WILLARD — On a locally run farm just east of Seneca Lake, the largest crop of juneberries in New York state is ripening.
Growing beside the raspberries, blackberries, honey berries, black currants and figs that Juneberry Farm offers for visitors to pick and purchase, this fruit — which isn’t a berry at all — gives the farm its name for good reason. For those curious about juneberries, Juneberry Farm’s Guy Lister is joining with Seneca County Cornell Cooperative Extension to host a Juneberry Festival from 5 to 7 p.m. June 29 at 6960 1st St.
Visitors can discover recipes and information about juneberries, sample the fruit, tour the farm, pick their own berries and try juneberry pie. The Buffalonian Food Truck will also be offering authentic Western New York-themed cuisine.
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 percent sugar to 80 percent 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.
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 crisp 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. Not for lack of a good reception, however: Popularity is picking up, and according to Lister of Juneberry Farm the major difficulty for the first crop was simply providing enough fruit to meet the demand.
For more information, contact Seneca County Extension’s Agricultural Economic Development Specialist Derek Simmonds at (315) 539-9251 or firstname.lastname@example.org.