We first met Sophie Sidaway when she visited my family’s kitchen garden ‘The Walled Gardens at Croome Court‘ as part of her dissertation whilst she was studying for a course at Pershore College. Although I remembered her visit, I hadn’t appreciated that it was the same Sophie who had also started growing a crop of trees that most of us are unlikely to know much about, unless you happen to be a gardener or have visited Canada where they are widely grown. As a non-gardener I had very little knowledge about Juneberries, but as a foodie I was very aware of the gin liqueur that Sophie produces from the fruit on her trees. I was keen not only to try the Pershore Juneberry gin liqueur, but also to have a good chat to Sophie and find out a little more about why she started to grow the trees in the UK. Sophie invited me over to one of her sites and gave me a tour, and I couldn’t wait to taste the berries.
Rows of trees basked in the sunshine in the scorching heat. After spending hours watering flowers and vegetables back in the walled gardens, I was curious as to how Sophie was able to keep her crop alive in these temperatures – did I mention I am not a gardener? Apparently Juneberries are quite happy with the warmer weather, and is probably one of the reasons you’re more likely to see them in hotter climates. Sophie tells me that the super-berries have super powers as they are rich in antioxidants, even more so than in blueberries, which they happen to resemble in appearance. The 300 trees on the smaller site have been residing for 5 years, since Sophie bought them over from Canada when they were 3 years old. She now also has a much larger site locally with another 3500 trees to allow her to produce more of her unique gin liqueur. I loved that she is the only person growing them commercially in the UK, and the fact the fruit is grown in the Pershore area makes them very special.
As we talked, Sophie began picking Juneberries and collecting them in a punnet for me to take home and enjoy later. I tried to help her, but managed to drop a few. As it had been explained that all picking has been done by hand up until very recently, I thought it was best to leave it to the expert before losing any more. Thankfully and with the help of some recent funding from a LEADER grant delivered by Worcestershire County Council, Sophie has been able to acquire a harvester which will have an enormous impact on her business going forward.
I tasted the berries and they were incredibly delicious and quenched my thirst which was needed. The Juneberries in many ways were similar to blueberries, but at the same time notably different with their distinct nutty tone. I had visions of cooling down later and enjoying them with a cold glass of Prosecco topped up with the gin liqueur, but then remembered I still had work to do. Since cooling my punnet of berries in the fridge, I plan to share them with my family this weekend and maybe even treat ourselves to some of the gin liqueur, which I’m told resembles cherry Bakewell – yum!
There’s loads more information about the Juneberry here if you’d like to find out even more about what makes them so special. At the moment the liqueur is mostly sold at farmer markets, food festivals, delis and food shops. Luckily for me they sell it in our local Pershore deli, and for anyone who isn’t local you can buy your bottle on Amazon. Have you tried Pershore’s Juneberry gin liqueur yet? Let me know in the comments below what you think. PPx