Edaville also is home to the headquarters for Ocean Spray®, the world's largest cranberry juice manufacturer as well as a Cranberry World Museum.