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Is a Cranberry Shortage Threatening Thanksgiving’s Staple Side Dish?

Is this berry bad news or just rumors?

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A cranberry shortage wouldn’t be good news for our Thanksgiving tables. Homemade, store bought, jellied, whole berry, warm, cold… No matter how you take your cranberry sauce, it’s one of the most popular sides for a Turkey Day Feast.

Without causing panic, we’re here to report on the rumors that there may be a cranberry shortage for Thanksgiving this year. Cranberries are a delicate fruit, susceptible to weather-related anomalies, whether it’s too much rain or too little. Heat waves and lack of rain early in the season is making experts wary of the national cranberry crop yield ahead of the high-demand season. 

Harvest season occurs from mid-September through mid-November in North America, meaning there’s still some time for healthy cranberries to grow. 

“The boom or bust scenario that climate change presents when it comes to precipitation events – the boom being the large precipitation event, the bust being long dry spells – that’s not a good thing,” climate scientist Zachary Zobel told The New York Post

Unfortunately, this isn’t a new issue. Because cranberries are so fickle, poor growing seasons have occurred many times. In 2005, production in one of the biggest cranberry states – Massachusetts – was abysmal. It was, as it is this year, the fault of weather. A heavy winter snowfall blanketed cranberry vines and sent them into a dormant state. This resulted in a statewide yield of 1.4 million barrels, short of the 1.7 million forecasted by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association Executive Director, Tom Lochner, suggests the reports of a shortage may be exaggerated. 

“It’s early in the harvest, but it looks like it’s going to be a pretty good year for Wisconsin,” Lochner says. “I’d say closer to an average crop. The U.S. Cranberry Marketing Committee projected a Wisconsin crop of 25 million polyps (5.2 million barrels) which is average.”

He says, overall, it’s been a normal growing season in Wisconsin. 

Mary Brazeau Brown, proprietor of Glacial Lake Cranberries and Honestly Cranberry, says she hesitates to speak for the industry when everyone’s yield could differ.

“We just started harvest and my usual answer to the question, ‘How’s your crop?’ is ‘I’ll tell you in November!’” Brown says. “There are so many varieties and the weather influences most of the outcomes.”

“From a growers stand-point, we weren’t expecting a short crop,” Lochner says. “We’re more than confident we’re going to have enough fruit to meet the holiday demand and more for the year.”

Cranberry Sauce Alternatives

If you don’t manage to snag a fresh bundle of cranberries this year or simply want to try something different, consider alternatives for Thanksgiving dinner. Apple walnut chutney is both sweet and sour, finishing with a lovely crunch thanks to chopped walnuts. You could also make bacon jam, a preserve made of bacon, yellow onions, garlic, pepper, smoked paprika, and brown sugar for sweetness. If you’re missing that fruity flavor, try rhubarb ginger compote with your turkey. With just a few ingredients – rhubarb, ginger root, sugar, ginger beer, and lemon peel – you’ll have a deliciously tart fruit topping.