Fruit Forum

The Glorious Tayberry

Photo - see caption

Ian Harrison writes in praise of the Tayberry, which takes its name from the River Tay in Scotland. It was raised at the Scottish Crop Research Institute near Dundee by the well known soft fruit breeder, Derek Jennings, who recounted its origins in a recent article on Fruit Forum.

The Tayberry is in season; give thanks to nature and its ‘creator’. But how? With a small glass of Tayberry liqueur!

The Tayberry season begins here on the Sussex coast in the second half of June and lasts for about five weeks. In most years it is a week or so earlier than the Loganberry. But this year both began very early - by mid-June. 

If you find the taste of the Loganberry a little on the ‘dry’ side the Tayberry is for you. If on the sweetness scale you find the Mulberry too sweet, the Tayberry is also for you registering as it does somewhere between both fruits. Its taste, the balance between its component parts changes slightly from the beginning to the end of the season as the days shorten and the fruits take slightly longer to ripen. Those fruits which ripen earliest have a distinct sherbet fizz picked and eaten off the briar. By the end of their season this gives way to a distinct wine flavour. Throughout its season the Tayberry has all the depth and richness of the Loganberry and a complexity the finest blackberry cannot match. Unlike strawberries the quality of the Tayberry fruit does not change from year to year.

A great all rounder, the Tayberry makes for a high quality fresh fruit. Cooked, another dimension of aroma and taste is released, so it is excellent for jam, muffins, sponges as well as ice-cream and frozen with yoghurt. It also makes a rich liqueur. The fresh fruit can be frozen but loses sugar in the process. To eat at their best after freezing, thaw overnight in a tupperware container in the fridge. This will preserve some of the fruit’s texture even a year after freezing. A little of your favourite honey will compensate for the loss of sweetness.

I began growing Tayberry before the thornless sport was discovered. I think the thornless sport, Buckingham, exhibits some loss of the briar’s natural vigour and is more brittle to handle and manipulate. I think too some loss of crop is involved. So I continue with the original thorny briar. In passing, I note that Stephan Buczacki has identified this phenomenon, that the selection for thornless characteristics in rose related briars leads to a loss of vigour.

It may though suit those working in smaller spaces to grow the ‘Buckingham’ sport. It is not however a ‘patio’ fruit and needs a free root run. I have Tayberry briars that are eight and ten years old. In spring they throw out between five and seven briars which can grow to thirteen feet in length by the end of the growing season, November to December. However last winter the briars still had green leaves on Christmas Day. All the more astonishing that they cropped so early in June.

The Tayberry briars are much less inclined to suffer at the tips due to old winter winds. This is a big advantage over the Loganberry, especially along the coast.  After the initial spurt of growth a secondary growth of briars is thrown up delayed by a few weeks. These are always less vigorous and reach about eight to ten feet in length.

It is essential - there are no ways around this - to have a strong post and wire framework in place before you plant a young Tayberry. Training briars vertically and horizontally is necessary work. They cannot be bundled together along a single wire or support. It takes approximately three years for the plant you buy, or tip root yourself, to reach maximum vigour.

A Tayberry responds well to generous feeding and mulching with compost, all year round. Feed with potash after fruiting, as well as before, to strengthen the new growth the briars make in autumn ahead of the cold winter and spring winds. A caution: after a few years they will produce suckers from the shallowest roots at some distance from the position of planting. The Tayberry is nothing as a plant if not a distance rambler.

Watch out for early spring droughts and water or you risk losing crop and smaller fruits!

Tayberry Liqueur
The French chef Auguste Escoffier brought to a wider public, an old country method of making liqueurs in a day which I have adopted and used for many years. Most modern recipes for liqueurs I have seen commend to the reader the purchase of the cheapest brandy bought in supermarkets for the purpose. I wholly disagree with the practise. Next time your neighbours are driving through France, ask them to call in at Gers in the Armagnac region and buy a decent bottle of Armagnac. The Tayberry deserves nothing less!     

Ingredients: Tayberries freshly picked in the morning 2.25 lbs; white sugar 1lb; Armagnac 1.75 pints. Optional: extra pinch of vanilla, few coriander seeds.
Method: Rinse fruit under cold tap, stand to drain. Take care at every stage not to bruise the fruit. Make a syrup by dissolving sugar in sufficient water, bring to the boil, add optional vanilla, coriander seeds at this stage. Stand to cool.
Place fruits in a vessel, pour over the syrup when cooled. Cover with a clean cloth and leave to stand for four hours in a cool place.
Then gently pour fruit syrup into a jelly bag hung over a suitable container. Leave to drip slowly overnight.
Do not stir or squeeze fruit. Your aim is a clear liquid.
When the liquid has finished draining remove to another surface and stir in the Armagnac.
The liqueur is now ready for bottling and drinking.

Pour a tablespoon into a small liqueur glass and drink a toast to the Tayberry.

Ian Harrision