It’s red, It’s bittersweet. It’s grown right in local bogs, and thousands of people flocked to Fort Langley Saturday to pay homage to the cranberry.
This berry, synonymous with the fall harvest time and Thanksgiving dinners, was once again the centre of attention at the 22nd annual Fort Langley Cranberry Festival.
Thanks to summer-like weather, one of the largest crowd on record overflowed the village – taking part in the cranberry pancake breakfast, shopping at many of the 70-plus market vendors, devouring various cuisine offered up by food trucks and village eateries, buying fresh cranberries for their Thanksgiving dinner, socializing with new and existing friends, watching the Fort Langley Canoe Club’s annual Cranberry Regatta, enjoying a myriad of live entertainment throughout the day, and taking part in all the free activities at the Fort Langley National Historic Site.
When the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) first came to Fort Langley, they found the Sto:lo First Nations were already harvesting bog cranberries, explained fort interpreter Aman Johal.
So, when HBC started trading with Sto:lo, they in turn started selling the berries to San Francisco, in Fort Langley-made barrels.
Today, dozens of farms and other local businesses have been built up around the production and sale of these berries – in all its various forms.
And this long-standing community festival continues to expand, with more people each year anxious to help celebrate its economic offerings and its rich heritage in Langley.
The fort festivities on Saturday, for instance, featured cranberry relay races, making and baking of cranberry bannock around the firepit, a scavenger hunt, and the – always popular – cranberry stomp.
“The town itself is expecting thousands of people, and we decided to open our doors as well, to enjoy the beautiful day and the good weather we’re having as well. So we see a lot of people inside the fort today… People are just having a marvelous time,” Johal said.
“The cranberry stomp is a big tradition that we’ve had going on… people just get into it,” Johal said.
Just inside the gates of the fort, young children were almost giddy as they stepped into oversized rubber boots and took their turn squishing the berries with their feet – much like the First Nations kids would have done centuries ago – to make juice, jams, and dye, interpreters explained.
Speaking of the cranberry, the Fort Langley Business Improvement Association (BIA) – which hosts the annual festival – sells $5 and $10 bags of fresh cranberries (donated by Ocean Spray) and the money raised goes back towards covering the costs of hosting the festival.
Event organizer Meghan Neufeld confirmed Sunday that the BIA nearly sold out of cranberries, raising almost $14,000.
Talking numbers, Neufeld wasn’t able to confirm attendance figures yet – waiting to speak to RCMP, traffic control, and shuttle drivers. But talking with many spectators, vendors, and business people in the village, everyone is suggesting “this year was a record crowd.”
“What struck me was how early the crowd formed,” she elaborated. “Usually I suggest to people to come early if they want to avoid being there with too many people, but this year it seemed as though the streets were crawling right at 10 a.m.”
One of the new highlights of this year’s event was the resurrecting cranberry bog tours as part of the festivities. It’s been years since those kinds of tours were available.
“We have spoken with the cranberry producer, whose farm we used for tours, and he was thrilled with the way things went. So, hopefully, this means the start of a great partnership moving forward,” Neufeld told the Langley Advance.
“I feel as though the farm experience is what has been missing from festival for the last few years and I am excited to see it become a permanent part of the festival in coming years.”
As for what organizers plan to change and keep next year, Neufeld said it was too early to speculate.
“At this point we aren’t sure what changes will be made, we will need to do a debrief to see where the opportunities are for improvement,” she concluded.
(Recipe courtesy of Fort Langley National Historic Site)
2 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour
4 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp cold butter
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup dried cranberries
In large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and dried cranberries.
Next, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Gradually add milk to make soft dough that will form into a ball.
Shape into small biscuits approximately 2-inches around and 1/2-inch thick.
Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet so the edges are almost touching so they will rise into each other as they bake.
Bake in centre of 375º F oven, until golden brown, about 15 minutes.