Guest Post: Foraging Serviceberries
This week, Farm Manager and Educator Daniel Macphee teaches us about New England’s summer gift of the serviceberry, where to find it on the Yale campus, and how best to enjoy it. Coming up in the next weeks, look out for posts from our six new summer interns!
For both joy and duty, our urban acre is thick with tasty and culturally important heirloom vegetables. Traditional Italian chicories grow alongside Austrian lettuces, Japanese radishes, Mexican herbs, and many unique crop varieties developed by generations of American agrarians before us–each pepper, eggplant, melon, and tomato with a story as rich and particular as its flavor. Though, sometimes our (understandable) infatuation with exotic crops and cultures leads us to forget the hardscrabble things that manage to grow and provide bounty in New England naturally… like the serviceberry. Unlike a tomato that we might coax early in a greenhouse in order to stretch the bounds of our climate, foraged foods anchor us more concretely to place and season—they are ready when they are ready, and we too, as part of the cycle, must be ready.
Serviceberries are a delicious native tree fruit of the rose family (like apples and pears). Their fragrant white flowers burst open around the time that shad run in New England streams, and their plump purplish-red berries ripen in late June, hence their other common names ‘shadblow’ and ‘juneberry.’ Birds and squirrels love the sweet blueberry-like fruits with nutty seeds, but, fortunately, Yale’s urban landscaping is so full of these trees there is plenty of fruit for people too.
After checking with Grounds Maintenance to make sure the trees are not sprayed, the farm crew set off Friday afternoon to experience the pleasures (and quizzical stares) of urban foraging. Over the course of an hour I talked to at least 15 curious passersby and still managed to bag more than 8 cups of fruit along York Street. The berries are delicious fresh, but can also be frozen or dried for later use. Try them in pies, muffins, scones, or by the handful on yogurt or ice cream. Serviceberries are also a great fruit to experiment with in jams because they thicken up nicely with their own naturally occurring pectin. This time I made two very simple jams to preserve the bounty: serviceberry-rhubarb and serviceberry-orange/lemon. To make your own: mash and simmer roughly equal parts of serviceberry and rhubarb, and a little less sugar, until it gets thick. Or: grate the rind of any citrus of your choice (we had half a lemon and an orange), grind the remaining pulp and add it to your mashed serviceberries, simmer until it thickens. You can add some spices if you like (try cinnamon, clove, cardamom, ginger, etc…) or just let the fruits speak for themselves.
So, next time you’re waiting for the shuttle on York Street, reach up and enjoy a tasty snack. Or, better yet, miss the bus and gather enough to take home and share.