Pacific Northwest Berries: Why a cucumber is but a strawberry is not!

By Georgie Smith, farmergeorgiewrites@gmail.com

It’s Pacific Northwest berry season! Ready for some cucumber shortcake?

Wait…what?

So guess what, strawberries aren’t a berry! They are an ‘accessory fruit!”

In one of those strange clashes of language versus science, most of those tasty sweet things we commonly call ‘berries’ are actually not….or….sometimes kind-of, sort-of?

And then ‘vegetables’ we don’t even think of as being ‘berries’ are scientifically…. just that!  

Whoa.

It’s all mind-blowing enough to inspire a geeky farmer to write an article explaining it all!  So here’s the scoop:

To be a berry, or not to be a berry…

Most folks think of ‘berries’ as some sort of small, sweet squishy type fruit. Entomologically speaking, the term ‘berry’ derived from old English word used for grapes. Makes sense. But, at some point, scientists got involved. And because scientists like complicating things, they decided to make a definition for ‘berries’ that ended up not including most of those ‘small squishy fruits’ we actually call ‘berries.’ Hence where the confusion began!

The flower of a straw’berry’ plant!

So via botanical definition, a ‘berry’ is a fleshy fruit formed from a single ovary in which the entire ovary wall becomes fleshy and edible. They are produced from a single flower and don’t produce a stone.

They might produce a single seed, or multiple seeds but they key phrase here is a ‘single’ ovary. The seeds themselves are usually imbedded in the fleshy interior of the ovary, but sometimes not (like peppers!). 

So a true ‘berry’ includes things like:

  • Kiwis
  • Bananas 
  • Squash and pumpkins
  • Cucumbers
  • Tomatoes
  • Grapes
  • Blueberries
  • Gooseberries

Yum-yum! Aggregate versus accessory fruit!

Most of the sweet, summer-time treats we consider ‘berries’ are actually botanically classified as either ‘aggregate’ or ‘accessory” fruits. And, because science, sometimes both!

A raspberry is technically an ‘aggregate’ fruit.

Aggregate fruit is a fruit that that was comprised from multiple ovaries that were separated in a single flower but then merged into ONE fruit. The main difference here between these types of ‘fruit’ and a true ‘berry’ is multiple ovaries, instead of one.  

Examples of “aggregate” fruits we call berries are:

  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Loganberries’
  • Marionberries
Drool….homemade strawberry pie

Accessory fruits are those fruits that are that final touch to pull any any well-designed meal together (ba-da-dum). No really, accessory fruits are technically a ‘false’ fruit (or as some might argue, a VEGETABLE!) and parts of the plant OTHER than the ovary are what generate the fleshy, sweet part we eat. Examples of accessory fruits are:

  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Pineapples
  • Pears
  • Figs

So, what can we take from all this?

Science is complicated. Fruit – be it ‘berries’, ‘accessory’ or ‘aggregate’ – is tasty. Who wants to make some pie?

Don’t miss out! Buy Pacific Northwest berries in season!

The typical Pacific Northwest berry season starts in June and, depending on the year, can run all the way through September. Growing techniques, new cultivars and clever farming practices have made finding fresh, local grown berries in the Pacific Northwest a long, and fruitful (pun intended!), season!

Keep in mind if you are looking to preserve a LOT of berries – jam, freezing and dehdryating are all great options – best prices will be if you purchase your berries when those items are in the height of the season.

For instance, it’s ‘true’ bulk strawberry season in June and early July. Can you still find strawberries in August and even early September? Yes. But those will be produced from different types of plants that aren’t as productive all at once and using techniques that are more (think expensive) involved for the farmer.

So bottom-line – if you want a good deal, purchase your berries when they are in the height of their season! 

U-pick strawberries are always a great option. Make sure to check with your local farms for u-pick season! Garden Treasures has on-going u-pick options, contact us to find out the latest!
  • June
    • Strawberries, raspberries, black-cap raspberries
  • July
    • Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries
  • August
    • Raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries and blueberries.
  • September
    • Blueberries, fall-crop strawberries and raspberries.
A selection of just a few of the amazing, Pacific Northwest-grown berries available at Garden Treasures farmstand and farmer’s market locations

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