Nantucket cranberries – painting the Massachusetts island red

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without cranberries but the fruit was revered by Native Americans before the founding fathers arrived. The autumn harvest still turns the fields of Nantucket a glorious scarlet

For the past 160 years every autumn, the diminutive island of Nantucket has turned scarlet, thanks to the cranberry harvest.The fields are deliberately flooded and the submerged vines are beaten to detach the ripe, red berries, which then float to the surface.

This tart, wild, native berry was a superfood for Native Americans. The Wampanoag, indigenous to what is now New England, called them ibimi – bitter berry – and used them for cooking, medicine and dyeing fabric. They introduced them to the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620 – and legend has it that they were part of the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 (although the now-traditional cranberry sauce didn’t appear until 1912). English settlers dubbed them “craneberries”, because their pink flowers resemble the head of a sandhill crane.

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