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Wild Cranberry Delights

by | Dec 2, 2013

My holiday baking began today with our traditional Cranberry Coffee Braid. It has had a momentous role in our family Christmastimes, with probably the most important appearance being the Christmas our son was getting up the nerve to propose to Michelle, and to soften up her family he baked one of these and took it to Fredericksburg. It apparently had miraculous powers.


But before I can share the recipe and some photos of creating this masterpiece, I must explain how I came to be baking this year with wild West Virginia cranberries.

There are few adventures that can compare to following my friend Sarah back through the hills and hollows of West Virginia, down interminable dirt roads, backing and puzzling through a few wrong turns and missed cues, and then carrying hopeful ice cream buckets as we slip, slide, and slosh into a wild cranberry bog.

This past October Judy, Mary Lou, and I were primed for those cranberries.  Breakfast had been enhanced by the sweetness of deep red cranberry juice.  Sarah had made and canned it after her last foray into the bog. Now all we had to do was find the shy ruby-red-and-white jewels lying just under the moss and cotton plants that carpeted the watery sod.

Wet knees were to be expected.

Judy and Susan picking cranberries!cid_image1BACCAF2-984B-4BC2-939D-75D22DC368C4

The berries grew in the shelter of the rare pitcher plants, seen below. Their cups were still offering a drink, days after the last rain. I couldn’t stop looking into each gorgeous plant.

pitcher plant with water pitcher plant wild cranberries in bog













There were delicate sundews, too, their toothy red traps outspread to catch insects.


Then my inner hunter-gatherer kicked in as I realized that Sarah was picking twice as many cranberries as the rest of us. Reluctantly ignoring the exotic vegetation, I got busy pinging berries into my bucket. There were always more berries hidden under the next leaf. I could have stayed all day.

But when we left, I had a hefty bucket. And when I packed for the return trip home, my suitcase held two little bags of the precious cranberries.


That is the backdrop to the delicious Cranberry Coffee Braid. Log on next week to learn how to make it too. (Or drop by my house for a slice with coffee!) Of course wild cranberries are preferred—but the Ocean Spray variety works well, too. Just as tasty, maybe, but without West Virginia memories for this berry picker.

Thanks, Mary Lou Weaver Houser, for sharing your photos of the bog and the berry pickers.