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The fruits of summer

Mid-June and the year’s first crop of serviceberries is ready for harvest.

Ripe serviceberries are deep purple but the lighter berries also are edible.

Ripe serviceberries are deep purple but the lighter berries also are edible. Berries ripen from early June through August.

A member of the rose family, which includes crabapples, cherries, plums, and peaches, the early ripening berries are the size of blueberries and taste a bit grainy and earthy with a hint of dark-berry sweetness.

The berries ripen from June through August, and there are several places I monitor in the nearby mountains where it’s not uncommon to be picking late-summer serviceberries and have competition from black bears enjoying the same crop.

The shrubs, which left untrimmed may grow into small trees, are common in the mountains of Colorado and the West and regional variations are found nearly everywhere. The white blooms appear in early spring, “when the shad runs” according to some legends, which is said to be the root of their other common names shadbush and shadblow.

The shrub’s name has several interesting although unlikely etymologies. One says it was so named because the bush blooms in mid-April, when the roads became clear of snow and allowed the resumption of long-delayed church services. And yet another story says the bush was named because its blooming indicates the ground has thawed enough to allow for graves to be dug and burial services held for people who had died during the winter.

Other common names include sarvisberry, saskatoonberry (it’s said the Saskatchewan city was named after the shrub), wild plum, Alleghany serviceberry and Pacific serviceberry.

The shrubs may reach 20 feet or more and I trim the shrub in my yard every couple of years to keep it manageable. Also, the shrub in my yard blooms twice a year, so I frequently get a both a spring and a fall crop of serviceberries.

The berries are good for nibbling, to put on yogurt and ice cream and also can be dried, frozen and used for jellies, muffins and other uses.

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