Plan a Fall Cranberry Road Trip
Photos Credit: John D. Ivanko Photography
Shake up your a Wisconsin fall road trip this year and trade apples and pumpkin patches for savoring new flavors and experiences that celebrate cranberries and sustainability. From selfies alongside ruby red cranberry marshes to diverse fall farm-to-table fare, head across the border north to Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point to fuel the mind, body and belly.
About four hours due north of Chicago, experience a unique side of Wisconsin that transports you beyond the familiar cheese and beer; though you can definitely find that, too. As more travelers seek new adventures that promote tasty flavors alongside education with a commitment to sustainability, this central Wisconsin region delivers, especially during the spectacularly colorful fall cranberry harvest season.
Colorful Cranberry Country
Between the poignant beauty of a cranberry marsh loaded with deep red fruit at harvest to the long list of health benefits, cranberries are an unsung super fruit.
“History and research have proven the health benefits of cranberries,” shares Fawn Gottschalk, a fifth-generation family farmer at Gottschalk Cranberry Marsh, outside Wisconsin Rapids. “From promoting urinary tract to cardiovascular health, it’s a super fruit high in fiber, vitamin C and the highest of all fruits in antioxidants.”
But the beauty of these marshes in the fall will jump start your love affair with cranberries. The cranberry harvest runs from mid-September through mid-October, during which you can see and tour these bright red marshes where the long-vined cranberries grow in soft acidic soil, usually near wetlands. Imagine acres filled with millions of floating ruby red dots as far as the eye can see, glistening like treasure chests of rubies in the golden fall sun.
Kick off your cranberry road trip at the Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center (DiscoverCranberries.com), a retrofitted historic cranberry warehouse from 1900 where you can learn about everything cranberries. Pick up information about the up-close and personal way to experience the harvest: driving the Wisconsin Cranberry Highway (WisCran.org/experience/cranberry-highway), a self-guided drive wiggling 50 miles across central Wisconsin’s cranberry growing region and organized by the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association (WisCran.org). The harvest process involves flooding the marsh (on the East Coast they are called bogs) with water and “combing” the vine with harvesting gear to loosen the fruit, which then floats to the top to create these vibrant pools of color.
Creative Cranberry Cuisine
The fact that Wisconsin’s soil and climate are so well suited to cranberry growing has led the state to produce more than 60 percent of the nation’s crop. Discover out-of-the box culinary approaches to cranberries in Wisconsin Rapids, where food entrepreneurs champion and celebrate this ruby red, tart and flavorful ingredient.
“People today, unfortunately, don’t know what an authentic, fresh cranberry actually tastes like as most cranberries grown around here go into processed foods like sauce and juice,” explains Amy Scheide, co-owner of Great Expectations restaurant (GreatExpectations-llc.net) with her husband, Ryan, in Wisconsin Rapids. “We’re on a mission to open your mind and taste buds to real cranberries when you eat here.”
On the Great Expectations menu, cranberries pop up in creative ways from a cranberry vinaigrette salad dressing to sprinkling cranberries into everything from chicken salad to bread pudding. Their rotating, seasonal grilled cheese epitomizes Great Expectations’ out-of-the-box culinary approach using local ingredients with savory mash-ups such as fall butternut squash and house-made Cran Pepper Jam and Apple Salsa alongside classic Wisconsin cheddar dipped in a beer batter.
For your home kitchen, stop by Rubi Reds (RubiReds.com), in Wisconsin Rapids, to stock up on fresh, local cranberries that will keep fresh in the refrigerator for weeks. Try stirring chopped cranberries into oatmeal or freezing them, then using the fruit as a colorful and flavorful ice cube substitute in drinks. If you need to break the tartness a little, experiment with alternative natural sweeteners such as stevia for a healthier alternative. Rubi Reds also offers a range of cranberry-based sauces and products alongside plentiful recipe ideas from the friendly staff.
Sustainability in Stevens Point
After exploring the cranberry marshes, base yourself in the eco-community of Stevens Point (StevensPoint.com). The Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) (MidwestRenew.org) hosts an annual energy fair just outside of town, one of the largest sustainability events in the world going strong for over 30 years. Tour their headquarter building throughout the year to learn about how they generate 100 pecent of their electricity from renewable energy systems and incorporate energy-efficient features such as passive solar design and in-floor radiant heat.
Spend the night at Artha Sustainable Living Center (ArthaOnline.com), offering bed and breakfast accommodations powered by solar energy. True pioneers in renewable energy, owners Bob and Marguerite Ramlow helped start the energy fair, and Marguerite Ramlow leads yoga classes and retreats in the barn studio.
Check out Father Fats (FatherFats.com) nestled in the heart of downtown Stevens Point and run by the husband-wife team of Chef Christian and Leah Czerwonka. You’ll find a menu of small plates changing nightly that feature seasonal flavors and local ingredients such as Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps with a sweet chili sauce and crispy wontons. Pair that with a brew from the Central Waters Brewery (CentralWaters.com) and toast their commitment to being one of the most environmentally sustainable breweries in the nation. A solar thermal system provides hot water alongside a 20kW solar electric system that meets about 20 percent of the energy needs from sunshine.
Then drive north with your mind and palette open for experiencing cranberries this fall as Wisconsin puts out their local food and sustainability welcome mat.
Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko are authors of Farmstead Chef, Homemade for Sale and Soil Sisters and run Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B in Wisconsin. For more information, visit InnSerendipity.com.
“Wellness means a lot to us at The Osthoff Resort (Osthoff.com), as we showcase how nutrient-dense and fresh food can taste really good and be something you can easily make at home,” shares Patrick O’Toole, culinary director at The Osthoff Resort, in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and the lead instructor at L’ecole de la Maison Cooking School. Try Chef Patrick’s Wellness Salad at home with fall cabbages, beets and, of course, cranberries.
Yields: 8-10 servings
1 cup Napa cabbage, julienned
1 cup red cabbage, julienned
1 cup dried cranberries
3 Granny Smith apples, cored and julienned
1 cup cashews, roasted
Seeds from one pomegranate
1 cup candy striped beets, peeled and julienned
1 cup heirloom carrots, peeled and julienned
4 cups cooked quinoa
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
Rinse quinoa with water in chinoise (a very fine mesh strainer).
Add water and quinoa and salt and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat, cook until the water is absorbed.
Remove from heat.
Rinse quinoa with water in chinoise.
Place quinoa in an oven-safe pan and put in a 325° F oven for 5 minutes.
Remove from oven. Fluff with a fork and let cool.
Yields: 8-10 servings
3 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
½ cup pomegranate juice
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp agave nectar or honey
2/3 cup grape seed oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Pickled Red Onion
Yields: 1 cup
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red onion, julienned
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ tsp sea salt
¼ cup water
1 tsp white sugar
Sweat garlic until translucent.
Add vinegar, sugar, water, salt and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat and let cool.
Add all ingredients for the vinaigrette, except for the grape seed oil, to a bowl. Whisk and blend ingredients completely, then add the grape seed oil slowly while whisking, until all the oil is completely incorporated. Set vinaigrette aside.
Toss all ingredients with the vinaigrette until dressed to your liking; adjust seasoning to taste.
Recipe from chef Patrick O’Toole at L’ecole de la Maison Cooking School at The Osthoff Resort.