By Mary Ellen Psaltis
Cranberries have come to the rescue! My freezer space is expanding, because every morning I pull out a cup of summer berries for my green smoothie. I haven’t used all my goodies, but I’m ready for a seasonal change. Enter the multi-purpose cranberry. This tangy gem does double and triple time showing up at all times of day – not only in smoothies – sometimes sweet and sometimes savory. And, right now you can get Olympia grown cranberries from Kathy and Felix Mahr’s Bloom Creek Cranberry Farm.
In addition to jobs as a wetland biologist and consultant (Felix) and court reporter for the Pierce County Superior Court (Kathy), the Mahrs are spending increasing amounts of their time being cranberry farmers. Their cranberry crops require planting, tending, watering, harvesting, sorting, transporting and selling and everything in between.
It all began as an idea. The seeds were planted years ago when the Mahrs were living and working in Saudi Arabia. The US magazine called American/Western Fruit Grower crossed their path. Inside was a story about the great American fruit – the cranberry. That was when the dreaming started.
Eventually, the Mahrs found their way back to the Northwest. They wanted to settle on property that would be conducive for berry growing. They preferred to live closer to Olympia rather than the coast. The land needed the right kind of soil with water rights. The fates smiled and revealed a property with underlying glacial sand, ample water, and even a house. With great effort and expense they built their bogs from the ground (below the ground) up. Their first crop came in 2000.
Over the years, they have increased the planted area to five acres. The farm grows the Stevens berry, which is the industry standard, but Mahr is developing part of their property for the Willapa Reds, a berry that is bred for the fresh market. It’s “really small and tasty with lots of flavor.” This variety lasts longer and is a good candidate for organic production.
Bloom Creek Cranberry Farm uses a Furford picker/pruner to dry pick the berries. This machine was invented and built by Julius Furford in Grayland in the 1950s. The berries are collected 40 pounds at a time into burlap bags and then fall into a sorter where they are bounced up to seven times (bouncy cranberries are fresh). Lesser quality berries are sold for processing and the rotten ones are discarded.
Each week berries are picked to be sold at markets around Western Washington, including the Olympia Farmers Market on Saturdays and Sundays. This will continue until Thanksgiving when they will most likely run out of this year’s crop. Bloom Creek Cranberry Farm also makes savory mustards in two flavors – Classic Cranberry and Sweet Pepper.
Bloom Creek Cranberry Farm’s pink two-sided handout has recipes from both Felix and Kathy. When asked her favorite, Kathy responded, “We make all the recipes!” They both gave especially high marks to mixing their cranberry sauce with barbeque sauce to cook with pork. I liked their idea of throwing a few into the brownie mix.
Chocolate-dipped fresh cranberries is one of their suggestions. Here’s how to make the delicious treat:
Rinse fresh cranberries well and allow to dry. Warm premium dipping chocolate until just melted but not hot (microwave in short pulses at half power.) Stir in cranberries and spoon them out quickly onto wax paper to cool. Since the cranberries are perishable, refrigerate and use within two days. Use best quality chocolate. Great for parties.
I was stunned at the ease of making my own cranberry sauce. It takes hardly more time than opening a can. Most canned versions contain a heavy dose of high fructose corn syrup. Making my own I can control the sugar.
½ cup water
½ cup (more or less) of sugar or sweetener of choice
4 cups of cranberries
Boil the water to dissolve the sugar and add the berries. After is boils, reduce the heat to simmer for 5-10 minutes. You can then add nothing or pick pecans, walnuts, citrus zest, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger. Cool. It sets up as it cools.
By the way cranberries are a dream to freeze. They stay separated from each other and are ready to be added to your smoothie, a fruit cobbler, cookie dough or cooked with meat.
A friend makes a cooked sauce with fresh cranberries and canned mandarin oranges. My mom’s recipe calls for regular whole oranges, but I love mandarins and usually have a can on hand. Another friend makes a sauce using xylitol – sprinkling a little between layers of cooked berries. This keeps the tangy and sweet tastes more separate.
The Fresh Approach stand, also at the Olympia Farmers Market, will have cranberries grown in Washington through Christmas and possibly into the new year.
Felix Mahr, cranberry grower, derives deep emotional satisfaction from his farming life. The work is outside (he likes that) and low stress. He provides healthy fruit that people love to eat. Mahr enjoys people sharing their recipes and taking moments to appreciate the scarlet beauty of a bin of cranberries. If you are new or untried to the joys of cranberries, pick up a bag and have some fun. I’m so glad I did.
Eat Well – Be Well