Cookin', Critters and Chillun

Blueberries and service berries

My husband and I picked blueberries the other day, racing to the blueberry farm in between those almost constant tropical thunderstorms we’ve come to expect every day.

The berries were fat, dusky globes of varying shades of deep blue, and the picking was easy. Unfortunately, we had to rush because it took about 45 minutes to get to Sinking Creek Farm near Newport, and I hadn’t remembered the correct closing time until an hour before we set off on July 5.

We would have waited to pick at Woodall Blueberries in Craig County, but their blueberries are slow to ripen this year, Shirley Woodall said, and the first day for picking wasn’t until Saturday.

Sinking Creek owners Holly and Joel Scoggins were gracious when I begged to pick for 15 minutes. “Oh, go ahead as long as you want. Other people just got here, too,” Holly said.

Bill and I picked about four pounds in 30 minutes or so, and decided that was enough for us and a few friends who are coming over this Saturday night. Blueberries are selling for up to $5 a pint at some farmers’ markets. Figuring in our labor, our berries probably cost $10 a pint – and we had more than $50 worth of fun. At least hand-picked blueberries are not so expensive as “the $64 Tomato,” which is also the title of a gardening book I just read.

And so, to the title of this column. Rob Guiles, president of the Catawba Civic League, brought a branch of a mysterious blue berries to the Catawba Valley Farmers’ Market a couple of weeks ago.

“Know what these are?” he asked. I guessed shadbush berries. He knew them by a different name, service berries. I’ve also heard them pronounced “sarvice berries.”

“They got their name because they got ripe about the same time as when preachers were traveling around once the weather thawed, to marry and bury people and hold services,” Guiles explained.

And so you have it: service berries. They’re edible, but not so plentiful as cultivated blueberries, and usually grow high up. You’ve probably seen their narrow-petal white flowers early in the season when few trees have started leafing out. I’ve yet to taste a service berry except when I can grab one before the birds.

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