Our resident fruit expert answers a reader’s question on the apparent disappearance of a heritage berry variety which goes by many names.
Q.When are winberries in season and why do we not hear alot about them anymore?
(Mrs Carolyn Briggs-Conway, 6 October 2020)
A.The first part of your question is a lot easier to answer than the second – if you’re looking to harvest some wild winberries or wimberries as they are also known, then I’m afraid you’ve almost certainly missed your chance. In most years, they can be collected from July to September. Depending on the weather and whereabouts you are in the country that can stretch a bit in either direction.
Local Names and Variations of Winberry / Wimberry
As to why we don’t hear much about winberries anymore – the answer is probably because they also have a number of other names, which seem to have become more commonly used.
Winberries / Wimberries – sometimes also written as whinberries, whimberries or whynberries are also known as:-
- Huckleberries (as in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn).
Originally largely regional names, people obviously kept the name for these delicious berries that they were used to when they moved. There is now considerable confusion as a result. A lot of people firmly convinced that they are all different fruits!
Throw in the influence of other countries ‘folk’ names for Winberries – especially Finland and Scandinavia where they have been historically used – and things get even more complicated. For example, the likes of ‘blåbær’ being normally translated as ‘blueberry’.
In the UK, Winberries are now largely only available through wild foraging. If you want to try out these traditional berries and see how the differ from modern favourites such as blueberries, here’s a few facts to help!
You can collect the berries from July to September.
Winberries are usually found growing on low bushes on scrubby moorland. They can be difficult to find, but once you find a patch to forage you can return year after year.
Winberries are much more acidic than Blueberries. They can be eaten without cooking, but are far more palatable when used to bake tarts or as an accompanyment to meat dishes.
A Little Bit of Winberry Botany
Along with the likes of cranberries, blueberries and lingonberries, winberries / wimberries belong to the botanical genus Vaccinium. This is part of the Heath or Ericaceous family of plants (Ericaceae).
The group contains around 450 species, most of which live in the cooler and more westerly parts of the northern hemisphere. However, a few are found south of the equator. Just to complete the picture of horticultural confusion, many of these species can hybridise – and then goodness only knows what you’d call them!
Changing Demand in Berry Consumption
Until fairly recently, there were plenty of recipes for winberries, particularly amongst country-folk, but with the growth of supermarkets and imported ‘proper’ fruit, like many of the old staples, the blaeberry seems to have fallen out of favour – at least until now.
Society has become more concerned about organic and environmental issues. Therefore things like food miles and how our food is produced has started to bring many of the old favourites back in fashion. So we may not have heard the last of this hedgerow favourite.
We may not all start cooking the rabbit, grouse, venison or pigeon for which winberries once formed the traditional accompaniment. However these wild berries may yet become more popular once again and then you’ll hear more about them!