Olympic berries were the best, but they’re hard to find now

Developed in the 1920s on Vashon Island, this hybrid was called the best berry in the Northwest.

HERE IN THE Northwest, we love our strawberries, our raspberries, even our tangling invasive blackberry vines.

What we’ve all but forgotten, though, is when the Olympic berry ruled the harvest.

The berry, developed in the 1920s and patented in 1937, inspired a flavor of sherbet and a shade of paint. Frederick & Nelson — the department store that was once similarly illustrious — would buy the entire crop from the Vashon Island farm where the berry was developed. Fresh, whole Olympic berries filled what was described as a “queen’s tart” in 1937 at the Frederick & Nelson bakery, laid on a base of rich cake batter and topped with meringue.

By 1939, tracts of land for new ranchette homes were advertised for sale with bonus Olympic plants, “without question the most aristocratic of all the juice-bearing berries.” The Seattle Times called it, “the most outstanding berry of the Northwest.”

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The berry’s story began, as so many Seattle stories do, at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Vashon and Bainbridge islands were known for agriculture in the years before World War II, and Sweden-born Peter Erickson, a Vashon farmer, visited the show to exhibit his blue-ribbon fruits.

Erickson “was always eager to try out new things, and was generous about helping others with their horticultural problems,” recalls his grandson, Hallack “Hal” Greider, now 85. At the World’s Fair, Erickson befriended famed horticulturist Luther Burbank, whose inventions included the crimson Phenomenal berry, a blackberry-raspberry cross similar to a loganberry. With Burbank’s permission, Erickson crossed the Phenomenal with the complex wild blackcap raspberries he remembered from his youth. Working with his son-in-law, also named Hallack Greider, they perfected and marketed the…

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