Cranberry World West - A Crimson Oasis in the Desert

The holidays are over and now it's time to ponder those post-holiday issues like how we didn't get that fabulous sweater we wanted, what are we going to do with that hideous vase we did get, and how much food did we actually manage to eat? It's a lot for anyone to deal with, and for some of us, there will be the added wistful realization that it could be a whole year before we enjoy our beloved cranberry sauce once again.As an avid cranberry lover (I'll pick a cranberry over a raisin muffin any time), I was mulling over the whys of holiday cranberry consumption on a recent trip to the Grand Canyon. On route, we spent the night in Kingman, AZ, where, well... lets just say nothing happens in Kingman, AZ. While killing some time in our hotel lobby, I stumbled across a brochure that immediately caught my eye. The bright blue pamphlet was amongst the many "Fly the Canyon!" and "Friendly Indian Jewelry!" brochures, but it had to be Carina, the dancing Cranberry girl jumping out from the azure background that made me reach for it and shout to my companion, "We're going here!"A few hours later, there it was, looming in the Nevada desert, thousands of miles from the nearest bog; a place where I didn't have to hide my love of cranberries. The Mecca of the bright red fruit, the place where it all begins, where everything and anything cranberry is celebrated -- Cranberry World West!Located just south of Las Vegas, NV in a city called Henderson, Ocean Spray has recently opened a giant processing plant and museum -- Cranberry World West. There also is a Cranberry World East at the original Ocean Spray Factory in Plymouth, MA.Before I regale you with tales of the cranberry, I should point out that Henderson, NV is a huge industrial center and home to some other great factories. Ethel M. Chocolates is right down the road, and you can tour the facilities, taste samples and stroll through a 2 1/2 acre cactus garden. Also nearby is Kidd's Marshmallows where you can follow the making of the puffy desert delight and meet Marshall, the five-foot-tall talking marshmallow. Not a place to miss.We arrived at the museum at the stroke of nine and just before a huge tour bus pulled up. We beat the crowd through the door and breathlessly asked for Carina, The Cran-Cran Girl, the giant dancing cranberry that is Ocean Spray's mascot. Unfortunately, our hostess Vi broke the news to us, Carina had called in sick. Crushed, my companion offered to don the suit and pose with me for a photo op, but Vi wouldn't have any of that and ushered us into the screening room where we watched a "brief but entertaining" film on the history of the cranberry and the Ocean Spray corporation, hosted by Carina The Cran-Cran Girl. We at least got to see her in action if not in person.The cranberry is one of only three fruits that are native to North America (the other two are the blueberry and the Concord grape). The plant is in the vine family and requires very specific growing conditions. Raised mostly in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington State, British Columbia, Quebec, Wisconsin and Oregon, the farmers must maintain giant bogs of low lying peat. Maintenance of these bogs is a year round endeavor.Autumn is harvest time and here's where you too will become a cranberry expert: Cranberries sold fresh in bags are "Dry Harvested" which means the fruit is picked off the vine either by hand or with a cranberry harvester that kind of looks like a big comb on wheels. Cranberries processed for juices and sauces are "Wet Harvested". This entails flooding the bog with water and then loosening the berries off the vines. The berries then float to the top creating what looks like giant crimson ponds before being gathered for processing.During the winter months, water is sprayed on the plants to form a protective layer of ice. Plants can typically bear fruit for 150 years and new plants are grown from the clippings of existing plants.Another interesting cranberry fact: The fresher the cranberry, the higher the bounce. An early cranberry pioneer, Peg Leg Webb, noticed the bouncing action of the freshest berries as they fell down a flight of stairs. He created a stair-type device to test for cranberry freshness, a variation of which is used to this day.Native Americans introduced this fruit to the first Settlers who named it the crane-berry because the flower of the plant resembles the head of a crane. The crane-berry was eventually carried by sailors to ward off scurvy on long voyages due to their excellent source of Vitamin C and their ability to stay edible on long journeys. While the British were sucking on limes (hence the term "Limeys") their North American counterparts were munching cranberries.Cranberries didn't really gain much popularity due to their incredible tartness and failure as a canning fruit until around the turn of the century, Marcus L. Urann, a cranberry farmer in Massachusetts, developed a method of preserving a cranberry sauce. The popularity of the cranberry was on the rise.Shortly thereafter, Mr. Urann brought together two other cranberry growing colleagues (Elizabeth Lee and John Makepiece) to start the Ocean Spray Cranberry Collective. Today, Ocean Spray is still a collective company wholly owned by the growers.Now, back to Cranberry World West. Following the film we got to wander through a self-guided museum which reiterates a lot of the information from the film but also has some of the original cranberry harvesting machines on display. Then we got to look out onto the factory floor and watch as thousands of Cranberry Juice Cocktail bottles whizzed by us at a rate of 600 a minute!After passing a conveyer belt displaying all the different Ocean Spray products, we got to play "Guess the Year of the Ocean Spray Advertisement" game (actual title). An interesting concept where basically you see an Ocean Spray commercial and then guess which year it aired. Crave the Wave!Next up was the really fun stuff. We got to taste all the juices, from straight up Cranberry to the newest blends like Crangrape, Cranacot and Cranblueberry. Dried cranberries were foisted on us and cranberry fudge was offered for sale (I passed on that one). We got to taste cranberry salsa, cranberry mustard and cranberry corn muffins.The tour ends, where else, but in the gift shop where they sell Ocean Spray logo hats, sweatshirts, t-shirts, magnets, pencils, candles, postcards and oven mitts. Also for sale are all kinds of cranberry products, many under their gourmet label Wellfleet Farms, which includes cranberry tea, mustard, salsa, and ketchup. We were lucky enough to purchase an Ocean Spray logo jacket, a miniature wave key chain and a Carina The Cran-Cran Girl Magnet, thus taking a little piece of Cranberry World home with us.Cranberry World West is located at 1301 American Pacific Drive, Henderson, NV 89014. The telephone number is (702) 566-7160. Open Daily 9am - 5pm. (Call for Holiday hours).See you at Cranberry Festival '97.

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