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The Local Food Report
As we re-imagine our relationships to what we eat, Local Food Report creator Elspeth Hay takes us to the heart of the local food movement to talk with growers, harvesters, processors, cooks, policy makers and visionaries

A common wild berry brings a range of delicious flavors

Elspeth Hay

It’s high season for a common wild berry with a whole lot of names.

Landscaper Nat Taylor shares just some of them: shad, serviceberry, shadblow and amalanchier.

I’ve heard Juneberry, saskatoon and sarvisberry. Whatever you call the shad tree, its berries are a gift.

I’m standing next to a newly installed garden on top of a Truro dune.

“This is a shad here, you can see it’s almost what about 18 feet tall,” says Nat.

The shad tree Nat’s pointing to is loaded with berries the size of a large blueberry in various shades of pink and purple. Shad berries have a long history as human food, but Nat says he got interested for another reason.

“I’m a bird lover and I had gone to Cornell University and studied ornithology and plant science and I fused the two essentially and create bird gardens as I call them.”

Nat’s bird gardens center on native plants that attract native insects and in turn bring in the birds. Shadberries are one of his favorites—they’re a so-called pollinator powerhouse as well as a host plant for the larvae of tiger, swallowtail, admiral, striped hairstreak and viceroy butterflies, and the shad berries feed at least forty species of birds.

“When we put all these in it was within a matter of seconds before about four curious catbirds were pillaging the berries. But out here I’ve seen a lot of towhees and catbirds and robins and there are some of the larger wood warblers, Swainson’s warbler,” Nat says.

These are just a few of the birds that love shad berries—others include mocking birds, Baltimore orioles, grosbeaks, thrushes, and Cedar Waxwings. And while Nat buys a lot of shadbush seedlings to put into customers gardens, they’re also found everywhere around here on the side of the road and in the woods. Nat and I walk around the side of the dune top house where he’s been planting—and where you can hear someone inside vacuuming—to see two big shadbush trees loaded with ripe berries.

“These are bright red and these are almost like a deep blue so that’s probably one week difference in terms of how ripe these berries are,” Nat says. Then he asks if I want to try one.

I do and, oh my God, they’re so good.

Nat describes them as a cross between a prune, a plum rather and a blueberry.

I think it’s like a beach plum.

Peak ripeness in terms of color seems to be just past pink when the berries get a blush of purple but before they hit dark blue—those are often overripe and squishy.

I ask Nat if his clients have heard of shadbush and whether they know it's edible.

“That is totally a surprise they’re all about the blueberry if they’re into edible gardens and stuff but no I think shad is, it’s kind of, we’re on the peak of the wave here,” he says.

I didn’t realize you could eat shadberries until a few years ago, and now I look forward them the same way I do wild blackberries and blueberries. Shadberries are at peak ripeness in late June and early July—and there are more than enough to share with the birds.

Elspeth Hay

Find a link to Elspeth's shadberry jam and shadberry-rhubarb pie
recipes here on Elspeth's blog.

This piece first aired in July 2021.

An avid locavore, Elspeth lives in Wellfleet and writes a blog about food. Elspeth is constantly exploring the Cape, Islands, and South Coast and all our farmer's markets to find out what's good, what's growing and what to do with it. Her Local Food Report airs Thursdays at 8:30 on Morning Edition and 5:45pm on All Things Considered, as well as Saturday mornings at 9:30.