Preiselbeere, Kokemomo, Puolukka, Partridgeberry, Cowberry, Rock cranberry — or Lingonberry, They’re All the Same Fruit.

  Besides enjoying the season’s plums and peaches, I’m also enjoying a few uncommon fruits. Uncommon now. These fruits have been enjoyed by humans somewhere at sometime, just not extensively now. 

The most familiar of these to most would be lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-ideae). As jam, in jars, that is, unless you’re Scandinavian, where this fruit is very popular harvested from the wild and then used in drinks, sauces, and pancakes.
Lingonberry fruit and flowers
Lingonberry, which is native throughout colder regions of the northern hemisphere, is often compared with our native cranberry. I think that does lingonberry an injustice. Both are diminutive plants, spreading as their stems root where they touch the ground, so could be edible groundcovers. Both are evergreen, but while lingonberry’s dainty leaves have the same green gloss as those of holly, and retain it all winter, cranberry leaves turn a muddy purple with the onset of cold weather in late fall.

I recently read that the berries are “not good to eat in their raw state as they are quite bitter.” That writer evidently never tasted lingonberries; I eat them raw all the time and find them delicious. And it’s not because my taste buds are so robust. I’d never pop a cranberry, which is closely related to lingonberry, into my mouth. Too, too sour.

Lingonberry is now ripening fruits — and it’s also blossoming! The plants bloom twice each season, yielding an early and a later crop. Lingonberry fruit and flowersIf not harvested, the later crop hangs, looking pretty and in good condition for eating, through autumn and on into winter.
Lingonberry with snow
To thrive, the plant needs similar conditions to those enjoyed by blueberry, cranberry, mountain laurel, rhododendron, and other lingonberry relatives. In addition to good drainage and abundant humus, the soil needs to be very acidic, with a pH ideally between 4.5 and 5.5.

Right after planting and then each year thereafter, some time between fall and spring, my lingonberries get mulched with a one- to two-inch depth of some finely divided, organic material that is not too rich in nutrients: sawdust, woodchips, chopped straw, or shredded leaves, for example. The mulch sifts down through the leaves and stems to keep the ground cool and moist, prevent frost from heaving plants in winter, and decompose to maintain high humus levels in the soil — all of which translates to larger berries and more of them.

The plants require little care beyond regular watering for the first couple of seasons.

Centuries of Flavor

Also ripe now is a fruit that has been enjoyed by humankind for the past seven thousand years (although not so much now)! At a site in northern Greece, early Neolithic peoples left traces of their meals of cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), along with remains of einkorn wheat, barley, lentils, and peas. It was also well-known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The hard wood was reputedly the wood for chariot axles.
Cornelian cherry fruit
The plant was grown in monastery gardens of continental Europe through the Middle Ages and was introduced to Britain about the sixteenth century. By the eighteenth century, the plant was common in English gardens, where it was grown for its fruits which sometimes were called cornel plums.

The fruit was familiar enough to be found in European markets even up to the end of the nineteenth century. Cornelian cherries were especially popular in France and Germany, and the fruit reputedly was a favorite with children.

Native to regions of eastern Europe and western Asia, the cornelian cherry is still appreciated for its fruit in certain parts of these regions. Baskets of kizilcik, as the Turks call the fruit, are found in markets of Istanbul. The fruit is a popular backyard tree in gardens of Moldavia, Caucasia, Crimea, and the Ukraine.

When the fruit was popular in Britain, it was made into delicious tarts, and shops commonly sold rob de cornis, a thickened, sweet syrup of cornelian cherry fruits. The juice also added pizazz to cider and perry.

Depending on ripeness, fruit flavor varies from sweet to tart. It has a distinctive flavor and can be used in cookery at all stages. If tart fruit is allowed to sit for a day or two or three, the flavor becomes less tart and more mellow.

Cornelian cherry is a favored ingredient of Turkish serbert, a fruit drink sold in stores and from portable containers carried like knapsacks on the backs of street vendors. In the Ukraine, cornelian cherries are juiced, then bottled commercially into soft drinks. There, the fruits also are made into conserves, fermented into wine, distilled into a liqueur, and dried.

The plant is actually not a true cherry, but a species of dogwood. It is still widely, but mostly planted as an ornamental for its very early show of small, yellow blossoms, around the first day of spring here on the farmden.
Cornelian cherry flowers
Cornelian cherry is among my most successful fruit crops. Despite its early bloom, it has never failed to bear. Birds, insects, and diseases have little effect on production. Pruning is unnecessary. What else can you ask for from a fruit plant?

