Friday, December 14, 2012

Berries & Nuts


I happened to pass by a billboard on my street the other day that said "Can you name seven berries?" I think it was an advertisement for a local health food store or something, and it got me to thinking. Right off the top of my head I figured (like most people probably would) a good answer would be: "strawberry", "raspberry", "blackberry", "cherry", "blueberry", "cranberry", and "lingonberry" (the last one was a stretch and I only remembered it as it's a good topping for Swedish pancakes ~ see 'blog-entry from December 8th, 2012). I was pretty pleased with myself for coming up with a list of at least seven berries. However, if you had guessed the first four like I did, you'd be berry, berry wrong. Well, at least botanically, Halle.

Technically, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and  cherries are not really "berries". They are grouped into that category for culinary purposes, but they really aren't botanical "berries". A strawberry is actually considered an "accessory fruit" (the aggregate of seed-like achenes is actually the "fruit", derived from an aggregate of ovaries, and the fleshy part develops from the receptacle). Raspberries and blackberries (as well as their hybrids and cultivars Loganberries, Olallieberries, Marionberries, etc.) botanically are "aggregate fruits" (containing seeds from different ovaries of a single flower). Cherries are "drupes" (the fleshy fruit produced from a single-seeded ovary with a hard stony layer ~ called the endocarp ~ surrounding the seed); also in the drupe family are plums, peaches, and apricots.

Now here is the real fun part, actual botanical berries (a "berry" being a simple fruit having seeds and pulp produced from a single ovary; the ovary can be inferior or superior) ~ of which blueberry, cranberry, and lingonberry were my only correct answers ~ include: avocado, banana, currant, eggplant, elderberry, gooseberry, grape, persimmon, pumpkin, tomato (as well as all forms of peppers: bell, chilli, etc.), and even watermelon.

This all got me to thinking about "nuts", too. They are as confusing botanically as the stupid berries are. Think you can name five nuts correctly and botanically? You'd probably lose the bet. Ferinstance: "almonds", "cashews", "peanuts", "pecans", "pistachios", and "walnuts" are all not nuts technically. A nut is "a dry fruit consisting of an edible kernel or meat enclosed in a woody or leathery shell". Almonds,
pecans, and walnuts are the edible seeds of drupe fruits; additionally, Duane, the almond "nut" comes from the genus of trees which include plums (not a "berry"), cherries (not a "berry"), peaches (not a "berry"), and apricots (also not a "berry"). Cashews are seeds. Peanuts are seeds and legumes. And pistachios are the seeds of a thin-shelled drupe.

Sorry to say, but the only botanically true "nuts" that you probably eat around Thanksgiving time are chestnuts and hazel (or filbert) nuts. However, other botanical nuts do include: hickory, beech, and acorn.

So, even if it might seem like "life is a bowl of cherries", I would have to say that you are nuts (or possibly the seeds of drupes) to even think it's actually a bowl of berries, too. Just remember, even the monkey was fooled in that old nursery rhyme while chasing the weasel 'round and 'round that stupid "multiple fruit" bush, Pop.

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