Native throughout North America, Juneberries grow under the name of Saskatoons in Canada as well as shadbush, Alleghany serviceberry, and sugar pear in other parts of their range. Hardy plants that withstand regions as cold as zone 2 and prefer their fields to look a little more like wilderness, these grey-barked and shapely trees produce a deep blue fruit classified with apples and pears rather than berries: this is because the single soft seed, which lends an almond taste to the otherwise cherry-like fruit, sits inside a barely noticeable core.
Nutrient-dense enough to stock the winter supplies of native North Americans and save European settlers from scurvy, Juneberries carry twice as much potassium and more than seven times the calcium of blueberries gram for gram, as well as nearly twice the protein and more than three times the iron. Their lower moisture content partly accounts for the difference, at about 18% sugar to 80% water. This efficient package also keeps them on par with blueberries in levels of vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin E.
While history shows that already water-efficient Juneberries dry very well and produce a pleasantly soft and chewy snack if soaked in a sugar solution before dehydrating, they also freeze well and make good preserves for those who are patient enough to spare a few from being eaten out of the bowl - or the tree. Their dark cherry flavor - sweet enough for eating fresh off the stem and popular with chocolate and nuts - stems from a natural compound called benzaldehyde, common to fruit with deep colors and mimicked by the flavoring agent in imitation almond extract. Their ability to thaw from the freezer without becoming a runny fruit sludge also puts them ahead of other berries for baking: they can be added to muffins, breads, pancakes and pies as well as adding a rich crimson to fruit crisps and fresh juices.
Despite all of this, few in the Finger Lakes have heard of Juneberries. Although well-known in central Canada, this native fruit thrived unnoticed in New York’s wild scenery until very recently - and still shows up on few shelves across the Northeast. For many in Seneca County, the best way to access Juneberries is to grow them in their own yards and gardens. Most varieties do best in zones 3-9 with full sun and moist but well-drained, acidic soil - but as a native to New York they adapt fairly well to varying light and soil conditions, and some varieties are hardy as far as zone 2. While it is possible to shape them into a smaller tree with a single primary stem, these trees tend towards a shrub-like, many-branched form that can eventually grow to as tall as twenty-five feet. Primary pest concerns include occasional instances of red spider mites in dry soil conditions and most common apple pests. “Success” and “Dwarf Mountain” are popular traditional cultivars, while “Shannon” and “Indian” produce heavy crops of large fruit and “Smoky” and “Pembina” are known for producing the best flavor.
written by: Melissa Hodde
Last updated July 31, 2017