The first cultivated cranberries were selected from the wild and given names that either described the berry - like Early Blacks and Early Reds - which are named for their color and their habit of early maturation making them easily available for Thanksgiving or like Howes - grown and selected by Elias Howe of East Dennis, Ma. in 1843 and planted by many other growers from cuttings purchased from Mr. Howes bog. An early native selection in Nova Scotia is called Beaver and New Jersey had Jerseys and Late Jerseys. Since the 1920s there has been an ongoing breeding program designed to develop new cultivars with objectives such as increased productivity, larger size, better color, resistance to disease and tolerance of storage to name only a few.
Years later there are well over a hundred different cultivars, either selected from the wild or results of experimental production of hybrids. They have evocative names such as Aviator, Bugle, Black Vail and Metallic Bell. Some have been named by the place of origin e.g Middleboro, Middlesex, and Rhode Island. Many more have been named for their discoverers or growers. After years of experience only a few cultivars have remained popular The older east coast nati ves: Early Blacks, Howes, McFarlands and Early Reds and the newer hybrids, which have developed a more prolific vine and a larger hardier berry, these are mainly Ben Lears, Pilgrims, Stevens and Bergmans.
Those new large berries are often used for juice and other cranberry products so they are not visible to the consumer. Most of the cranberries we buy fresh in the store to cook with the Thanksgiving turkey are the native east coast berries, Early Blacks and Howes. They are small, pretty and very tasty. We grow them because we think they make the best cranberry sauce and because they have always grown here. This is their native habitat and they are hardy survivors both on the bog and in the package.