Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - October 12, 2018
Crush on cranberries
Neither husband Art nor I knew what to expect when we went to the 39th annual Cranberry Fest in Eagle River, Wisconsin last
Saturday. We’ve been in the area during the fall for many years and visited a cranberry marsh in
October 2010. But we’ve never been to the festival, which was expected to draw 30,000-40,000 visitors. That’s quite a few people for
a town that is the official home to only 1,398.
The temperature hovered right around 48 degrees, ominous gray clouds covered the sky, and an occasional light mist almost kept me from going, but my curiosity won out.
We planned our visit to avoid any over-eager attendees, yet still get there with enough time to see what we wanted to see - even though we weren’t quite sure what that might be. That would mean we would miss the early-morning cranberry pancake feed, but I’m not a fan of large crowds.
We arrived about 2:15 p.m. and paid the Lions Club volunteer $5 to enter the fairground parking area. While there were many vehicles, earlier departures meant we had no trouble finding a spot close to the entrance to the large fenced area.
Tents had been set up for the vendors in a rectangular fashion. Promotions for the event said 275 artisans would be displaying their work. Art, always the engineer, stopped to mark where the car was parked on his phone’s GPS program and then we started off in an orderly pattern that would assure we didn’t miss anything. The rain in previous days had made the ground somewhat mushy, but not enough to muck up our shoes.
Art’s not really a fan of arts and crafts fairs; in fact, he calls most of the stuff sold there "HHS" - where the first H is “happy”, the second one is “horse” and the S is what horses leave in the pasture. He said a lot of it is “too kitschy” - stuff perhaps suitable for a cabin, but not for a home unless you have no taste. Then he added, “And this is coming from someone who has little taste!”
But he does like to watch people. He pointed out a small dog wearing a sweater, a woman with gold boots, and people sipping wine as they shopped. He commented that the wine probably encouraged sales, but might have contributed later to “buyers’ remorse.”
He was interested in the maple syrup and some of the jams, but said he could buy it elsewhere cheaper. He seriously considered buying a cranberry cream puff, but when he saw the $4 price, he walked on.
He thought it was interesting that one vendor was selling re-purposed metal maple-sap buckets that had been decorated by cutting various jack-o-lantern and other designs into the sides.
“My grandpa used regular buckets when he was in the maple syrup business,” Art told me. “They weren’t quite as large, but they were cheaper and worked just fine.”
He couldn’t quite figure out what good the buckets would be since they were cut up. I told him the idea was to put candles inside them for Halloween. He just rolled his eyes.
I had to laugh. Earlier, I had seen a sign that said, “Shopping with your husband is like going hunting with a game warden.”
But his comments didn’t keep me from enjoying the photos, paintings and items made of wood, metals and fabrics. I especially liked some of the re-purposed items, such as a table, whose base was an old treadle sewing machine and the top was a large round piece of wood. I was also intrigued by old table legs that had been fashioned into candle holders.
Of course, with it being Cranberry Fest, many vendors sold items that included the bright red fruit. One booth - The Bogs - had potpourri, spray scents, candles, essential oils, salsas, jams and jelly beans made with cranberries. Others had cranberry cheese, cranberry sausage, cranberry snack bars and craisins - dried cranberries.
According to promoters of the event, some 10,000 pounds of the locally-grown fruit were expected to be sold over the weekend.
An article in “The Cranberry Country Crier” in the Oct. 3 Three Lakes News said the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that Wisconsin’s 2018 cranberry crop will be 5.9 million barrels, making it the top cranberry-producing state for the 24th consecutive year, even though most folks still think they come primarily from New England.
The U.S. Cranberry Marketing Committee urges consumers to buy cranberries throughout the year rather than just during the holiday season. But in our local Kansas grocery stores, cranberries only appear before Thanksgiving and Christmas, so if you love them as Art does, stockpiling is essential. Advances in production meant that last year’s crop was about 15 percent more than demand and this year the estimated overproduction will be about 30 percent of the total.
The folks in the food tent were certainly doing their part to eliminate the glut by offering cranberry-bacon hamburgers, shredded cranberry-pork sandwiches and cranberry bratwursts. I had a cranberry bratwurst with the chicken wild-rice soup, but Art opted for a plain brat.
Besides the booths, a Berry Bog 5K Jog, tours of local cranberry marshes, a Cranberry Crush casino party, and music provided additional entertainment.
By the time I had visited all corners of the fairgrounds, I had bought a pillow with Halloween decorations and a 5-pound sack of fresh cranberries. Some of the fruit found its way into a loaf of cranberry-nut bread I baked for Art the next day. He proclaimed it a hit. Of course, that may not say much for my cooking as he once ate a loaf he found in his mother's freezer that had been there for 30 years!
But there is no denying that both of us and our two girls have a crush on cranberries. So Art and I were glad we attended the Cranberry Fest ... although don’t ask Art if he’d go again.
Upper-left: "The Bogs" seemed to have the widest selection of items using cranberries; upper-right: a couple pondering the re-purposed maple-sap-gathering pails; lower-left: Gloria with her purchase; lower-right: on a cold damp cloudy day, a fresh-baked loaf of cranberry bread warms and brightens everything.