(I am still looking for some good recipes that use this fruit and lingonberry for possible inclusion in an update of my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden. Got something? Both fruits are covered in my currently available books, Landscaping with Fruit and Grow Fruit Naturally.)

Intoxicatingly Delicious?

This last fruit is very uncommon, and I didn’t plant the tree mostly for its fruit. Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) bark is gray with corky ridges that, especially in winter when illuminated by low-hanging sunlight, has that crisp, achromatic quality of photographs of the lunar landscape.

Hackberry bark

Hackberry bark

The fruit itself is refreshingly sweet, like a date. Problem is that the fruit is pea sized and contains an almost-pea-sized seed. So the fruits nothing more than a thin covering over the seed.
Hackberry fruit
More prominent in the human diet is a close relative, one name of which is the lote tree (C. australis), which even figure in Greek mythology. When Zeuss drove Odysseus’ ships off course, the sailors finally found refuge in the Island of the Lote Eaters. Eating the fruits caused a pleasant drowsiness, to the extent that the sailors, forgetting their homes and friends, wished for nothing more than idling away on the island. Odysseus had to drag them back onto their ships.
Island of the lote eaters
The lote tree, native to Europe and temperate regions of Asia, is pretty cold-hardy (Zone 5). I have ordered seeds and should get to taste fruit of the lote tree in a few years. I might never leave the farmden.

Deferred Gratification

If there’s one thing I don’t like about gardening, it’s all the deferred gratification, all  the looking to the future. That future might be 3 or 4 weeks hence, when I’m planning to start harvesting the radishes that I’ll be sowing today. Or 8 or 9 weeks hence, when I’ll start harvesting tomatoes from plants I’m nurturing today and that I sowed in early April for planting out towards the end of May.
And it doesn’t end. No sooner will a large portion of the seeds and transplants be snuggled into this season’s garden than I’ll be sowing seeds of cabbage and broccoli for eventual transplanting in midsummer for harvest in autumn. Planning for autumn now! Shudder the thought, but it’s got to be done. I don’t want to even think about autumn’s impending cold weather with this wonderfully warming spring weather.
Okay, let me take a deep breath and resolve this not-living-in-the-present of gardening. It’s not really that bad. I figure out what has to be done — a written schedule updated as necessary from previous seasons’ notes is crucial for this — and and then immerse myself in the all-present of doing it. And it’s not all for end results; there’s the joy and satisfaction of watching plants grow and come into fruition and respond to my ministrations.
In some cases, the longer the period of deferred gratification, the greater the satisfaction.
I wrote back in February about the excitement of seeing white roots of some yellowhorn tree seeds that were sprouting in potting soil in a plastic bag in my refrigerator. I planted all those in pots. But also, in that plastic bag, were some hackberry seeds I had collected last autumn. They were doing nothing. Nothing obvious, that is.
Seeds of woody plants that ripen in autumn have a dormancy that lasts until they think winter is over. Winter for my hackberry and yellowhorn seeds takes place in my refrigerator, which is ideal because the

temperatures that spur seeds — and plant growth, for that matter — awake are between about 30 and 45°F. That’s why yellowhorn seeds awoke back in February. Outdoors, the requisite number of hours in that temperature range might not have accumulated until around now.

Hackberry seeds evidently need to experience more chilly hours before they’re convinced to wake up, which happened last week. I potted up the delicate little seedlings.
In 20 years or so, those six hackberry seedlings should be large enough to be clothed in a corky bark that, especially in winter, displays crisp, achromatic

shadows reminiscent of the lunar landscape. Perhaps by then the plants will be old enough to bear pea-sized, date-flavored fruits. Not that the fruits offer much more than a nibble; within each pea-sized fruit is an almost pea-sized seed, leaving just a thin covering of sweet flesh.

Sometimes — usually — it’s best to let Mother Nature do the planting. On a recent drive to West Virginia, where the spring season is about a week ahead of here, the mountainsides were awash in redbud bloom.
Usually, I not a fan of redbud. It’s the color. Pinkish purple. Yuk, and too flamboyant. At least, to me, from isolated trees that blare out their color from front or back yards.
But isolated redbud trees as well as large swathes of them livened up the scene as they nestled in among forests of trees

unfolding soft-colored, pale green blossoms and young leaves.

On a shorter time scale, I see Ms. Nature has also done a nice planting of cilantro. In the couple of beds where cilantro stood last year (from self-sown seeds of the previous year), small plants are now ready for harvest. And I didn’t even have to think ahead to plant them.