Kick off the holidays at the Cranberry Discovery Center
You’d be hard-pressed to find a holiday table that doesn’t include cranberries in some form or another. They’re everywhere this time of year—in sauces, salads, chutneys, pastries, breads, and beverages.
Although cranberries are a staple of holiday menus across the entire country, they’re particularly special right here in Wisconsin, where the tart, bouncy berry reigns as the state’s number-one fruit crop. In fact, Wisconsin growers produce almost 60 percent of the cranberries that Americans consume each year, according to the Wisconsin Cranberry Growers Association.
You can load up on cranberry products—and a whole lot of cranberry knowledge—at the Cranberry Discovery Center in Warrens. At this historic building, once a working cranberry warehouse, guests can explore a museum showcasing the industry’s roots. Unique historical exhibits include old harvesting and sorting tools. Educational displays teach visitors about cranberry production and the industry’s importance to the state’s economy. Many of these museum features have been recently upgraded and redesigned.
Museum tours are mostly self-guided, although the center offers guided group tours that must be reserved ahead of time. The museum is a frequent stop for bus tours as well as school class field trips.
After filling up on cranberry facts in the museum, folks can fill up on the cranberries themselves. The fruit is available here in just about every form imaginable. At the old-fashioned marble ice cream counter, guests can order up a dish of the center’s signature cranberry ice cream.
Across the room, the spacious gift shop is laden with cranberry food items of all kinds, including a wide selection of cranberry wines, jams, mustards, and different types of candy, all produced in Wisconsin. There’s even cranberry-themed local artwork as well as a large selection of non-food items made with cranberries.
“Something new that we have in our gift shop this year are two different varieties of cranberry soaps,” said Kelly Murray, executive director of the Cranberry Discovery Center and a member of Oakdale Electric Cooperative. “We also have cranberry-oatmeal bath bombs. We’ve got wonderful cranberry lotions, cranberry lip balm, and lots of personal things that make wonderful Christmas gifts or are nice if you just want to pamper yourself.”
The Cranberry Discovery Center is open Monday through Friday during November. In addition, several special holiday-themed events held this month make it easy and fun to stock up on cranberry items, for either the dinner table or under the tree. The first is the Hunting Opener Celebration on November 18, designed to be a fun day out for those whose partners might be away hunting.
The holiday season begins in full swing at the center on Cranberry Friday, held the Friday after Thanksgiving, followed by Small Business Saturday the next day. Then on December 2, the center hosts an all-day Holiday Open House.
These open houses are festive events, with expanded gourmet food tastings as well as wine tastings offered throughout the day. Visitors will also find plenty of specials on items in the gift shop, with gift wrapping available. And as always, when the gift shop is open, the museum is open as well.
“Our November events are kind of a kick-off to the holiday season,” Murray said. “Usually we get people who are planning on doing some Christmas shopping, so we offer a lot of specials during these events.”
An especially unique item now available at the center is cranberry glassware, donated to the center by the family of longtime Warrens-area cranberry producers Clinton and Ellen Potter.
Murray said the Potters collected antique cranberry glass during their 53-year marriage, eventually amassing about 1,500 pieces, some of them dating back to the 1800s. Upon Clinton’s death in 2016 (Ellen died in 2000), the couple’s three children gifted the entire collection to the Cranberry Discovery Center with the intent that pieces be sold individually in support of the non-profit center’s mission to educate visitors about the state’s cranberry-growing heritage. These exquisite pieces of red-tinted glassware were first available for sale this past summer and will provide a unique focal point for the center’s holiday events.
“The reason it’s called cranberry glass is the color,” Murray said. “What makes it turn the cranberry hue is that when the glass was blown they added gold to it. Cranberry glass is no longer made, so these pieces are very rare.”
Murray added that some pieces of the collection are so rare that they’ve been set aside for a special display to be created in the museum.
The antique cranberry glass exhibit is just one of the new additions planned for the museum in the coming year; Murray said plans also call for updating some of the existing exhibits with, for example, new photos.
With new items and new plans always in the works, a trip to the Cranberry Discovery Center will always yield an interesting experience. And a whole lot of cranberries.
The Cranberry Discovery Center is located at 204 Main St., Warrens. It’s open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., through December 22 and then closed for the season until May 1. To learn more, visit discovercranberries.com or call 608-378-4878.