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Here's why Oregonians are so proud of their blackberries

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Ask an Oregonian what summer tastes like, and they'll likely say blackberries. The Willamette Valley outside Portland ships out 90% of the frozen crop sold across the country. Deena Prichep reports from peak blackberry season.

DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: Blackberries here are the size of your thumb, just dripping with juice. You can grab handfuls off the side of a hiking trail or even a highway. And as 4-year-old cousins Zaha Qari-Stein and Lilah Werner demonstrate, you can also just grab them from the backyard.

ZAHA QARI-STEIN: I think I can get this one.

LILAH WERNER: We love blackberries because they're so tasty.

ZAHA: And sweet and kind of sour.

PRICHEP: Varieties like marionberry or Columbia Star fill pies and flavor local beer.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Welcome to Burgerville. What can I start with you today?

PRICHEP: They're even in the milkshakes at the Burgerville drive-through.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Our seasonal shake's a marionberry, and it comes with whipped cream and a marionberry garnish on it.

PRICHEP: Most people in the rest of the country haven't experienced the wonder of a fresh Oregon blackberry. I mean, they've had blackberries but not Oregon's trailing blackberries, which are too delicate to ship fresh.

BERNADINE STRIK: They have this balance of tart and sweet, and it just pops - the flavor just pops.

PRICHEP: Bernadine Strik was Oregon State University's berry specialist for over 35 years. She says a lot of this comes down to climate. The Willamette Valley has mild winters and usually temperate summers.

STRIK: And so that means that the plants grow well, but also the berries ripen more slowly. And that means that they develop prime flavor and aroma and color.

PRICHEP: They're sweet and tart, like a good glass of wine. Or as Strik sees it, that deep flavor of an Oregon wine is really the flavor of a blackberry.

STRIK: Good pinot noir that has ripened slowly in our weather here - same thing, warm days, cool nights - will be characterized as having that blackberry aroma and flavor. So it's the other way around, I'd argue.

PRICHEP: There is a downside to being so well-suited - namely, the thorny, invasive Himalaya blackberry, which takes over backyards.

STRIK: Himalaya blackberry was introduced into Oregon in the late 1800s through the wagon trains 'cause they thought it would grow well here. Boy, were they right.

PRICHEP: Although even those still make great jam. If you're not lucky enough to live in Oregon, you can find the berries canned or frozen. Bernadine Strik stresses that they are picked at peak ripeness, perfect for pie. And if you do live in Oregon, like cousins Zaha and Lilah, just head outside.

ZAHA: These blackberries are yummy.

LILAH: These blackberries are the best blackberries ever.

PRICHEP: For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep in Portland, Ore.

ZAHA: I need to reach another blackberry. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deena Prichep