My Secret Toronto: Picking berries

The Toronto Star, 2012


Throughout Toronto, serviceberries and mulberries are available free to those who know where to pick them.

I first ate them when a friend returned from Alberta with a sandwich bag full of the frozen gems. She called them Saskatoon berries. I’d never heard of them.

Out east, they’re known as serviceberries. They look like wild blueberries, plumper, more purple, and have woodsy seeds with an almond-like flavour. A second friend sampled some recently, between bites declaring that they tasted like “blueberries on steroids.”

After that first taste years ago, I went several summers painfully without. Then, a friend tipped me off to a whole patch next to the train tracks, probably planted by some beautiful soul who favoured the native Ontario bushes not for its fruit but for its hardiness. It’s the perfect disguise — no one would think to find them in the middle of a weedy gravel lot.

Inevitably someone will stop to inquire while I’m rooting through the leaves: “You can eat those?”

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