By Glenda Bartosh
We all know the uncle who delivers
the conversation stopper at the dining table when sliced tomatoes are served.
He looks the kids dead in the eyeballs and says, “Hey, Helen, what the heck are
ya doing serving fruit with the roast beef?” Amidst much giggling and
chortling, Uncle Buncle then goes on to insist that tomatoes are really a
fruit, not a vegetable, while all the kids are going, “Nah, no way!”
I kind of felt like one of those kids
again, pinned down by Uncle Buncle’s stare, when I researched strawberries for
last week’s column and found out that the achenes (pronounced ay-keens, accent
on the second syllable) — the tiny dark flecks most of us think of as the seeds
that dot the surface of the strawberry — are really the fruit.
An achene is a small, dry,
indehiscent one-seeded fruit with a thin wall. “Indehiscent” means it does not
open on its own at maturity (like some people’s minds I know — sorry), as in
the well-sealed, dark-coloured achene of a sunflower.
A fruit, by stripped-down definition,
is the ripened ovary of a plant. Depending on which dictionary you consult, it
must contain the seeds of the plant, it
include the seeds of the plant (but then how do we
classify zucchinis, or squash? Read on…), and it often includes the sweet
fleshy parts we normally associate with fruits. We have come by custom, not
necessarily fact, to call any juicy, sweet, fleshy bits associated with achenes
the fruit — including nuts and strawberries — and conveniently overlook the
complex botany of the matter.
But just to complicate things a
little more, strawberries, as well as blackberries and raspberries, are really
not berries at all; rather, they are brambles. Brambles are aggregate
composites of fruits, or a lot of little fruits bunched together. That’s right,
each one of those teeny juicy sacs — called “drupelets” (now there’s a good
name to insult someone with) — that make up a single raspberry is actually a
single fruit that is part of a larger structure called a “bramble”.
This term was much more familiar to
people from the Old World and those from a few generations back. “Don’t get
caught in the brambleberry bushes!” was a familiar warning to all and sundry
out picking wild berries. The term “brambleberry” is still used once in a
while, but mainly when referring to blackberries. Personally I always preferred
the made-up “beebleberry bushes”, which first came into my consciousness
reading a Little Lulu comic book. They continue to appear sporadically in other
invented worlds as a kind of trope for a silly, invented place, but don’t ask
me what they taste or look like.