For the forager of wild foods, November brings cranberries, crisp and tart to suit the season. Cranberries are a wetlands obligate, meaning they grow in wetland soils, so keep a watch for these low, trailing plants when you're out exploring river edges and soggy lowlands. And then return in November for the harvest. Many berries survive through the winter freeze to provide a spring snack.
Thoreau wrote in his journals that children would collect what he called "spring cranberries" along the Concord River and sell them by the quart. Most, however, were harvested in the fall and sold by the bushel.
Despite their robust red color and decent size, cranberries are a low-preference food for wildlife—good news for human foragers, especially with the Thanksgiving meal in mind. I'm thinking cranberry relish. NPR's Susan Stamberg has been offering her mother-in-law's cranberry relish recipe for 40 years—along with the warning to not be put off by its Pepto-Bismol color. Here's an alternative recipe for cranberry relish, crimson as can be.
You'll need four cups of cranberries, picked in the wild—or at the grocery store; one orange; one and a half cups sugar; a dash of cinnamon and cloves. Finely chop the unpeeled orange and boil in one and a half cups water until soft. Add the cranberries, sugar and spices. Cook until the berries pop and the relish thickens, stirring to avoid sticking especially at the final stage. Pour into clean jars and refrigerate until the big meal.
Pick and prepare the cranberries with your kids or grandkids, and it just might be their favorite part of the meal—before the pie course, of course.