How can you be blue when serviceberries hang in the trees over your head?

Have you ever tried a serviceberry? I hadn’t, until this past Arts Fest weekend. My friend said she picked a gallon of serviceberries in downtown Iowa, and pointed out the trees replete with magenta berries growing on Iowa Avenue. “They taste like a blueberry, but also kind of like a cherry,” she said. I picked one and tasted it; she was right.

Illustration by Tim Taranto
Illustration by Tim Taranto

Serviceberries, also referred to as saskatoons, sugarplums or chuckley pears (great monikers, I know), are flowering deciduous shrubs of the genus Amelanchier and are widely distributed throughout the northern hemisphere. Some folks call them juneberries, which is apt since they flower in May and bear their fruits in early June.

I asked my friend what she planned to do with her serviceberry bounty and she said, “Make pies.” I’ve been told they make for an excellent pie filling, muffin or jam. They can also be dehydrated and dried like raisins or frozen for future use. Personally, I’ve been enjoying them raw the past few days.

The season for serviceberries is short (two weeks) so I’d advise you to get out there now and fill your baskets. The joy of foraging a wild harvest of food is a simple pleasure and one available to us all on these Iowa summer days. You’ll have the birds to compete with and I’ll have my buddy to contend with for blowing up her serviceberry spot.