The Bog Blog

For nearly all of the 10 years I have been writing this blog, I have wanted to write a post about cranberry bogs.

Wisconsin produces more than half of the world’s cranberry supply, but all the bog action takes place on the western side of the state. So, until yesterday, I had never been to a cranberry bog.

Then, my friend Mary Abraham invited me to drive with her to the Warrens Cranberry Festival and I jumped at the chance. Molly met us there and we were kind of delighted to learn that Warrens lies almost exactly halfway between Appleton and Minneapolis.

The festival itself stretched across Warrens like a fitted sheet (not coincidentally one of the items sold in the ubiquitous tents). We think we walked past all 1,300 booths on our walk through the festival, though it was hard to be sure. The booths were everywhere — on people’s front lawns, down streets, in parks and parking lots. We saw cute crafts, tasty goodies and all kinds of cool, handy, inspiring and/or perplexing items.

Among us, we tasted a cranberry cream puff, deep-fried cranberries, a cranberry scone, cranberry coffee, cranberry lemonade and cranberry kettle corn.

We took a guided tour of the bog and learned a lot about the fruit most of us only think about when we’re trying to add a little color to our Thanksgiving plate.

Cranberries are native to Wisconsin and you can still find some wild ones growing here if you look hard enough. Most of the cranberry growers in Wisconsin participate in an agricultural cooperative with Ocean Spray dating back to 1930. As farmer-owners, the 700 shareholders in the company earn 100% of the profits from products made with their fruit.

A different Mary, our tour guide and a sixth generation cranberry grower, told us about 90% of Wisconsin’s bogs produce process cranberries, which make their way into cranberry products like juice and dried fruit. The rest are sold fresh.

Apparently, Wisconsin produces so many cranberries due to our climate, all that sandy soil left by the glaciers, and our cheerful willingness to haul on waders and climb into occasionally near-freezing water to harvest those little buggers.

According to our guide Mary, the glaciers came through Wisconsin and left behind sandy soil, which is perfect for cranberry growing. The sand in these bogs sits on top soil or peat moss. The bogs in this picture are in various stages. The green bog closest to the camera is ready to harvest, the one next to it has young vines that have just been planted and will take three to five years to produce fruit, and the red looking bogs have already been harvested and the vines have gone dormant.
Contrary to popular thought (or at least my own), cranberries don’t grow in water. They grow on vines on the ground. Once they are ripe, likes these, growers open bulkheads in the bogs and let water flow in. The air pockets in cranberries cause them to float to the surface of the water, where a little agitation releases them from the vine. Later, growers drain the water back out and send it through little canals that run alongside the bogs either back to the water source or to harvest more berries in another bog.
The berries make a gorgeous jeweled carpet as they sit on the surface of that water waiting to be raked onto a conveyor. After our tour, Molly and I went to work harvesting our share.
We tried the old fashioned scoops, in addition to the more modern rakes. We worked really hard until…
The photographer asked us to throw the cranberries into the air and the gig was up because we were too tall for the articifial background. Ah, well. We had you going for a minute there didn’t we?
Our fascinating friend Kate Abraham (Mary’s daughter) actually did once work in a cranberry bog, though, and here’s a picture of her doing the real work a few years ago.
Meanwhile, back at the festival, we had some serious tasting to catch up on. Here are the deep fried cranberries. Mary said they were delicious, even better than the doughnut she had been craving.
A whole booth just for licorice. What a world!
Another whole booth for sweet tails (which seems like rebranded version of licorice, no?)
Molly gave me a taste of her cranberry cream puff. Yum Yum!
You could get cranberry almost anything (though I did hear someone say they ran out of cranberry brats).
I got myself some smelly jelly because I’m a sucker for a good name.
The Cranberry Festival takes over the whole town of Warrens for the weekend. I had never seen so many booths on private lawns! According to festival’s mission statement, all funds raised by this festival get funneled right back into the community.
Mary almost bought her husband Pete a giant chicken. I bought Vince a bag of cranberry kettle corn.
Warrens sits in a really pretty part of this beautiful state.

2 thoughts on “The Bog Blog

  1. I am sure that there must have been some delicious cranberry bread there somewhere too. I have a recipe if you would like to try some.

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