Marionberries

Oregon’s True Extreme Sport

|| by Jane Pellicciotto ||

Sure, there’s scaling Mt. Hood, braving rapids on the Deschutes river or climbing the coast range on your bike. But you really haven’t experienced the adventure Oregon has to offer till you’ve picked marionberries.

Marionberry picking is a full-combat activity. You against the thorns, thorns that line the vines, the stems and even the leaves. But little in life that’s this good comes easily. You emerge purple-fingered with scratched arms.

And you couldn’t be happier.

The name marionberry induces a little titter among those familiar with the former and infamous D.C. Mayor. Being from the D.C. area myself, I’d never heard of the berry until I moved here. In fact, the first line of the Wikipedia page for marionberries is this: “This article is about the fruit. For the former mayor of Washington, D.C., see Marion Barry.” And yet, it is the most widely planted trailing vine blackberry cultivar in the world.

The marionberry—a cross between the Chehalem and Olalie berries—was bred by George F. Waldo at Oregon State University and released in 1956. Oregon produces around 30 million pounds of the berry every year! You can read more about the history of the marionberry, so named for the county (Marion) in which it was developed. Below is a chart that shows the lineage of the marionberry, which has a flavor that starts out sweet and finishes with tartness, making it a favorite among berry aficionados.

marionberry-chart

Tips for Picking and Storing Marionberries

If you want to pick berries for jam, sorbet, tarts, even barbecue sauce, get thee to a u-pick farm. “This has been a long and multi-flowering season,” says April Frankamp of The Pumpkin Patch, a Food Alliance-certified farm on Portland’s Sauvie Island. Because of the warm spring weather and short bursts of really hot weather, the berries have flowered several times, resulting in various stages of ripening right now. But expect to pick for only about a week to week-and-a-half longer.

• I’m going to let out a secret: You have to squat. This is why kids make good pickers because their eye level is not ours. April called it a “yoga experience,” which is not far from the truth. All the good berries are hidden in the folds of leaves, mid-plant to ground level.

• Don’t tug like you would a raspberry. Instead, gently bend the berry at the base of the stem and it’ll pop right off. If not, it’s not ripe enough.

• Wear long sleeves and pants. You might even bring a work glove to lift up the vines to reveal hidden berries.

• Pick only the black berries.

• Wash berries only before eating or cooking with them, otherwise they’ll get waterlogged. A gentle spin in a salad spinner releases excess water. Dry on paper towels or a dish towel.

• To freeze berries, follow the step above. Spread berries on a cookie sheet on a single layer and put in the freezer. Once berries are frozen, put them into a freezer bag. This prevents sticking together.

• Search online for u-pick farms near you. Sauvie Island has several. Some farms are closed on Mondays, others on Sundays. So, check before you go.

Now, let’s go picking!

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Jane is a Slow Food Portland board member and runs Allegro Design, a creative and consulting studio that helps positive-change businesses.

Thanks for sharing