In spring 2010, I planted two Aronia melanocarpa seedlings just outside the goat pasture. I had never heard of Aronia bushes before but this is the Raintree Nursery description about Aronia that caught my attention:
“Beautiful, very productive and easy to grow, this shrub is bound to become a staple in American backyards, as it has in Eastern Europe, where it is widely used in delicious juices, soft drinks, jams and wine. The handsome, disease resistant bushes have dark green, oval foliage and grow about 5’-6’ tall with an equal spread. Charming white spring flowers develop into clusters of glossy, round, violet-black berries with a strong, tart flavor that comes from high flavonoid/anti-oxidant content. Fruit is naturally high in vital vitamins and minerals, and in fall, the foliage changes to striking red. Although Aronia is native to the eastern U.S, the best varieties were bred in Europe. Plants are self-fertile and can be spaced 4-6’ apart, or 3’ for a hedge. It’s not an “aronia’s conclusion” that this, Goumi and Sea Buckthorn are the most productive fruiting bushes available. Zones 3-9.”
Given that description, I decided to give this little known (to me) shrub a try. When possible, I try to choose native plants because I find they tend to thrive better. Its native eastern North American range extends north into Canada and south into Georgia. Aronia’s cold-tolerant blooms open in late spring, making them less susceptible to most spring frosts. These versatile and hardy plants grow well on various soil types, on sites that are boggy and poorly drained as well as well-drained sites.
I was pleased to see both little bushes were covered in blooms this spring and by summer they were covered in berries. Here is one of our little bushes, ready to harvest:
The berries have been a deep, rich black color for over a month now. I have been tasting one every few days to try to learn when they are ripe. The first few berries I tasted were truly unpalatable, obviously not yet ripe. The tartness and astringency were overpowering.
When I tried eating some of the berries today, I found the taste of the berries to be quite pleasant, but very different from any other type of berries I have eaten. The first thing I noticed was the berry’s astringency. It leaves a sort of puckering, drying feeling in your mouth, similar to a sip of very dry wine. This astringency comes from the tannins in the fruit. Behind the astringency is a rich, complex, tart/sweet flavor as I crush the small fruit with my teeth. The small seeds inside are barely noticeable. I imagine the berries will be come even sweeter as they ripen further and I understand from my research that the astringency lessens after a frost.
Our harvest is quite small, so I will be eating these right off the bush, but next year I am hoping to harvest enough to make juice and jam. It ripens at the same time as our elderberries, so perhaps I can combine them. Given an abundant harvest, I might even be tempted to make some aronia-elderberry wine.
-- "To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves." M. Gandhi