Step into a cranberry bog at Epcot Food & Wine Festival
Before this year, I hadn't really given much thought to how cranberries make their way from farms to my Thanksgiving table. But after stepping into more than 1,000 pounds of the fruit at Walt Disney World, I was curious.
Ocean Spray's cranberry bog is back at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival for the third year, and if you've attended the festival, you've probably walked right past it on the central walkway leading to World Showcase.
Cast members in waders stand knee-deep in the colorful bog, demonstrating how rakes are used to turn the fruit during wet harvesting. Cranberries actually grow on long vines in marshy areas, not underwater as some people might think. The night before the harvest, growers flood the area with up to 18 inches of water. Then, they use the rake-like tools to loosen the cranberries, and the fruit floats to the surface.
So, what you're seeing at Epcot are the loose cranberries floating in water -- the final step of wet harvesting a crop. (Cranberries also can be picked dry, which is done with large machines that comb the berries off vines.) The festival schedule of September through November coincides with the annual harvest of cranberries in North America.
On the opening night of the festival, Ocean Spray hosted a reception IN its cranberry bog for media, which I attended. I really wasn't sure what to expect, but it sounded like a unique opportunity I didn't want to miss. When it was my turn to enter the bog, I was given red knee socks (cute!) and asked my shoe size. Apparently the one-piece waders are sized according to the boots. Ladies, don't you wish all clothing was sized in that fashion?
Once I slipped on the overalls, it was off to the bog. It was somewhat surreal to be standing in the midst of waves of cranberries as Epcot visitors stopped to ask questions and take photos. The waders kept me completely dry -- until the rain started -- and moving in the water was not difficult.
In fact, Deb Wills and I were invited to sample foods made from cranberries while standing in the bog. To represent United States cuisine, we were served Seared Free Range Chicken with Craisin Moonshine Pearls and Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Craisin Ketchup. Both were delicious! Deb also interviewed Disney chef Damon in the bog about the versatility of cranberries:
And we explored the many culinary uses of the fruit, too. Outside the bog, we tried cranberry dishes from other countries: Cranberry & SeaSalt Cured Wild Salmon with Maple Sugar Crystals and Craisin Glazed Pork Belly with White Cheddar Maple Grits from Canada; Artisian Cheese Stuffed Mini Craisin Brioche and Craisin, Bacon and Brie Potato Gratin from France; Craisin Infused Five Spice Char Kobe Beef with Sriracha and Craisin Vegetable Fried Rice from Japan; Mole Shrimp Quesadilla with Cranberry Salsa and Pulled Chicken Craisin Tamales from Mexico; and English Mustard Dusted Scotch Egg with Cranberry Marmalade and Beef and Craisin Shepherd's Pie from the United Kingdom.
Guests at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival can visit the Hops & Barley Marketplace through Nov. 11 to taste the Craisin Bread Pudding with Grand Marnier Anglaise, which is a vegetarian dish. At the bog, visitors are invited to pick up a free sample of Craisins (dried cranberries).
Ocean Spray is an agricultural cooperative owned by more than 700 growers, many of whom have been in the business for generations. Below, Deb talks with Todd May, a fifth-generation cranberry farmer, from Canada.
Do yourself a favor, and stop at the bog and learn more about cranberries and how they are harvested. You just might develop a whole new appreciation for a traditional American holiday side dish.