Berry delightful

What is your favourite berry?

Which berries make your taste buds sing?

This week at the Carrot Ranch Literary Community, Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) include music and berries. It can be fantastical, such as the music of berries or a story that unfolds about a concert in a berry patch. Go where the prompt leads.

mulberries

When I was a child, there was a huge mulberry tree growing in the backyard of one of our neighbours who was kind enough to allow access to the multitude of children in our family. Each summer the tree would be laden with fruit and we would pull at its branches to gather as much as we could into buckets and bowls. We would go home stained with purple on our bodies and our clothes and, mostly, around our mouths. We couldn’t wait to eat and there were plenty to go around. Mum would bake mulberry pies and fill jars with mulberry jam that was delicious on our buttered bread for breakfast or lunch.

Since then, I have encountered few mulberries trees, only occasionally sourcing their leaves to feed voracious silkworm caterpillars. The berries themselves seem not to be harvested for store sales. However, I was recently reminded of Mum’s mulberry jam when I spotted some on a shelf at the Jamworks gourmet deli. I must admit though, while I resisted the mulberry jam, I couldn’t resist the fig and ginger variety.

gooseberries

The other berry that was most familiar to me as a child, but never since seen, was what we called the gooseberry. There were gooseberry plants growing by our back fence. I remember picking the berries, peeling back the outer leaves and eating the small fruit, which I think had quite a tart flavour. As I recall, Mum would also make jam, but not pies, with these.

strawberry torte

(c) Norah Colvin

I recall that, even as a young adult, a serving of strawberries and cream had seemed a very luxurious and decadent dessert. Now strawberries are more affordable and readily available all year round. They are a favourite of my granddaughter. So much so that I need to have at least one punnet in the fridge for her when she visits. A strawberry torte is my family’s pick for special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas. I wrote about it and included the recipe here.

In addition to strawberries, stores now have a variety available all year round; including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and cranberries. The berries make a wonderful filling for the other family favourite, pavlova.

pavlova

(c) Norah Colvin

But do you know what a berry is?

I checked with Wikipedia for the definition of a berry, and found that it is “a fleshy fruit without a stone produced from a single flower containing one ovary”.

Botanically, the following fruits (and vegetables) are berries:

  • Grapes
  • Currants
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplants
  • Bananas
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Coffee beans
  • Pumpkin
  • Watermelon

and these, commonly called berries, are not:

  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Mulberry
  • Blackberry

Do you need to change you answers to my initial questions:

What is your favourite berry?

Which berries make your taste buds sing?

Or are you happy to go with common usage? If I write about mulberries, will I be fulfilling the requirements of Charli’s prompt? Perhaps I should write about picking watermelons instead.

Mulberry picking

Mulberry Stew

Branches hung heavy with berries in reach of even the youngest child. They ate more than they bucketed; but there were plenty, including for birds singing in higher branches. Mum had forbidden them. “Mrs Wilson’s poorly. Don’t disturb her.” But they couldn’t resist. They scampered the instant she called.

“Where have you been?” She eyed the purple stains.

“We …” the youngest began to sing.

“Nowhere,” they shushed with hands concealed.

“What were you doing?”

“Nothing.”

Her lips twitched. “Hand them over.”

Later they pondered together how she knew.

When Dad got home, they’d have to face the music.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

41 thoughts on “Berry delightful

  1. robinettercleave

    Aw, I’m disappointed to learn that my favourite – raspberry – is not a berry at all, but an imposter!!! My second-fav are blueberries, though, and I do have wonderful memories of picking them in the field at my grandmother’s house and taking them to Nan so she could make her scrumptious blueberry pie with light-as-a-feather real homemade crust! That is a great childhood memory. Thanks for re-kindling it for me! Your flash was berry good, Norah – loved it!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your memory, Robin. That ‘light-as-a-feather crust’ sounds like a story in the making. In fact it reminds me of Joan Aiken’s story “There’s some sky in this pie”. We won’t tell raspberry it doesn’t belong. We love it just the same. 🙂

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  2. Barbara Radisalvjeivc

    I’m glad to learn that my favorite, the blueberry, is a true berry. though watermelon runs a close second. Your story is pretty true to life. Liked the way you worked ‘music” into the story in an unexpected way.
    Our neighbor when I was growing up had a mulberry tree, but she never harvested it and let all the berries drop. What I remember most about it was the mess it made.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Barbara. What a comparison to make – a blueberry to a watermelon! I’m pleased you enjoyed the story. What a waste of mulberries for them to go unharvested. They do make an incredible mess. They would be difficult to clean up with getting purple stained feet, and everything else!

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  3. Kate

    Thank you for your insights on what the ‘berries’ that are or are not berries. My favorite berry is a true berry – the blueberry. I tell people to ignore my blue tongue … I’m not ill, I’ve just eaten another basket full of blueberries. 😉 I love your clever take on both the title and use of ‘music’ in your flash!

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    1. Norah Post author

      It’s funny how some foods stain and give our indulgence away, isn’t it. I find that the quality of blueberries can vary a lot here. They’re probably not meant to be grown in Australia. Sometimes they can be very sweet, and at others, very tart.
      Thank you for you kind words about my flash. I’m pleased you enjoyed it.

