2016-05-19 / From The Garden

Have You Planted Your Berries?

By Cynthia Gibson

The tayberry is a hybrid of the red raspberry and blackberry and received its name from the river Tay in Scotland. (Image credit saanichtoncommunityfarm.blogspot.co.uk) The tayberry is a hybrid of the red raspberry and blackberry and received its name from the river Tay in Scotland. (Image credit saanichtoncommunityfarm.blogspot.co.uk) Berries are a terrific food. Now used in salads and popped into stuffing, traditionally berries used to be relegated to pies or used as a garnish. This is the time of year to select the berries you would like to plant—and eat—this summer.

Strawberries come into season first, and then blueberries, followed by summer raspberries, blackberries and finally fall raspberries in October. Try to plant one of each so you have a variety throughout the summer. Before you settle for an everyday variety, here are a few suggestions.

Berries do not need pollinators. When you find a variety that you like, plant a lot of it. They freeze well and retain their fresh-picked taste. They are also great when added to the batter for weekend pancakes and waffles; and you cannot beat berries for breakfast or brunch when topped with a fresh berry sauce.

“Snow white” white strawberry. “Snow white” white strawberry. The better varieties are not easily found, but they are out there for those who want to order by mail.

The best tasting berry is the Marionberry, which was developed at Oregon State University in 1945. It was developed by crossing a Chehalem blackberry (with native blackberry, Loganberry, and raspberry in its background) with an Olallieberry (itself a blackberry cross) and named for Marion County in Oregon. They were first brought to market in 1956. To this day, the Marionberry is held up as the standard by which all other blackberries are judged. Burpee Seeds now sells live plants and Marionberries. Order now (at burpee.com) while they are still in stock—you will not be disappointed. Buy as many as you have room for or can afford!

Tayberries are a hybridizer’s delight. A cross between a blackberry and a raspberry, after a bit of cozying up the result is a delicious elongated raspberry. (Many have tried to hybridize their own variety of tayberry and have included a cross with loganberry.) The taste and the fruit are delicate; the berries are fragile, and should be eaten as quickly as you can pick them. You rarely see tayberry jam: they never last long enough to make it to the jar. Tayberries can be purchased through Burpee Seeds as well.

Elderberries are the historic berry. They have been cultivated since the 17th century, and are marvelous.

The elderberry flower is used for teas, infusions of all sorts, and syrups. The berries the flowers produce are deep blue-purple and are tiny. They grow similarly to red currants, on long strings. Native to southern and central Europe, elderberries thrive in England—and in Rhode Island. The leaves are toxic unless cooked. The berries must be ripened to blue-black in color then cooked as well. Elderberries make a great crumble. In the 17th century, its wine was considered a medicine for chest ailments—but in reality, it was wine!

Norse Farms (just up the road from us in Massachusetts) sells varieties of elderberry, and comes highly recommended.

Pineberries are white strawberries with very red seeds. They taste like a cross between a strawberry and a pineapple. They are fun to grow in the garden, as adults and children alike are amazed by how they look and very pleased with how they taste!

Pineberries are the oldest strawberry variety, according to the folks at Vital Berry, a specialist soft fruit company. “Originally,” we are told, “strawberries were white in South America and red in North America (known as scarlets). Spontaneous crossings between the Chilean white strawberry and the North American scarlets produced Fragaria ananassa, which is the base material for all the common strawberry varieties we have today.”

Vital Berry Company is responsible for rescuing the white strawberry. Years after substantial hybridizing had taken place, the white strawberry was re-introduced into the market on April Fool’s Day, 2010. No surprise there: Farmers and growers have a good sense of humor. The pineberry is a bit smaller than a normal homegrown strawberry (nothing like the behemoths you find in the supermarket). They have a lovely flavor and make a superior jam. Look for them in the farmers’ markets this summer.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

Return to top