The All-Amer­i­can Fruit

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Were cran­ber­ries on the ta­ble at the first Thanks­giv­ing feast shared by the English Pil­grims and the na­tive Wam­panoag peo­ple in 1621? Maybe, say food his­to­ri­ans. Cran­berry sauce, as we know it, was un­likely part of the menu. Sugar was in short sup­ply, if it was avail­able at all, and the first mention of boil­ing cran­ber­ries with sugar doesn’t ap­pear in print for an­other 50 years. But, say the folks at Plimoth Plan­ta­tion (a mu­seum in Ply­mouth, Mass., that repli­cates the 17th-cen­tury set­tle­ment), cran­ber­ries may well have turned up in dishes shared by Wam­panoag guests.

It’s known that Na­tive Amer­i­cans brewed the berries into calm­ing tea and poul­tices to help wounds heal. Later, Amer­i­can whalers kept vi­ta­min C–rich cran­ber­ries on board to help pre­vent scurvy. Mod­ern-day re­search finds the fruit may have many other ben­e­fits.

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