The Serviceberries Taste Like Serviceberries!

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College Hill Serviceberry Pie, care of S. Proctor.

I  sounded like Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory a while ago when a Florida-transplanted foodie friend told me about a local berry called the serviceberry.   I said, “ I’ve lived here all my life and never seen or heard of such a berry – You must have had them confused with a mulberry.”  He emphatically rebutted there was indeed such a unicorn.

In the movie, Willy Wonka introduces the kids to lickable wallpaper and he proclaims his enthusiasm for his invention: “The strawberries taste like strawberries. The snozzberries taste like snozzberries!”   This is to Veruca’s snarky reply “Snozzberry, who’s ever heard of a snozzberry?”

I shared Veruca’s sentiment about serviceberries until I saw another friend who posted a photo of a serviceberry pie he made from this year’s back yard bumper crop. He happens to have three local serviceberry trees that have produced fruit for the first time this year.   They look like a cranberry colored blueberry, and for some reason they are never sold in local groceries or farmers markets.

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College Hill serviceberries.

The tree is sometimes called the Juneberry because its berries become ripe in late Spring, around June.   The Downy Serviceberry is native to Ohio and prefers partial shade to partial sun, growing best on the edge of forests. As a member of the Rose Family, its floral cousins are Chokeberries, Hawthorns, Crabapples, Plums, Cherries, Pears, and Roses, as well as other Serviceberry species and hybrids.

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The Native Americans used serviceberries in a sort of “meat candy” they made – called pemmican – flavored by serviceberries in combination with minced dried meat and fat, that held them through the winter.

I’m committed now to bringing their groove back and integrating them into some hyper local products. I reserved a crop from said serviceberry farmer friend and I plan this weekend to make some service berry barbecue sauce, and serviceberry Jezebel sauce.   They can also be made into ice cream, dried like raisins, and baked into pies and pastries.   For the avid zymurgist, the berries can be fermented into mead, wine, or as a juice mixer with vodka and soda.

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