The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is one of my favorite times of the year to visit Epcot. Sure the food, merchandise, cooking demonstrations and drinks are fun…but for me…it’s also got a lot to do with the Ocean Spray Cranberry bog. When I saw photos of various members of the media donning waders and being served food and drinks INSIDE that bog, I thought to myself, that is how I will KNOW I have truly arrived! Sadly, despite my best efforts, my Epcot cranberry bog days are yet to come. But that’s OK – everyone has to have a Disney dream, right? Mine just happens to involve wearing waders!
That beautiful bog, and cranberries in general are still just as fascinating to me. The Epcot cranberry bog is over 1300 square feet and home of 500 pounds of cranberries! It is a site to see in the middle of a theme park! Cranberry growers as well as cast members standing in and around it, are happy to engage guests with facts and information on how the fruit is not only harvested but also used. Here is some fun information that I have learned so far:
A lot of people think that cranberries grow under water. Makes sense, since we usually see the berries floating on top of the water. Cranberries do not grow in water however. They grow on long running vines in marshes or “bogs” made up of acid, peat soil and sand near wetland systems. The floating cranberries we’re seeing is actually the result of wet harvesting. The bog is flooded with up to 18 inches of water the night before the berries are to be harvested. Once the area is flooded, the berries (which have air pockets) float to the top. For those stubborn cranberries still left hanging, a tractor-like machine called a “ruby slipper” comes through and “slips” the ruby berries right off their vines. From there, they’re corralled together, loaded into trucks, and shipped off to be processed into all their different forms. A few of those lucky berries will end up at Epcot for the bog display.
Fresh cranberries, the ones you buy in the produce aisle every fall, are harvested using the dry method. Not quite as glamorous if you ask me…but it’s the best way to get the absolute freshest of berries. For this, cranberry growers use a mechanical picker that looks like a large lawnmower. It has metal teeth that comb the berries off the vine and deposit them in a burlap sack at the back of the machine. I would imagine this is much easier then picking them all by hand like they did in the old days!
It’s not just about sauce and jelly. Every part of the cranberry plant has a purpose for which it is used. Greens are reused in compost, juice is pressed, and the skins become Craisins. (By the way, be sure to pick up a free sample pouch of craisins at the booth near the Epcot cranberry bog! Who says nothing at Disney is free?)
Beginning with the Native Americans, who used cranberries in medicines and clothing dyes…modern people are still finding creative uses for cranberries. Cranberries can be added to countless dishes, from quick breads, yeast breads, salads, relishes, salsas and chutneys, to soups, grain-based entrees and of course, desserts. It’s always a good idea to add a half-cup of chopped cranberries to your favorite banana bread or apple muffin recipe.
Drop some into your leafy green/spinach salad (especially good with dried cranberries), or toss a handful into a pilaf or stuffing. Impress your dinner guests with a cranberry glaze, or slow-cook some berries with your favorite chicken or pork. Before baking apples, fill the cored centers with cranberries, then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
Have you ever heard of cranberry mustard? It is said to get the pork and salmon on your plate singing! (Just heat some whole-berry cranberry sauce with a touch of sherry and honey, mix with an equal amount of your favorite brown or Dijon-style mustard, and if you like, throw in a dash of ground ginger. Voilà! Homemade cranberry mustard…mmmm…)
Some very successful musicians even decided to name their band “The Cranberries”. Do you suppose they are fans of the fruit as well?
So, there you have it. Who knew cranberries could be so useful – and inspirational enough to name your rock band after them? Just remember the next time you are at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, be sure to slow down a bit to appreciate the cranberries, and that beautiful Ocean Spray cranberry bog. It’s the stuff Disney dreams are made of (OK..well…maybe just mine!)
**This article was originally posted in the September 2013 Gluten Free & Dairy Free at WDW Newsletter
Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free at WDW is an amazing website customized just for guests of Walt Disney World who have special dietary needs. I would like to thank Sarah Norris – editor and founder of GFDF at WDW for her friendship and partnership through the years! Be sure to check out the amazing resource that she has created!