Massachusetts Cranberry Culture: A History from Bog to Table

By Derleth, Jessica | Historical Journal of Massachusetts, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Massachusetts Cranberry Culture: A History from Bog to Table


Derleth, Jessica, Historical Journal of Massachusetts


Massachusetts Cranberry Culture: A History from Bog to Table. Robert S. Cox, and Jacob Walker. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2012. 142 pages. $19.99 (paperback).

In their new book, Massachusetts Cranberry Culture: A History from Bog to Table, authors Robert S. Cox and Jacob Walker demonstrate that the tart, bright red cranberry is much more than an iconic accompaniment to the holiday turkey. Though national sales are currently driven by juice blends and cans of jellied sauce, this seasonal fruit has long been a defining element of New England life and agriculture. The authors reclaim the significance of this humble fruit by tracing its cultivation and consumption through hundreds of years of Massachusetts history. By combining histories of agriculture, geography, food production, and labor, Cox and Walker narrate the emergence of a "cranberry culture" that continues to define the region to this day. They argue that in the transition from wild berry to cultivated crop, the cranberry bound together and "absorbed into the landscape" the peoples of New England through its "remarkable penchant for connection" (7, 140).

Massachusetts Cranberry Culture takes readers through a tour of the towns, fields, and bogs of the state's cranberry heartland. The authors' love for the region is palatable as they use the cranberry as a lens for understanding "our shores," "our villages," and "our regional cuisine." This sense of ownership and regional identity invites readers to recognize their towns, their communities, and their history; those who have never called Massachusetts home are asked to look beyond "a diet in which cranberries appear only at holiday time" by surveying cranberry country (32). Though the authors focus primarily on Massachusetts, they contextualize the region within a larger, national history. For instance, Cox and Walker discuss growing practices, pest control, and commercial ventures in other cranberryproducing states-New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin. They also connect Massachusetts to national economic, political, and social forces. For example, they demonstrate how immigration and migration led to racial tension during labor disputes at the turn of the twentieth century. They also explain how industrialization and mechanization in the nineteenth century helped shift an informal harvest of wild berries to an industry driven by technological development. The scope of the book is thus large and small, as the authors focus on Massachusetts's fields while connecting them to regional and national events.

With meticulous and fascinating detail, Cox and Walker demonstrate how natural forces and human cultivation came together to create a cranberry culture. Early European settlers, for instance, developed a taste for the berry that grew wild in local wetlands. …

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