ARE A TRUE AMERICAN HOLIDAY TREAT
Americans celebrate the holiday season from Thanksgiving through Christmas,
iconic foods immediately come to mind - apple pie, pumpkin pie, sweet
potatoes. And, of course, cranberries. But if you want a truly American
meal, you can dump the first three, because only cranberries are native
to the United States.
Whether the first ones came to our shores with the Pilgrims or with
earlier emigrants from England, France or Spain is uncertain. But that
apples are native to Asia is an accepted fact.
Appleseed distributing an alien invasive species? Apples taste good
and remain edible for a long time, so the fruit rapidly became popular
in colonial times.
trees grow well in many regions and by the time of the Revolutionary
War thousands of varieties had been produced by early agriculturists.
Apples are here to stay but were not a major part of the holiday meals
of the first settlers.
pumpkins? Pumpkin pie is considered by many Americans to be traditional
holiday fare. According to botanical scientific literature, pumpkins
were one of the many forms of squash derived from wild gourds that probably
originated primarily in Mexico. They were already being cultivated when
Columbus arrived in 1492, and 1542 records indicate that pumpkins were
being grown in Europe.
another standard for U.S. holidays, may have the most questionable origins.
Tropical America and Indonesia have both been suggested as the original
home of the sweet potato. But in either case, like apples and pumpkins,
they did not originate in what is now the United States.
which are related to blueberries, are a completely different story,
being part of the native flora of eastern Canada, and the northeastern
and north central United States.
vines grow naturally in acidic bogs. The original name "craneberry,"
eventually shortened to "cranberry," stems from the flower's
resemblance to the head of a common and distinctive native bird, the
sandhill crane. Early colonists would have been aware of the cranes,
and the little flowers having what look like long beaks and red heads
on a curved neck would be obvious. Check out pictures of cranberry flowers
and sandhill cranes to see the remarkable similarity.
that thrives in wetland habitats in cold climates is unlikely to be
grown effectively in hot, arid regions.
checking scientific journals to determine what had been discovered about
cranberries within the past year, I was surprised to find many of the
recent studies were conducted by scientists in the Middle East.
ones from Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia in publications such as the
International Food Research Journal and Annals of Applied Biology.
the beneficial health properties of fresh cranberry juice due to its
antioxidant effects. Another was determining meteorological effects
on flowering, and a third concluded that cranberry fruit extract improved
the quality of white soft cheese.
a widely distributed newspaper published in Saudi Arabia, recently had
an article extolling the "proven health benefits" of American
cranberries. The popularity of cranberries has extended to the Middle
East, despite the lack of suitable natural habitat.
the introduction of American cranberries to the Old World is gaining
appreciation, not all is perceived as positive.
article was titled "A New Alien Plant Species in Lithuania,"
with cautionary comments about guarding against "probable invasions
in natural bog habitats." Apparently, eastern Europe's peat bogs
and cold climate are comparable to that of the cranberry's native habitat.
or accidentally introduced cranberries can propagate and be dispersed
by birds. Ironically, America's most popular native berry is considered
a nuisance in some parts of the world.
truly American fruits consumed throughout the country in large quantity
during the holiday season are cranberries. The expression "as American
as cranberry pie" is unlikely to replace the one referencing apples,
but it would be more accurate.
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