Wednesday, April 9, 2008

sarvis time

Granddad Homer Bales grew up on the Roaring Fork side of Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains. Some might have called him a hillbilly, but I prefer mountaineer. Because as we know from West Virginia’s state motto, “Montani semper liberi." Granddad did not know Latin but he certainly knew the meaning: “Mountaineers are always free.”

In early spring granddad spoke of “sarvis” berries. It’s one of the earliest blooming native trees in the Southern Appalachians. Today, we call it serviceberry.

The old folk name has an interesting pedigree. It shows that the mountain dialect was rooted in Old English. Tree chronicler Donald Culross Peattie writes that sarvis is a good Shakespearean English form of the word “sorbus,” a Roman name for the fruit of a similar looking European tree.

The spindly serviceberry behind the Visitor Center at Ijams is now in bloom. In June, the fruits will be sweet and ripe and would make a wonderful pie, that is if I don't eat them before I get to the kitchen.

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