Eat the Northwest

Get to Know Oregon’s Namesake Summer Fruits

From Bing cherries to Hood strawberries, in Oregon it’s easy to plan summer eats around the local harvest.

By Katherine Chew Hamilton May 24, 2023

The Bing cherry was developed at a Milwaukie orchard where Waverley Country Club now sits.

What can claim the crown of Oregon’s OG designer fruit? Look no further than the white blossoms that pop up every spring. Although they’re grown all over the West Coast today, Bing cherries were first developed in Milwaukie in 1875, a collaboration between horticulturist Seth Lewelling and Chinese American
orchard foreman Ah Bing. The latter returned to China to visit his family in 1889 and never returned to Oregon, likely due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, but his legacy lives on in the juicy, dark-red fruit. Today, Bing cherries are the most popular variety of sweet cherry in the United States. They grow particularly well in Wasco County—look for them between June and August.

Around July, thoughts turn to watermelon. Some might call it summer’s quintessential fruit. But watermelons from Hermiston, the hot, dry Oregon farming town in the eastern Columbia River Gorge, often aren’t available until mid-July, hitting their sweetest peak in August and September. It’s worth the wait—watermelons from Hermiston are often considered the best in the country. The area’s big fluctuations between hot days and cool nighttime temperatures make the melons supersweet. While a Hermiston melon simply refers to where it’s grown rather than a specific variety, there’s obviously something special about this place.

While wild blackberries thrive beside Oregon freeways and conquer entire backyards, the marionberry, a cultivated variety, is a very different beast. Bred at Oregon State University in 1945 and released in 1956, the berry named for Marion County is a cross between Chehalem and Olallie berries, themselves blackberry crosses bred at OSU. What makes marionberries a dream fruit? They balance sweetness and acidity, with seeds so small they’re barely noticeable and a larger-than-average oblong shape. But because marionberries are so delicate, they’re an ingredient that’s purely Oregonian—about 28 to 33 million pounds are grown in the state, and most of those are consumed right here, whether fresh or in pies, jams, Tillamook ice cream, even Rogue’s marionberry sour beer and Wild Roots’ marionberry vodka. Grab them fresh in July and August. No Oregon summer is complete without them.

But if there were a Hollywood Walk of Fame for Oregon’s most famous fruits, Hood strawberries would be front and center. They’re actually the newcomers to the seasonal produce party, released in 1965 as another breeding project of OSU. They’re the Kleenex, the Band-Aid, the Gucci of strawberries; Oregonians know to ask for Hood strawberries by name. They’re lusciously sweet, but their season lasts just a few weeks around June. Plus, their shelf life as fresh fruit goes by in a flash, sometimes wilting by the time you get home from the U-pick farm. Get them while you can, but don’t shy away from lesser-known Oregon-bred varieties like Tillamook strawberries, released in 1970, or a 2018 addition to the local lineup, Mary’s Peak.

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