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I am always happy when I see the first fresh cranberries on our grocer’s shelves. By now the extra bags that I purchased last autumn to store in my freezer are long gone and I crave the tart taste of all the goodness found in a fresh cranberry.

I love the Ocean Spray commercials that feature cranberry growers standing in hip deep water during the annual harvest. I was curious how that process actually happens so I searched YouTube for video of a cranberry harvest. I picked a video from a Wisconsin bog and watched it several times because it was so interesting to this Nebraska girl. It was so different than the harvesting we watch as we drive the by-ways of our state. I recommend anyone who is curious to watch a video or two about the facts of cranberry harvesting.

I learned that the process has four basic steps. First of all, the dry bogs are filled with several inches of water, then a mechanical harvester drives though the flooded bogs carefully to break the berries off the vines. Since there are four air chambers inside the fruit, they float to the top of the surface of the water. They are then gathered into one area of the pond by folks actually pushing them to the designated area or by water moving them into a contained area. They are then “vacuumed” up into trucks and headed to a processing plant. These wet-harvested berries are made into juice and sauce.

The fresh berries that I so look forward to are harvested by another method. They are dry harvested. This involves using a machine that is driven or walked through the dry bog that loosens the berries from the vine, scoops them up onto a conveyor belt of sorts and deposits them in a bag.

Both processes are labor intensive but have been made easier by the ingenuity of the producers who always look for easier and better ways to do things.

I have included four recipes for you to try during cranberry season. The first is for my favorite cranberry sauce for your Thanksgiving table. It uses merlot, burgundy or pinot noir for a deep rich color and flavor. I keep the sugar to a minimum for this sauce because I like it on the tart side. If you like a sweeter sauce, feel free to add more sugar.

The cranberry pie is a great dessert when you are short of time and don’t want to make a crust. No one will miss the crust with this version. It makes a great addition to a dessert buffet for any holiday celebration. It’s sweet but not heavy.

The cranberry scones make a fantastic Thanksgiving or post-holiday breakfast. They are so easy and also make a great holiday gift. They can be made ahead and frozen and taste great when warmed.

The fourth recipe is new to me but since Brussels sprouts are a favorite at many Thanksgiving feasts, adding cranberries seemed like a great idea. This recipe is from the website, www.cranberries.org. This site has a wealth of information about this lovely fall fruit and recipes to enhance the taste of this gift.

Quote of the Week: There are four unbroken rules when it comes to Thanksgiving; there must be turkey and dressing, cranberries, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.” — John Hadamuscin

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Ellen Lund of Fremont is a freelance food columnist.

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