CRANBERRY sauce is one of those ‘Marmite’ foods, you either love it, or hate it. I am rather a fan, combining as it does both sweetness and an acidic tartness, and that wonderful bright crimson colour, especially good if you make it yourself at home.

Many people don’t think of Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus) as a British plant, but friends are surprised when I tell them “It grows only a quarter of a mile from where we live”.

As I climb the steep northern slope of Burley Moor opposite our house, I pass through masses of the closely related Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). Bilberry is more shade tolerant than Heather, which explains its profusion growing away from the sun on the north facing slope. Bare green twigs all winter come to life in spring with lime green leaves, quickly followed by the small beautiful pink vase-like flowers. Then in late summer blue-black berries with a grape-like bloom. Fellow naturalist and friend Andy Woodall recommends a berry or current picker (widely available on the internet), to make light work of the normally laborious job of ‘Bilberrying’.

But I am in search of Cranberries. Reaching the plateau, I look out for damp areas, where Sphagnum moss and the insectivorous Sundew grow, the perfect habitat for what I am searching for. Cranberry is a small plant, so it’s a hands and wet knees job to find it. In summer it produces stunning tiny pink/purple cyclamen-like flowers, and in the early autumn orange/red berries.

These berries were formally gathered for jams and sauces, but in recent decades there has been an invasion in the shops from America. Not content on sending us the Poinsettia for Christmas (we now buy 4 million, although nothing compared to the 70 million plants bought in the USA). Blueberry (V. corymbosum) is pushing out the Bilberry, and the American Cranberry (V. macrocarpon) our native species of Cranberry.

I am reminded of what was said about American GIs in the second World War – “They are overpaid, over sexed and over here!” Likewise with Blueberries and American Cranberries – “They are over large, over-rated, and also over here!”

Finally, whether you are a fan or not of Cranberry sauce, and that other Christmas dinner staple Brussels Sprouts, I wish you a very Happy Christmas and New Year and look forward to catching up in January with more nature notes from Wharfedale.