Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.) is a native tree (or shrub) across much of the United States and Canada. Blooming in late spring, it produces a cloud of white flowers followed by sweet bluish-purple berries, prized by just about every species of wildlife in the Western Hemisphere.
If you can beat them to it, the berries make wonderful syrups, pies, jellies, and jams. I am fortunate that I have a friend who owns a large nursery, and every year in June, a couple of friends and I journey north to the nursery to harvest the serviceberries.
It's a win-win situation. We get berries, and his trees don’t get destroyed.
Let me explain: Animals have no sense of size and as a result, critters such as groundhogs, deer, raccoons, and turkeys descend upon the trees, intent upon eating the berries but ripping branches off in the pursuit of food. Then the tree becomes unsellable.
Hand picking is necessary
Besides the bonus of berries, we spend a few hours in the sun, enjoying the weather, chatting and talking about what we will do with the berries.
The downside is actually picking the berries.
The berries need to be picked individually -- yes, one by one. And they have to be ripe; otherwise you can’t remove them from the stems. Because there is no mechanical way to harvest them, you don't see them offered in stores.. And after a couple of hours of reaching above your shoulders to harvest them, you are certainly glad that this is not your main occupation in life.
Simple to grow
Amelanchier is easy to grow and is an ideal tree for almost any garden. You can buy it a single-trunk tree or a multitrunk tree.
If you want to grow it for the flowers and gorgeous orange-red fall color in the landscape, grow the single trunk. If you want the berries, grow the multitrunked tree. You will still get the flowers and great fall color, but it is simply easier to reach the berries on the multitrunk tree.
Since the berries ripen at intervals, instead of all at once, you can simply freeze them on a cookie sheet, then place in a freezer container or plastic bags until you have enough berries for your recipe.
Serviceberry requires full to partial sun, a moist but well-drained soil, and average fertilization. It grows approximately 15 to 25 feet tall and reaches about 15 feet across at maturity. It is an ideal tree for small lots and near power lines.
And once you have a serviceberry, do try this delicious cold soup recipe slightly adapted from my new book, “Eat Your Roses."
1 bag (20 ounces) red raspberries, thawed, or 4 cups fresh red raspberries
1 quart fresh or frozen serviceberries
1-3/4 cups water
1 cup apple juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fresh ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup low-fat, plain yogurt
1/2 cup low-fat, plain yogurt sweetened with 1 tablespoon sugar, for garnish
Freshly washed and dried mint leaves, if desired, for topping
Freshly washed raspberries and/or serviceberries for garnish
Purée the raspberries and serviceberries with the water in a blender.Strain the puree into a saucepan and add the apple juice, sugar, and cinnamon. Heat to just boiling over medium heat for 1 minute then remove from heat. Let cool and stir in lemon juice.
At this point, you can freeze the soup, if you like. Thaw before continuing. Whisk in 1 cup plain yogurt and chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
Ladle into bowls and top with a dollop of the sweetened yogurt. Top with mint leaves and a berry, if desired, before serving.
Serves 10 to 12.
Denise Schreiber is the Mrs. Know It All of “The Organic Gardeners” on KDKA Radio and “Ask the Expert” for Pennsylvania Gardener magazine. Her new book is "Eat Your Roses." Click here to read her previous articles at Diggin' It.