What’s more Cape Cod than cranberry bogs? Not a whole lot, and yet as locals we don’t often get to experience much of this fascinating industry that takes much attention and care throughout the year for a brief but distinctly fall harvest. We talked with Peter Hanlon of P.J. Cranberries in Sandwich’s Spring Hill Historical District – near the Town Neck / Sandy Neck beaches on the edge of a large fresh water marsh system – to learn more about real Cape Cod cranberries.
How + why did you get into cranberry growing?
My grandfather was a cranberry grower, and my father always told me that my grandfather lost his bogs on Tupper Road in Sandwich right after the Great Depression for back taxes of $20.43. That stayed with me. I was with the Massachusetts Environmental Police for many years, and started the bogs in 1990 on 10.5 acres as a family business with the help of some good friends and learning as I went. P.J. Cranberries represents the third and fourth generation of growers. My sons Patrick and Pete both have full-time jobs but they help out here and are part of the business.
Tell us about the growing and harvest process.
From about April until June you’re on call for frost – the temperature in the bog can be a lot lower than that in the air. You can lose your crop in 15 minutes if the temp drops, so we watch it and irrigate as necessary. Depending on the season, fresh fruit is available from late September through Christmas, but I generally deliver until Thanksgiving.
We sample everything first by hand using my grandfather’s scoop, which dates to the 1930s. Once the berries are ready to pick we use a machine, and then the fruit is put into our 1934 Hayden separator to remove vines and sort by size, and then checked again by our own eyes for quality.
Where can we find your fruit locally?
I’m about as “buy local” as you can get! It has a lot to do with supporting where you live and your neighbors. We’ve always sold locally and I personally know every single one of the business owners. It gives me a lot of pride when I see that “cranberries” sign go up at Crow Farm after I’ve brought them their first fruit.
You can also find us at Windfall Market, Coonamessett Farm, and Jack In The Beanstalk (Falmouth), Barnstable Market, Peterson’s Market (Dennis) andGuaranteed Fresh Produce (Hyannis). Chatham Jam & Jelly are wonderful people – they use the berries all year long!
Do you have a favorite way to prepare cranberries?
Our cranberry bread recipe is exquisite! And the cranberry pancakes, too – you have to use a Cuisinart to slice the berries up though. When you’re buying, Stevens are mild, while Howe and Early Blacks have tang to them. A good berry bounces and a bad one plops!
What do you do when you’re not working on your business?
I’m often right here on the bog – it doesn’t get any better! I enjoy taking photographs of our resident pair of osprey – they have raised young here since 2006, from about March to August. Once the male got entangled in fishing line; my son Pete cut him free and Wild Care came to help. We were able to let him go back here and the osprey have been here for another three years. I make way for them – they’re part of it here! I also love to eat at Fishermen’s View. Every so often I visit Eldred’s Auction in Dennis looking for antiques.
Looking for a secluded, rustic wedding venue? Consider getting hitched overlooking Peter’s bogs … and definitely ask for his cranberries wherever you go, or those produced by other Cape Cod local growers!