Cranberry picking in Québec

Québec is the third-largest producer of cranberries in the world, behind Massachusetts and Wisconsin, though most of the cranberries produced here eventually end up in the States anyways. Americans, myself included, really love their cranberries! It was always one of those things that I really missed when living in Europe, though I usually managed to find a sad-looking bag or two around the holidays. For me, fall baking and holiday meals are just not the same without this unique little red fruit. Even when living in the States, however, I never had access to such fresh cranberries or as many cranberry products as I do living in Québec. I love it! So when I heard about the one and only U-Pick cranberry farm in Québec, I knew we had to go. To make a day of it, we also took a tour of some of the bigger cranberry farms in the area.

Because of the high cost of growing cranberries, many farmers choose to belong to the Ocean Spray cooperative. In order to maximize their harvest, which must take place under pretty specific weather conditions, the growers flood their fields, and then drive through with tractors. The vibrating forks on the ends of the tractors loosen the cranberries from their stems, after which they float to the top.

The wind pushes the fruit to one corner of the field, and then a belt is used to help keep the cranberries all together. The farmer is then able to harvest quickly and easily a lot of cranberries at once.

At the U-Pick farm, we were able to pick our own cranberries right from the bushes. We were told that every year the farm was losing a lot of cranberries because the tractor wasn’t able to get to the fruit on the very edges of the fields. The farmer then came up with the idea to let people come and pick their own cranberries all along the edges, before the fields were flooded and then harvested. I think this is a fantastic idea. Everybody wins! We picked 5 pounds of cranberries for just $2 per pound.

A major benefit to picking cranberries in this way is that they stay dry and don’t absorb any water. This means they will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 3 months, and much longer in the freezer. I was surprised to hear this, but it does make sense. And now I can say that the berries I’ve been keeping in the refrigerator are still looking just as fresh as they did when we picked them back in September. I eat them fresh or cook them with my oatmeal for breakfast, and of course they find their way into lots of yummy fall desserts.

For more information about cranberries in Québec, the Centre d’interprétation de la canneberge is a good resource. To pick your own (autocueillette) I can recommend Canneberges IBIMI.

**For more photos, check out Bela Lumo’s photostream on flickr or “like” Bela Lumo Photography on Facebook. I’m regularly updating the albums there. And as usual, please contact me directly if you’re interested in using my photos or purchasing any prints. Thanks!** 
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