Error message

Image resize threshold of 10 remote images has been reached. Please use fewer remote images.

The Strange, Twisted Story Behind Seattle's Blackberries

The Strange, Twisted Story Behind Seattle's Blackberries

In Seattle, blackberries are as much a part of the view as the Puget Sound — the twisting brambles so ubiquitous, they're as likely to vex gardeners as delight them.

The tale behind the city's blackberries turns out to be equally tangled. It starts at the end of the 19th century, at a time when American life was changing dramatically.

People were moving from rural areas to towns and cities, including Seattle. Industrialization was creating a new middle class.

Down the coast in Santa Rosa, Calif., an eccentric guy named Luther Burbank was hard at work on his experimental farm. Burbank didn't have any formal training, but he was working feverishly to breed strange and wonderful new kinds of plants.

This story comes to us from KUOW's Local Wonder, a story project that gives listeners the opportunity to decide what stories should be covered.

"He realizes the growing middle class is going to want to have fresh fruits and vegetables," says Phillip Thurtle, who teaches in the University of Washington's Comparative History of Ideas program. "They're not going to want to eat canned beans. They're going to want to eat fresh beans all the time. But in order to do that, they're going to have to be able to be shipped."

Thurtle says Burbank set out to create new varieties of fruits and vegetables that would be delicious and prolific — and that could withstand the voyage on the nation's new transcontinental railroad.

Burbank sold his hundreds of plant creations through catalogs with pictures of shiny fruit and shinier superlatives.