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  4. Pingback: Music of Berries « Carrot Ranch Literary Community

  5. Charli Mills

    I might have to add a disclaimer on our compilation: berries and other deceptive fruits! Oh, but gooseberries make my fingers ache. I grew up with the most wicked variety in the sierras that pricked my fingers trying to get at its fruit. When my husband wanted to pick gooseberries in Nevada, his home state, I refused. Then I saw that most gooseberries had papery hulls. Love your flash and the innocent bewilderment at what gave them away. Here’s the gooseberries I recall: https://honest-food.net/wild-gooseberries-edible/

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    1. Norah Post author

      No disclaimer needed. I think most of us have agreed on the common usage. 🙂
      Thanks for sharing your childhood gooseberry experience, and for linking the the ones you recall. They do look prickly, as if you shouldn’t be eating them. The image I used was the closest I could find to what I remember, but I thought they were green rather than yellow. They had the same papery outer though. What a lot of varieties there are.

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    2. Kate

      My father felt every garden should have berry bushes for winter preserving. He always had at least two gooseberry bushes, two red currants and raspberries growing by the house. Of the lot, the only ones I liked were the raspberries. Unfortunately, it was my brother’s and my job to pick all the berries – sitting among the prickles. Ouch.

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  6. Annecdotist

    You’re right to remind us that strawberries etc aren’t berries, but I never thought of the definition extending to pumpkins though it makes perfect sense. I also love mulberries, although I’ve only ever eaten them in Zimbabwe. We tried to grow them here in the UK but the plant didn’t take. Strange, given the nursery rhyme!

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    1. Norah Post author

      It takes a stretch of the imagination (and I guess that’s what scientists need) to classify pumpkins and watermelons as berries, doesn’t it? Funny I didn’t think of the nursery rhyme! I’ve just looked it up on Wikipedia and it seems to have an obscure history. Interesting conjectures though. Thanks for reminding me of it.

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  7. Steven

    I quite like your clever weaving of music into your fiction, at the end and scattered near the start. I find that “berries” generally don’t taste as good as they use to. Strawberries were also a treat in our household when I was young and I’m sure they were probably expensive back then. If I had to guess, I would say something approaching $10 per punnet. I remember that they were almost always tasty and sweet. Strawberries may be half the price today, but by contrast I find that most punnets are generally lacking in taste and should perhaps be called Waterberries.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your kind comment, Steven. I’m pleased you noticed the different references to music. The final one was an afterthought, just as I was about to publish and had to go back and rewrite. Once I’d thought of it, I couldn’t leave it out.
      I find that a lot of berries and other fruit, and vegetables don’t taste as good as they used to. When I was a child, Dad used to grow most of our vegetables and we had them fresh from the garden. I don’t think you can beat that. $10 for a punnet of strawberries when you were a child! That was super expensive. Or do you mean the equivalent? I did try Googling but couldn’t find anything. I’ll have to check some of the old newspapers I’m sure we have somewhere in the house, maybe not quite that far back though.
      Waterberries. Maybe that’s what watermelons should have been called!

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  8. thecontentedcrafter

    Well, sometimes you can’t let a few facts get in the way of a good story! If it has ‘berry’ in the name then it’s a berry…… Like the fruit the world has come to call a ‘kiwi’ (which it isn’t – that’s a flightless bird which is a whole other story) and which I knew as a child as a Chinese Gooseberry (which apparently it wasn’t, neither from China nor a gooseberry) our world is full of misnomers and name changes and even ‘facts’ change from time to time (like Pluto). A rose by any other name ……. 🙂 Your excellent flash reminded me of the early morning forays we used to make to gather the blackberries growing wild all along roadways and railway tracks years ago….. Now they are sprayed so are inedible and the roads and tracks too dangerous to venture near….. Insert a sigh here for ‘the good old days’ 😀

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m inclined to agree with you about ‘berry’ in the name. But a kiwi fruit is actually a berry, if not a gooseberry. And you’re right, there are so many things mis-named. I wonder if they were named before the scientific terms became more exact and excluded them. I think it’s quite possible. How sad it is that now so much of our vegetation is sprayed with poisons to make it inedible to anyone or anything. I don’t know how far we need to go back to find those ‘good old days’ though. I’m currently reading “Silent Spring” which was published in 1962. It’s not a pleasant story; history, in fact.

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      1. thecontentedcrafter

        I read Silent Spring back in the late 60’s, a few years after publication and remember thinking it was alarmist….. though she woke me up to becoming a back to nature ‘hippy’ 🙂 I read it again in the early 90’s and realised how prescient she had been. I should maybe read it again, but being aware of how very difficult it is to breathe evenly in the current world atmosphere, I am not sure I could bear it……

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        1. Norah Post author

          I’m finding it a very depressing read. I’d love to hear an update on what she has shared, but I’m almost certain the story would be no more palatable.

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  9. jeanne229

    Ahhh, mulberries came to my mind too. From the age of 6 to 11, my family lived in a house with a sturdy mulberry tree in the back yard. My twin and I spent hours up in its branches, finding an escape there from our older siblings’ persecution. How we gorged on the black-purple fruit. Even the soles of our feet were stained with berry blood from trampling on the fallen fruit. Thanks for sparking the memory.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Between the ages of six and eleven is probably when I spent most of the time painted in purple berry juice too. It didn’t wash off easily and Mum wasn’t too pleased with the splotches on clothing, but taste was worth the inconvenience. Thank you for sharing your memory.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Oops! I didn’t mean to do that. Blueberries remain, but my mulberries don’t, as you have so kindly pointed out. It is an interesting distinction. Maybe I need to rethink my position on cocoons and chrysalises.

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  10. Deborah Lee

    I learned in a recent biology class that many of what we call berries are not, and what we don’t, are. I don’t care, though — they all taste good! And for those kids, I think eating all they did will make any punishment worth it. 😉

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