NORTH FALMOUTH — On a cool autumn day with winter on its breath, fallen leaves scattered like hens in a barnyard under the wheels of Brian Handy’s truck as it bounced down a tree-lined lane toward one of his cranberry bogs — a tranquil expanse tucked away like a secret garden within the folds of woodsmoke-scented rural roads.
Parking beside the bog, Handy slid from the cab wearing a worn, cranberry-colored Henley, jeans, and an Ocean Spray ball cap — a sturdy man with a strong handshake, kindly eyes behind a guarded expression, and the unmistakable look of someone who has wrested a hard-won living from the land.
For him, this bog, and many other acres in Falmouth and Bourne that he farms, are a legacy built by five generations of the Handy family, a testament to what can be achieved through perseverance and old-fashioned Yankee grit.
It’s November, and he is putting yet another cranberry season behind him. As Handy scanned the harvested bog, his dog and constant companion, Dawson, jumped down from the truck, nudging his head under the farmer’s hand. Handy rubbed Dawson’s head, as if to say it was OK to take a rest from work now.
Cape Cod Cranberry Association.
“We’re starting to see a little bit of a transition in this industry,” said Wick, who joined Handy at bog side to ruminate over cranberry seasons past, present and future.
Annie’s Crannies in Dennis, scrambling. Using historical methods, she’s dedicated to growing the native varieties in a bog once owned by Henry Hall, who is credited with starting intentional cranberry farming on Cape Cod in 1816.
“More people are planting the new varieties. The thing about them is they’re all wet (harvested) berries,” Walker said. “They have nothing to do with fresh fruit.”
Wet-harvested fruits — that is, berries collected by way of flooding a bog — are reserved for juices, sauces, sweetened dried cranberries and as ingredients in processed foods.
By “fresh fruit,” Walker especially means the characteristically tart Howeses that are usually dry-harvested — collected more laboriously, and therefore more expensively, by hand-operated collectors. These are grown only in Massachusetts and are the “best fruit” for cooking purposes. They ripen later in the season, keep fresh longer, and are more rot-resistant.
University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
Preparation for this is key. Wick said cranberry breeders are looking at combatting some of these issues by developing cultivars that do well in the changing conditions, “but it takes years to come up with those crosses that work.”
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