The chill in the air and passing of the first frost means it’s cranberry season in West Virginia. Cranberries are a lesser known wild food in the area and can only be found in high elevation bogs. Places such as Dolly Sods or Cranberry Glades are good examples of where to find these tart fruits. They are located at ground level on plants with multiple small, green leaves.
A reminder that although I love to forage on both private and public lands, I make sure to follow regulations and sustainable harvesting practices. General practices involve never harvesting all the fruit in one area, being cognizant of where you step so as not to damage the plant life, and never sharing exact locations of harvesting so certain areas do not get over-harvested. This will make sure everyone has plenty to harvest for years to come!
Although I have harvested wild food in the state for years, I only realized cranberries grew wild here a few years ago. Wild cranberries are a late fall fruit and they are more flavorful than their farmed counterpart. They are much smaller in size but make up for in taste. Luckily you do not need a big harvest to make some tasty dishes. In fact, as small as one cup can be used to make a great sauce for turkey, meatballs, or other meats.
Let me share my favorite dish: Turkey, sage, and pine nut meatballs with a wild cranberry sauce. Here is the recipe for that tasty sauce:
Wild Cranberry Sauce
2 cups of wild cranberries
1/2 cup of sugar
Zest of one orange
2 tablespoons orange juice
Dash of cinnamon
In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, sugar, zest, water and juice. Stir and bring to a boil, reduce and let simmer until desired thickness (~10 minutes). Stir in a dash of cinnamon.
Let cool and use to top turkey or other meats.
There is still time to collect wild cranberries so get your boots and jacket on and go exploring. Take a wild plant book, print out, or photo of cranberry plants and berries to make sure you get the right ones (tea berries also grow among cranberries and are edible too, but have a very different taste and texture). Have a great time enjoying one of the many wild foods that grow in this region!