Unusual Fruits, Part 3: American High-Bush Cranberries

| 9/28/2015 2:11:00 PM


Click here to read more from Jo Ann, including the rest of the Unusual Fruits Series.

Many years ago, when we lived in Vermont and were learning about preserving all the bounty from our garden and from the wild, we discovered American High Bush Cranberries along a dusty back country road. The beautiful translucent round fruits hung in clusters from a thicket of bushes and in no time we harvested a good quantity to turn into jelly.

Living on a shoestring, we were eager to explore all the possibilities of free food for our growing family. We had rented a farmhouse on a hill for $10 a month with no electricity, with rough upland pastures, a small woodlot, and a large enough garden area for our needs. It was ideal for our situation (not enough money to buy our own land) but there was no fruit, cultivated or wild, on this farm, so finding High Bush Cranberries was a real bonus for us.

We were very lucky that what we picked were the fruits of the true American species, Viburnum trilobum, also known as V. opulus var. americanum and V. edulis. Had it been the European species, V. opulus, we would have been very disappointed in our find, especially after having gone to the trouble of processing those lovely red fruits (called drupes) into jelly. Beautiful, yes, but bitter beyond bitter, as we found out to our dismay years later when we were not so lucky in picking the fruit from the wild!

This happened when, after living for 30 years on Cape Breton Island on a self-reliant back country farm where we raised our own tree fruits and berries, it was time to retire and we moved back to the States to New York’s Champlain Valley. We returned to foraging for fruit, and as in Vermont, we discovered thickets of High Bush Cranberries along a dusty back road. So of course we picked them and made jelly, looking forward to putting away a winter supply as we had done in the past. Only this time around we were not so lucky. The beautiful cranberry-colored jelly, many jars of it, was inedible!

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