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From the publisher's desk: The dirt behind this year’s cranberry sauce

Last November I wrote about buying fresh Bandon cranberries at a Brookings rummage sale. I was certain those were the freshest cranberries I would ever have. But on my drive to Salem for the birth of my granddaughter, I fell into a fortuitous cranberry cache.

A bog on Hwy. 101, about a mile south of old town Bandon, was in the process of being flooded and the berries harvested. I drove past, but, despite being anxious to get to my destination, I made a U-turn and parked next to the action.

I watched a man pull a ring full of the last of the berries toward a vacuum chute that sucked the berries up – water and all – into the bed of a truck. The bed was sloped so the water could run out while the bright red berries remained in the truck.

I arrived when the harvest was basically over. They shut off the equipment and the three men prepared to depart. I realized my window of opportunity was closing fast. “Sir?” I shouted boldly addressing the oldest man in the group who seemed to be in charge. “Sir, could I buy some cranberries from you?”

The man responded with directions to a farm up Morrison Road off Hwy. 42 that had a cleaning machine and sold clean berries.

“Sir,” I pleaded, “I don’t have time. My daughter-in-law is having a baby and I’m on my way there. Can I please buy some of your berries?”

“Well, they ain’t clean,” he said.

“I’ll clean them,” I promised. I knew cranberries grew in a bog, but certainly all you had to do was rinse them off and they’d be just like the ones from Ocean Spray!

The man shook his head, but this time he asked if I had a bag. I ran to the car and produced a baggie that had held my sandwich. He shook his head again. I saw one of the younger men climbing a ladder on the side of the truck with a five-gallon bucket in his hand. I realized what was happening and was delighted with myself for keeping a clean garbage bag in my trunk.

The young man emptied the bucket into my bag.

“How much do I owe you?” I asked.

The old guy shook his head again. “These ain’t clean.”

I ran to the car again and grabbed a loaf of homemade bread I was bringing to my kids and gave it to the man. “I’ll have this for lunch,” he said. We both seemed satisfied with the barter.

In Salem, Holly and I spent six hours cleaning cranberries before she went into labor. When I dumped the berries into the sink, I understood what the old man meant. Twigs and sticky leaves that resembled small moth wings stuck to every berry. We rinsed and soaked, but had to wash every berry by hand.

The old man on the side of the road who traded his cranberries for bread and the hours spent in the kitchen with her mother talking about the price of free cranberries and the new baby on the way, will be in the story I’ll tell Kayla Grace about the day leading up to her birth. It was a magical time for both of us.

Reach Michele Thomas, The Daily Triplicate’s publisher, at 464-2141, or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

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