Your Thanksgiving table may have a delicious turkey, mashed potatoes and homemade stuffing, but it won’t be complete until you set out at least one other item. Of course, we’re talking about the cranberry sauce.

No one knows for sure how or why cranberries became so closely associated with Thanksgiving, but it probably had something to do with their popularity among Native Americans. Many people believe Native Americans may have introduced cranberries to the pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving meal.

We can’t know for sure what was on the menu at the first Thanksgiving meal. However, we do know that Native Americans were quite familiar with the cranberry.

Native Americans used cranberries in various dishes, as well as to make dye for clothes, rugs and blankets. Some experts believe cranberries were also used as a medicine to treat indigestion.

One popular dish Native Americans made with crushed cranberries was called “pemmican” (sometimes called “pemmicana”). They would combine crushed cranberries with dried meat (usually deer, but elk and bison were also used) and other ingredients, such as animal fat, sugar and dried corn.

Pemmican was compact and would not spoil easily, so it was popular with Native American hunters who traveled frequently. It was also high in nutrition and provided plenty of energy for hunters on the go.

Native Americans had various names for cranberries. Eastern Indians called them sassamanesh. Other tribes called them atoqua or ibimi.

The name cranberry appears to have come about as a result of German settlers calling them kranbeere or “crane berries” because the flowers of the blooming cranberry bush look like the head and bill of a crane.

Today, cranberries are served most often at Thanksgiving, either in the form of a jellied sauce or as whole berries as part of a sugared sauce. Cranberries are also popular for their juice, which is very healthy because it’s high in antioxidants.

Cranberries are only one of three edible fruits native to North America that are commercially grown on a large scale (the other two being blueberries and Concord grapes). They are a major crop in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.

Many people mistakenly believe that cranberries grow in water. Cranberries grow on bushes and long vines in sandy bogs and marshes.

However, cranberry farmers do use a process called “wet harvesting,” which explains why some people think they grow in water. When cranberries were first farmed in the early 1800s, farmers would pick the berries by hand.

Eventually, farmers developed the wet harvesting method. When the cranberries are ripe (usually in the fall when they turn a deep red color), farmers flood the bogs where the cranberries grow.

The ripe cranberries then float to the surface, where harvesting machines (sometimes called “egg beaters”) remove the ripe berries from the vines. The floating cranberries can then be gathered in one area to be removed for processing.


28 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (18 votes, avg. 4.39 out of 5)
    • Thank you, Marco! We hope your Thanksgiving was extra AWESOME today, and that you learned some yummy new things about cranberries by exploring today’s Wonder! :-)

  1. I think that it would be Thanksgiving with or without cranberries, because some people don’t like cranberries. When I went to my Grandma and Grandpa that live across from our house, we had cranberry jello. When we went to my other Grandma and Grandpas house they had cranberry jello, too. With or without cranberries, you will have a great Thanksgiving! Happy Thanksgiving, Wonderopolis!


    • Thank you so much for the great comment and for visiting Wonderopolis on Thanksgiving, Renee! It sounds like you got to spend some awesome time with your family and eat some yummy dishes featuring CRANBERRIES. Those are two things to be very thankful for! :-)


    • Sounds like you had a VERY yummy Thanksgiving, Allison! Thank you so much for sharing your favorite dishes! We’re heading back for leftovers now…your comment made us hungry again! :-)

    • Well, we hope you had LOTS of other yummy food on Thanksgiving, Liam! Some Wonder Friends like cranberries, and some don’t. Thanks for leaving us this comment today! :-)

    • Hi, Liam! The video shows a harvest of CRANBERRIES! Yum! We think it’s really cool how the farmers flood the area around the ripe cranberries so they rise to the surface, then they vacuum them off the top of the water with that special hose! Then, it’s off to be cleaned, packaged, and sent to a grocery store near YOU (and us)! Thanks so much for commenting on this Wonder! :-)

    • We think that’s a GREAT attitude, Natalie! We LOVE cranberries and think they are yummy, but we also understand that some Wonder Friends don’t care for them. Thank you for letting us know you had fun exploring this Wonder! :-)

  3. I personaly like cranberries (I know some people don’t and I accept that, I.E. we all have different likes and dislikes) and I don’t think it would be Thanksgiving without cranberries. It has been a tradition for many years, and I don’t think we should ruin it. (Not that anyone would, but ya know). 😉

    • We think that’s an AWESOME attitude to have, Paige! You’re right, too! We all have different likes and dislikes about everything from food to music to sports to…the options are endless! We appreciate your opinion about cranberries! Thanks for your comment! :-)

    • Thanks for letting us know what you thought about this Wonder, 13! We hope you learned some tasty new tidbits about cranberries today! :-)

  4. We at Eastridge Elementary School, believe it is NOT thanksgiving without cranberries. We love cranberry jello and apple/cranberry pie!!!!! How do you all eat your cranberries for Thanksgiving?

    • We think you make an excellent point, Wonder Friends at Eastridge Elementary School! Cranberries are part of many many Thanksgiving day meals across the country! Some Wonder Friends LOVE jellied cranberries, while some prefer them mashed up and cooked for a long time on the stove, simmering over low heat. It makes them soft and delicious if we do say so ourselves! Thanks for sharing your cranberry comment with us! :)

    • YUM, we sure do, Mrs. Cannon! We just mentioned to our Wonder Friends at Eastridge Elementary that we like cranberries in all sorts of ways– in pies, alone, or in jelly form. How about you?! :)

  5. That cranberries are picked in fall when they have a dark red color on it then you take the cranberries and take them out and cranberries have different names that some people or Native Americans.

    • Thanks for sharing what you learned with us, Remi! We are so glad you shared your comment today! HOORAY for WONDERing! :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


  • Wonderopolis on Facebook
  • Wonderopolis on Pinterest
  • Print

Have you ever wondered…

  • Is it Thanksgiving without cranberries?
  • How did the cranberry get its name?
  • What is a cranberry bog?

Wonder Gallery

cranberries_shutterstock_19345429Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to eat? Well, first, you’d better be ready to do some cooking! Just ask your parents. A Thanksgiving feast doesn’t just prepare itself. WONDERful meals often take a lot of preparation.

Ask your parents to let you help out with this year’s Thanksgiving meal. Time spent cooking together is time well-spent.

Not only do you learn skills that will benefit you years into the future, but you’ll also spend quality time with your family.

Here are some fun and easy Thanksgiving recipes you might want to try:

Do you have a special family recipe that you look forward to making on Thanksgiving? Would you mind sharing it with the rest of us?

You can email it to us or post it on our Facebook page. Our tummies thank you in advance for sharing your family recipes!


Still Wondering

Check out the Smithsonian’s History Explorer Meet Our Museum podcast, Thanksgiving and Harvest Celebrations, to hear curator Rayna Green discuss the history of Thanksgiving and American Indian foods.


Wonder Categories/Tags

Wonder What’s Next?

If you’re stuffed after today’s Wonder of the Day, don’t worry. We’ll get some exercise tomorrow when we head to the mall!

Upload a Photo or Paste the URL of a YouTube or SchoolTube Video.