As a youngster in the 1970s, I remember thinking cranberry sauce was the height of sophistication as the new-found accompaniment to the Christmas turkey.

Much more recently, Delia Smith has given it credibility to a new generation of cooks.

Yet, despite this, the cranberry remains little known, even though it can be grown successfully in Britain.

The cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is a dwarf, evergreen shrub native to eastern North America, where it has been in cultivation since the early 18th century, although it would have been picked from the wild long before this.

It produces long, slender, creeping shoots which will root into the soil where possible. The foliage is leathery and its habit lax and gently spreading.

It does best in cool, moist conditions and is rather exacting about its soil requirements, needing a very acid soil with a pH of four to five.

A viable alternative, however, is to plant the cranberry in a container of ericaceous compost.

In their natural habitat, they grow in saturated, boggy soil and this is replicated commercially. A cultivated cranberry bog can remain productive for 60 to 100 years.

The good news for gardeners wishing to try this unusual fruit is the variety Pilgrim is far less demanding than most and does not require boggy conditions.

The small, pink flowers of Pilgrim appear in June and July and are followed by dark red berries, which, although tart, are high in vitamin C.

If required as a decorative plant, the berries cling to the stems through the winter and contrast well with bronze foliage at this time of year.

Once established, the low-growing cranberry requires very little attention and no pruning.

The cranberry’s close relative the lingonberry or mountain cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-adaea) is also now available to gardeners from mail order supplier D. T. Brown. It has similar soil requirements, but does not need boggy conditions.

Rather heavier cropping than the cranberry, its bright red little fruits can also be made in jam, sauce or juice. It is grown on a small commercial scale in parts of Scandinavia, and both it and the cranberry are totally hardy.