Between all of the weeding and feeding, I am definitely noticing some major plant growth. All of the sudden, tomato branches need to be fastened to their supports as they begin to reach outward and upward. There’s lots of fruit development in the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, as well as many garden rows that need thinning (carrots, daikon radishes, beets, beans and lettuces.)
The lesser-grown backyard fruits: Strawberry season is in full swing around here and the raspberry and blueberry bushes are filling out with unripened fruits. Of course we all get excited for our future dates with berry pies, crumbles, and buckles, not to mention jam making and freezing sessions. But occasionally, you see or hear about a fruit that makes you wonder – should I plant that?
Here are four less-common, easy-to-grow fruits for which you might consider finding a spot:
Gooseberry (Ribes): Gooseberries are tart, there’s just no getting around that. Also, their fast-growing limbs sport some pretty serious thorns. If you can get beyond those two downsides, you’ll be rewarded with a productive fruiting bush that can withstand poor soil and afternoon shade. They grow best, however, in fertile, loamy, well-drained but moist soil, and full sun in cool climates. The trick to eating tasty gooseberries usually involves sweetening and cooking them, as a pie filling or jam. They also make tasty fermented chutneys.
Black Currant (Ribes): Like gooseberries, currants are quick to fruit and enjoy the same growing conditions. Also, like gooseberries, the flavor of black currants does not appeal to many when consumed raw. A quick office poll describing their flavor revealed these firmly held opinions: “burnt rubber” says Ann Whitman. “Smelly feet,” adds Peggy McIntyre, our head gardener. I can’t disagree with either, but, with a little love (mostly in the form of sugar or honey) currants make tasty jams and are the fruit used in creme de cassis. Red and white currants tend to be more appealing to American tastes and are delicious fresh as well as cooked. Currants and gooseberries are far more popular in Europe than in the U.S., and the key ingredients for many traditional recipes.
Elderberry (Sambucus): Elderberries are also easy to grow and can withstand some wet soil, as well as some shade, although they prefer full sun. The black elderberry will grow quickly to about 10 feet and can provide a nice privacy screen when given room to spread. Other species can grow into small trees. In my experience, black elderberry forms a thicket of stems and 2″ to 3″ trunks, so be sure that you’ve chosen a spot where you won’t be shading or crowding out any of your favorite plants. As far as flavor goes, they also benefit from being cooked and sweetened, although the berries can be dried for making teas. Each little berry has a seed in its center, so part of their preparation usually involves mashing and straining in order to rid your final jam or juice of the seeds. The flowers, pictured here, are often used to create liquors, syrups and sodas.
Mulberry (Morus): Mulberry trees tolerate a range of growing conditions — from poor, dry, rocky soil to short periods of seasonal flooding — and may grow 50′ to 60′ tall. Mine have thrived in our dense clay. In fact, they have become my favorite trees. Not only do they produce tons of incredibly sweet fruits, they also grow big, broad leaves that appear downright tropical in my northern garden. A first-rate privacy screen when young, they can also be of service if you need help distracting birds and squirrels from feasting on other crops. The trees drop ripe fruit, however, and fruit-eating birds leave messy reminders of their visit, so plant them far away from driveways, sidewalks and patios. Picked mulberries can cling to a thick stem in the center, similar to a blackberry.
Anyone have a great recipe or technique for cooking these fruits? Tell us about it in the comments, below.