Now that the weather feels like summer, fresh berries are coming into their own. I’ve picked a couple of ripe strawberries, a few ground cherries have ripened, and the red and black currants aren’t too far from being ready. But the park down just down the block from my house is practically brimming with ripe, delicious fruit that you would never find at a grocery store or even at a farmers market.
This time last year, the big tree in the park was laden with ripe fruit, but this year, things seem to be at least 10 days later than last year. Still, the fruit is starting to ripen little by litte – I just picked enough to eat fresh. I’m going to have to back for more in the morning, because I’m really hankering for Janna’s mulberry cobbler. The ripe berries just fall off into your hand – they couldn’t be easier to pick. Look of deep black berries, but make sure they’ve got a glossy sheen. As the berries get overripe, they turn dull black, and start to taste a bit watery. For the best jam, pick fruit that’s slightly underripe – you want the berries to be mostly black, with some areas of red.
A new discovery this year was a good-sized juneberry tree. Last fall, I planted two little bush-sized juneberries – I probably wouldn’t have even noticed this tree had I not researched the fruit before. Juneberries are also known as saskatoons, and serviceberries. They are extremely cold hardy, and make a really beautiful landscape shrub or small tree. Juneberries aren’t botanically berries at all – they’re pome fruit, like their relatives apples and pears. The individual fruits look a lot like a more reddish blueberry – they’re similar in size and texture, but there is a larger, yet still edible, seed inside the juneberry.
These are a little more of a challenge to pick. They grow in small clusters, and berries in each cluster aren’t necessarily uniformly ripe. The more purple the fruit, the more ripe and perfumed its flavor. The redder berries are more tart, and do have their charms. I started out picking them one by one, but soon learned that picking the whole clusters was the best way to do the job most efficiently. I picked them with the hope of making jam, but with an end result of only three cups of fruit, I didn’t really have enough to do that. We’ve been eating them fresh, and loving them. Their flavor is different than anything I’ve had before. I’ve spotted a few more trees, so I might yet make some juneberry jam this spring.