The Cranberry in Colonial America and Cranberry Apple Crisp

Information and recipe from The Good Land by Patricia B. Mitchell, a slender volume about Native American and Early Colonial Food.

Cranberries, called ‘fen berries’ by the early settlers from England, were quickly incorporated into the colonial American diet.  ‘Fen’ meaning ‘bog’ accounted for that early name which gradually changed to ‘craneberry’ due to the slender curving stems of the fruit and then later to cranberry as they are known today.  The trailing evergreen shrubs which grow in marshes and bogs and produce pretty,  wine red berries were also familiar to those newcomers from Europe where it is sometimes called ‘Moss Berry.’

The Wampanoag Indians called the cranberry ‘sasemin’ and made a juice from it which they sweetened with maple syrup or honey. They also used cranberries as a curative for cuts and arrow wounds. The mashed fruit was placed on open wounds to draw out the poison and what we would call bacteria.

Cranberries were also used as a dye for blankets and rugs.  The berry grows as far South as parts of Northern Carolina and West Virginia and was regarded by the Delaware tribe in New Jersey as a symbol of peace.

Cranberry Apple Crisp:

3 cups apple slices, 2 cups whole fresh or frozen cranberrries, 2 tablespoons honey

1/3 cup butter or margarine, 1 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup chopped nuts, 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Toss together apple slices, cranberries, and honey.  Make topping in a separate bowl.  Mix butter, rolled oats, flour and sugar until crumbly.  Stir in nuts and vanilla.  Place the apple/cranberry mixture in a 11 3/4″ x 7 1/2 inch dish. Put on topping. Bake at 350 about 50 minutes or until fruit is tender. If mixture gets too dry pour a little hot water over it.

3 responses to “The Cranberry in Colonial America and Cranberry Apple Crisp

  1. Folk Medicine in any culture is interesting. I once had a copy of the Chinese People’s Army Paramedics Manual. It included both Western and Eastern Medicine. I cut my finger in Japan years ago. One of the local women wet some tobacco and wrapped it in cloth around the laceration. It stopped the bleeding and there was no infection and no scar after it healed.

    Do any of your books or any you know of include Native medicine.
    I do know that Native Americans chewed the bark of the Chinchona Tree for headaches and muscle pains. Aspirin was originally made from Chinchona bark.


  2. I love cranberries and anything containing cranberries.



  3. Very interesting Ray. The use of Native plants and herbs for cures is of much interest to me. I use medicinal folklore in my books. Yes, I have a book I like very much that you can get on Amazon called Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants by Bradford Angier. My grandmother gave it to me years ago and I often refer to it. It’s based on Native American plant lore and uses and those that were also passed onto the settlers.


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