Producer Spotlight: Superior Honeyberries
Mike Gratz planted his haskaps at Superior Honeyberries – many, many 800ft rows of them – 3 years ago. This year he and his summer students have begun their first real harvest. They’re expecting to collect about 800lbs of the tasty little berries this year, and three times as many in 2023.
Haskaps, also known as Honeyberries, are members of the honeysuckle family. There are many different varieties of them, which is important because they pollinate between cultivars, so you have to plant at least two compatible kinds of the pretty little shrubs in order to get fruit. Mike has 15 varieties in his orchard, with the earlier-bearing types now fruiting. But you’re probably more interested in the flavour than the science, so let’s talk about that.
Haskaps look a lot like blueberries – they’ve got that same dark skin and light powdery coating that makes them look sky-blue – but their shape ranges from grape-like to tubular. Some have flat ends, some have pointy ones. They’re about the size of the last joint of a woman’s pinkie finger, and they pick about the same as highbush blueberries, with ripe ones pattering to the ground as you tickle them off their stems.
Despite the sweet Honeyberry name, (we suspect it’s so named because the bees go nuts for the flowers in the springtime) haskap has a tart and complex flavour that varies from one cultivar to another, as does the shape. Some are sweeter than others, some taste more like saskatoons, some more like blueberries, others like rhubarb. Even the most tart ones are nice to eat by the handful, as the tartness expires quickly on your tongue, leaving behind a hard-to-define berry flavour that leads you to just as quickly put more in your mouth as you try to identify the familiar taste.
Haskap is higher in Vitamin C than oranges, and higher in anti-oxidants than blueberries. It’s very hardy for our climate – indeed, it produces fruit earlier than any of the other domestic berries we’ve found in our market – and grows really well in the clay soil of the Slate River Valley where Mike keeps his orchard.