Tennesseetransitions


A Bog Blog or: More Local Food News

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Look carefully into the center of this clump of Native grasses…do  you see them? They’re cranberries, growing in a wild, Southern Appalachian cranberry bog! What does that mean? They are exactly 33 miles from my front door, which means we can now add CRANBERRIES to the list of local foods that CAN be grown in NE Tennessee. I didn’t even know about them when I wrote last week about our ’emerging local food economy’. Now, even though it’s a little blurry because it’s a close up, I wanted you to see how delicious they look:

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Michael and I drove over to Shady Valley, TN yesterday to attend their annual Cranberry Festival and even though the food, crafts and music were top-notch, the thing that grabbed our attention the most was the tour we got to take of the wetlands and stream restoration work that is taking place on 150 acres that is owned by The Nature Conservancy. Their little 1/4 acre bog preserve is being nurtured into existence by many dedicated volunteers. They have also established cranberry nursery beds, which were in full fruit right now. The Shady Valley Ruritan Club established the beds in 2008 for the purpose of propagating native cranberries and keeping alive the genetic strains from Shady Valley’s five distinct cranberry colonies. Cuttings and plants from these nursery beds provide stock that is transplanted elsewhere in the Conservancy’s restoration area.

More cool news: the endangered ‘bog turtle’ which is only 4″ and a native of this area is making a reappearance in the newly established bog. This little guy feeds on water insects and plants that are typically found in cranberry bogs. No turtle soup for you!

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Turns out the festival celebrates a history and heritage dating back centuries to when the valley was filled with wild cranberry bogs left over from the last ice age. More recently, residents of the valley would gather each fall to pick the locally grown cranberries and the resulting harvest became a time for celebration. Now don’t misunderstand: there’s not enough berries yet to go around but, God willing, and if the creeks DO rise, there will be ‘enough’ some day soon to go around. One of the conservationists explained the primary reasons the original bogs failed to thrive was because the water tables had been lowered so drastically by man’s engineering of streams and of course by beaver dams as well. The conservancy has worked hard to restore those streams back to their original paths. This little bog is meant to be natural, with only enough moisture needed to keep the plants’ roots wet, but the guide explained that irrigation would be another way to grow cranberries. Not necessarily a better way, simply another way.

Why am I writing about cranberry bogs? Because I want to get us all thinking about the traditional foods that are grown in our personal food sheds, wherever that might be. The foods that are local and native to your area are easiest to grow and will be sure winners in the future global competition for low energy food sources amidst major climate change. I want YOU to share with growers and CSA owners and market vendors and even  your favorite gardener that you’d LOVE to buy their locally grown cranberries (and pecans and cushaw squash too-see recipe below) As I find out about more foods that once were, or could be again, part of our emerging local food economy here in Southern Appalachia (and I’m sure there are plenty more!) I’ll be sure to pass them along to you. In the meantime, here’s a great recipe that uses all three!

Cranberry Cushaw Bread

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Yield: 1 loaf

Cranberry Cushaw Bread is the perfect escape from all of the typical Pumpkin recipes at this time of the year! Enjoy this delicious bread over coffee in the morning or for dessert at night while standing over the kitchen sink. (full disclosure: I haven’t made this recipe, but I’m sure going to-it’s ‘the season’ for all its major ingredients!)

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon all spice
a pinch of cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup cushaw puree
1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line a 9 inch loaf pan with parchment paper, leaving 1 inch of parchment paper hanging over two sides of the pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the first 9 ingredients.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, vegetable oil, and vanilla. Add brown sugar and cushaw puree, whisking until well combined.

Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the center. Using a large spatula or wooden spoon, gently fold together until there are no lumps. Then carefully fold in the cranberries and pecans.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Be careful not to over bake this bread or it can become dry. Let bread rest in the loaf pan for 20 minutes before removing.

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1 Comment so far
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I had no idea we had cranberries in this region. Thanks for the great story!

Comment by Michael Gilley




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