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Berry tasty

(article, Ashley Griffin Gartland)

Last month, I packed my bags and headed off to a berry camp hosted by the Oregon Berry Commissions. I toured Oregon's finest berry fields, tasted berry-flavored gelato and berry liqueur from local purveyors, and rode on a rowdy motorized raspberry picker. 

But the most educational experience of the two-day camp was a visit with berry breeders, who pointed out that using the word "blackberry" as an umbrella term for all the available varieties is, to them, like labeling a merlot as simply "red wine."

Just like the different kinds of grapes used to make wine, each blackberry varietal harbors its own unique characteristics. Where one varietal has only tiny seeds, another offers bigger seeds and more crunch. One berry even offered hints of orange flavor when savored fresh from the vine in the testing fields. 

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The blackberries we see growing wild along ditches and streambeds are a medley of native and non-native berries. And today's commercial breeding programs have created even more blackberry varietals for the modern consumer to sample; in the fields at camp, I tasted a dozen-odd breeds undergoing testing.
 
While some people might love the deep black color and large, crunchy seeds of the Chester blackberry, for example, others would rather enjoy the tart, marionberry-like flavor of the Sylvan. But, typically, we don't know which blackberries we like or dislike, because they aren't always labeled by type. So next time you're at the grocery store and bite into a blackberry you adore, ask the store's produce buyer which breeds the store carries, and request berry labels.

As for the wild berries that run riot practically everywhere in the country? Find a patch you like for picking, and pray to the berry gods for a good harvest.

Also on Culinate: An article about the call of the berries.


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