Of all the soft fruits that we have in our fruit cage, one stands out as exceptional: the Japanese wineberry. In common with a great many fruits that carry the word ‘berry’ in their common name, this is not actually a berry but an aggregate fruit consisting of many drupelets, like a common raspberry or blackberry. It is closely related to the raspberry, both species in the Rubus subgenus Idaeobatus.
The wineberry, Rubus phoenicolasius, is cultivated much like a summer fruiting raspberry. Each year, new canes are thrown up, which will fruit the following year. After fruiting, the old canes should be cut down and the new growth tied in. The wineberry is vigorous – more so than a typical raspberry – and can produce canes of several meters in length. In a fruit cage, these canes need to be trained sideways somewhat, so a length of fence or post and wire support of some eight feet or so is beneficial.
The canes are hairy and spiny and reddish in colour. Unlike raspberries, the fruit develops enclosed in a protective calyx, which opens as the fruit ripens. This might be beneficial for growing in places where the protection of a fruit cage is not available. Both the fruit and the drupelets are much smaller than a raspberry. Picking, though, is a bit more convenient as the fruits are borne in clusters. The fruits ripen over the course of several weeks, but appear to stand in good condition rather longer than the more usual raspberries. They do not seem to go so soft, nor suffer so much from moulds or rots, even after bad weather. Like other fruits that are enclosed by a calyx – such as tomatillos – the fruit is left a little sticky, not that this deters one from scoffing them straight from the bush.
The fruits are like jewels, the colour is a deep wine red and the flavour rich and sweet, with, to my taste, just the right amount of acidity. Raspberries are my favourite of the common soft fruits and particularly versatile, but the wineberry has a flavour that is quite special and if I could only grow one soft fruit it might well be the wineberry. They ripen at around the same time as the first of the autumn fruiting raspberries, when the main raspberry crop is finished. We freeze quite a lot of soft fruit for use during the winter but the wineberries are such a treat that we eat them all fresh. I dare say they would make an excellent jam or fruit tart if I could bring myself to cook them.