Friday, August 22, 2008

before pinot noir

Ask any American of a certain age and class what Oregon grape is, and you will get a sneer and a curt response: "Pinot noir, what else?" And possibly, with a slight disdain: "You certainly do not mean pinot gris, do you?"

No, I don't. I don't mean either. Before Oregon joined the snooty wine and cheese set, Oregon grape was a humble shrub that looked as if it was the love child of holly and barberry. A delightful yellow flower (the state flower, by the way) in the spring results in these fascinating berry clusters (pictured above) this time of year.

I wanted to share this picture -- merely for the color and shape of the berries and foiliage. But, I just discovered something new (to me) about the "grapes."

Not surprisingly, Oregon grape grows everywhere near my home. I now discover that birds love the berries. In all of my years of birding, I have never seen a bird eat an Oregon grape. On the other hand, until I moved into my current house -- that is under siege by English ivy -- I had never seen birds eat ivy berries. But birds love them -- especially starlings, if you can call them birds.

And one more little note of interest: people eat Oregon grapes -- mainly in jams and jellies. (Perhaps Jennifer Rose could post something about stuff that Oregon people like.) Often combined with salal berries. I would be interested to hear if anyone has tried Oregon grape jam. Sounds interesting. Apparently, the local Indians tribes found both berries to be a good food source.

It may not be Mexican archaeology, but food is always a good discussion topic.

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