Saturday, July 19, 2014

Farm Bulletin: A Scolding Regarding Chester Blackberries

Sully the Chester blackberry's reputation and you should expect a thorough tongue-lashing from contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm. In for a trip to the woodshed in this essay are no less than the Oregonian and two professors in the Horticulture Department at OSU.

Opening the A&E section of the Oregonian on Friday was a less than pleasant experience. This once distinguished daily broadsheet has devolved into a flimsy, irregular tabloid. But, for crying out loud, you would think they could get the facts straight on blackberries, a fruit for which the backyard of Oregon is known. Under the title "State's lesser berries win time to shine," the entry for "chesterberry" states:

"Developed in 2007, the chesterberry is a close cousin to the blackberry, but the fruit is roughly three times as large. In the marionberry family, chesters come with small seeds and a bitter taste."

Chesters in the field at Ayers Creek Farm.

The name of the berry is "Chester Thornless Blackberry" not chesterberry, though we use the less formal Chester. It is capitalized because it is named after a person. Chester came out of the breeding program at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1968, not 2007 as asserted by the author. Sakes alive, we have been selling them at Hillsdale since the market opened in 2002. It is a blackberry, pure and simple, not a cousin. The Chester, a thornless, semi-erect plant is from a very different breeding line than the Marion, a thorny trailing type plant. There is no familiar similarity between the two and their different ancestries are reflected in the flavor of the berries. Finally, what is this nonsense about the fruit being bitter?

For some strange reason, the primary blackberry researchers at Oregon State University hold the Chester in very low regard, and this shapes the opinions of people who have not actually tasted the berry. I have had numerous discussions with Chad Finn and Bernadine Strik about Chesters, pointing out that it is a magnificent fruit for the smaller, organic grower and perfect for out-of-hand eating, but they are unshakable in their distain for the fruit. Fair enough, we harbor a similar distain for the Marion, which is great for industrial, machine harvest farms but not a fruit where the farmer plans to park the ATV and eat berries for a while and think of shoes and ships and sealing wax. I guess that is why we don't grow it. This year, we have planted more blackberry rows, Chesters, of course.

Several years ago Kathleen Bauer posted a good essay [by Monsieur Boutard - KAB] on her blog about the Chester blackberry, nicely illustrated, for those who want the full and interesting history of the berry.


Anonymous said...

I got Anthony's email earlier and was incensed because Chesters are almost my favorite berry, coming in second only to Hood strawberries, I am glad you are on his bandwagon!


Kathleen Bauer said...

Mine, too, JR! Can't imagine anyone tasting the Chesters from Ayers Creek and not loving them.