A friend of mine — a guy I graduated high school with, and yes, I did say “guy” — sent me home the other evening with two generous slices of the blueberry pie he had baked from scratch that afternoon. One for me and one for my wife. But since she has to watch her sugar intake, I saved her from herself and ate them both.

What can I say? I have this thing for blueberries.

My wife and I, however, did share a slice of freshly baked blueberry pie the very next evening at Marianacci’s Restaurant in Wyoming. We heard a couple at a socially distanced table in the restaurant’s new coronavirus-inspired tent, ask their waitress, “Did I hear them say blueberry pie?” A slice was arriving at their table as we left. They gave us a thumbs up. Guess they have a thing for blueberries, too.

I sprinkled a handful of blueberries in my yogurt a few minutes ago, and did so yesterday morning as well.

The blueberries I’ve been eating at home are the Rainier brand from the state of Washington. They are plump and delicious. But what I really want, and what I always look for at the supermarket, are blueberries from Hammonton, New Jersey. Hammonton bills itself, and with good reason if you ask me, as “The Blueberry Capital of the World.”

Like many Pennsylvanians, I enjoy poking fun at New Jersey. I mean, don’t we all live in fear of missing the last exit on the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia and finding ourselves in Camden? Or being stopped dead in traffic on the Garden State Parkway?

Several years ago, Pennsylvania was looking for a new state slogan. I asked my college students to come up with some. One fella suggested: “Pennsylvania … It’s Not New Jersey.” I thought it had a nice ring to it.

Still, we must admit, and with a sense of envy, New Jersey has at least two things going for it: the seashore and Hammonton blueberries. The shore I’ve known about all my life, but the Hammonton berries I only discovered a few years ago. I’ve been singing their praises since. While buying blueberries at a farmers’ market at the shore last summer, I wanted to pay the young lady waiting on me a compliment, so I said, “I tell everyone, you can’t beat New Jersey blueberries. They’re the best.”

“I know,” she answered sadly. “But these aren’t bad either.”

It had momentarily forgotten I was in Delaware.

I’ve had a special relationship with blueberries since I was a kid and went picking them with my dad every summer. To him, though, they were huckleberries. He’d loop his belt through the handle of a water pail so he could pick the berries with both hands. He’d drill a couple of holes in a coffee can and make a handle with a piece of wire for me to do the same. We’d pick the wild berries in the woods along Suscon Road and be gone all day. We’d only stop for lunch, walking back to the car to empty our pails into larger containers and wolf down a baloney sandwich, a bottle of Coke (it didn’t come in cans when I was little), and a handful of the fresh berries.

Back at home, Mom would immediately bake a couple of pies and a few dozen muffins, and the next morning, I’d have blueberries on my Cheerios. A good portion would be “canned” for us to enjoy all winter.

A few years ago, I discovered a little tidbit about blueberries that tickled my fancy: blueberries are actually berries. Now, that may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s not. I confirmed the berry status of blueberries during an internet search after I had heard that something a little less obvious is also a berry: the eggplant.

I heard this preposterous claim about the eggplant on a cooking program my wife was watching, so I looked it up, and sure enough, scientists, at least the ones quoted on livescience.com, verified it. The eggplant is a berry.

According to the website, berries fall under the general category of fruits. “To botanists,” the site explains, “a berry is a fleshy fruit that has multiple seeds on the inside, embedded in the flesh of the ovary, such as a blueberry.”

Personally, I found the mention of plants’ ovaries a bit off putting. Regardless, based on this definition, the website lists blueberries, tomatoes, grapes, persimmons, chili peppers, and, yes, eggplants as berries.

Know what it does not list?


Yes, strawberries.

And blackberries.

And raspberries.

If not berries, then what are these things?

“They are aggregate fruits,” the website claims, “because they form little fruitlets from many ovaries (there’s that word again) that remain separate, rather than being fused into a single structure.”

So, it comes down to this. The eggplant, which has nothing to do with eggs, is a berry. And the strawberry, which has nothing to do with straw but does have berry in its name, is not.

I did find something on food.com that might explain the whole thing. The eggplant was once considered poisonous and called the “mala insane,” or “raging apple,” because it was “believed to cause insanity.”

I can sort of see why.

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