In Praise of Serviceberries

2017-06-08-18.40.11-169x300.jpgThis post has nothing to do with business law. Instead, it deals with one of my extracurricular interests, plants native to Indiana.  Specifically, it’s about serviceberries, of which there are several species in the genus Amelanchier.  Serviceberries have been at their peak this last week in central Indiana, as much as two weeks behind those in southern Indiana, and I suspect those in northern Indiana probably trail by as much as another couple of weeks.

Most species of serviceberries grow on small, usually multi-stemmed, trees.  At least one species or another is native to most of the United States and Canada, but they go by several different common names in different regions. In some parts of the U.S., they’re called Juneberries.  In Canada, Saskatoon berries. The old-fashioned southern name that I learned from my grandparents in Tennessee is sarvis berry. Other names for the trees are shadbush, shadblow, and shadwood.  Many of the species are very similar and difficult to distinguish, with identification complicated by the fact that many sold in nurseries are hybrids.  We have four trees in our yard that we bought from a nursery several years ago, and I don’t know what species they are.

Serviceberry trees have become popular for landscaping in the last 20 years or so.  They’re often seen lining sidewalks and outside shopping malls, and they’re good choices for residential landscaping.  Even though they bear fruit, the berries don’t create a mess in the yard, partly because birds eat them so quickly.  In Indiana, the white blooms appear in April.  They’re a good alternative to another native tree that blooms about the same time, flowering dogwood, which is more showy but more difficult to grow in Indiana, the northernmost part of its native range.  According to the Colorado Supreme Court, the leaves of serviceberry trees also make good grazing for sheep.  (Okay, I needed something to connect this post with the law, and that’s all I could find!)

It surprises many people to learn that the berries growing in their yards are not only edible but delicious.  Serviceberries are great right off the tree or in pies, muffins, jelly, or jam.  As far as I know, they’ve never sold commercially, probably because they are delicate and don’t ship or store very well.

As the berries ripen, they turn from bright red to dark red to purple.  The dark red ones are often sweet enough to eat, but they’re at their best when they’re purple.  Because all the berries on the tree ripen at about the same time, fresh serviceberries are available for only a week or so each year. They will keep in the refrigerator for only a few days, a week at most, after they’re picked. (Don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them; they don’t keep as well if they’re wet.) Some people freeze them, but I’ve never tried.

I’ve made three pies so far this year from the berries in our yard, and there are probably enough left for one or two more, if the birds don’t get them first. Here’s the recipe I use, adapted from a couple of different ones I found on the internet.

Ingredients

  • Two frozen 9” deep-dish pie shells (or make your own, if you’re more dedicated than I am)
  • Fresh serviceberries, washed, with any stems removed, 5-6 c.
  • Water, ½ c.
  • Sugar, ¾ c.
  • All purpose flour, 2 T.
  • Cornstarch, 2 T.
  • Ground cinnamon, ½ t.
  • Ground nutmeg, ½ t.
  • Ground allspice, ¼ t.
  • Lemon juice, 2 T.
  • Butter or margarine, 1 T.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Bring the water to a boil in a medium to large saucepan.
  3. Add the berries to the water and return to a boil, stirring occasionally.
  4. Reduce the heat and simmer the water and berries, stirring occasionally, until the berries are soft and begin to fall apart, about 10-15 minutes.
  5. Whisk together the sugar, flour, cornstarch, and spices.
  6. Stir the dry ingredients into the berries.
  7. Return to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes, at least until all the sugar is dissolved.
  8. Stir in the lemon juice to complete the filling.
  9. Remove the filling from the heat and let it cool to near room temperature, about 30 minutes.
  10. Prepare and fill a pie shell with the filling, following the instructions on the package for a two-crust pie. Cut the butter or margarine into small pieces and spot them on top of the filling before adding the top crust.
  11. Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes.
  12. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake until the crust is golden brown, about 30-35 minutes.
  13. Serve like any other berry pie — warm, at room temperature, or chilled.  It’s great with vanilla ice cream.