Serviceberry and poppy seed cake

Serviceberry and poppy seed cake

There are times in life when I am painfully aware that I wasn’t born in this country. As a foreign-born person, one misses a whole lot of things that U.S.-born people take for granted.

Take this conversation I had with Bill, a good friend and a very talented percussionist who plays in my husband’s band. The musicians were over for dinner before last Sunday’s gig at the Turning Point in Piermont. Before long, the conversation drifted to food.

“Liz [Bill’s wife] planted all kinds of fruit trees in our backyard” he says proudly. They have a beautiful home in downtown Nyack. “We have cherries, apples and even service berries” he gloats.

“What on earth are service berries?!” I blurted out… feeling there was a good chance I’d just said something stupid.

Two days later, only minutes before yet another gig, this time at The Living Room in the East Village, he handed me a little plastic box wrapped with blue masking tape. Written on the tape were the words: “service berries”! If the box hadn’t been so tightly wrapped I would have dived right in!

Fortunately I didn’t and was able to exercise a bit more restraint the next morning. I did taste a couple and thought they were deliciously sweet, ever-so-slightly tart… and immediately thought I should bake a cake with them.

Here’s a little more info: Amelanchier, a native plant of North America, are found in all the states except Hawaii. There are 20 species of this lovely small tree, also know as Serviceberries, Juneberry, Shagbush, Sarvisberry, shadblow and Saskatoon (I like the sound of this one!) The berries usually become ripe in June and they are a favorite of birds… I’ll have to add myself to that list.


Serviceberry and poppy seed cake

makes 1 loaf
active time: 30 min

  1. 2 cups serviceberries (or blueberries)
  2. 2 tablespoons Cassis liqueur
  3. 3/4 cup organic sugar
  4. 2 cups organic unbleached all-purpose flour
  5. 2 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
  6. 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  7. 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  8. 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (4 oz) (115 g) – at room temperature
  9. 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (use a microplane grater)
  10. 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  11. 3 extra large eggs – at room temperature
  1. 1/3 cup sliced almonds
  2. 1 – 9″ x 5″ x 3″ non-stick loaf pan – buttered, lined with wax paper and buttered again

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180ºC).
  2. Step 1: Place the berries, liqueur and 1/4 cup of sugar in a medium bowl. Stir well and set aside.
  3. Step 2: Place the flour, 1/4 cup of sugar, baking powder, poppy seeds and salt in a medium bowl. Stir well and set aside.
  4. Step 3: Place the soft butter, balance of sugar (1/4 cup), lemon zest and lemon juice in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat at slow speed until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat at medium speed until well incorporated and smooth. Add the flour mixture and gently fold in with a wooden spoon until barely incorporated. Add the berry mixture and fold until just moistened.
  5. Step 4: Spoon the batter into the prepared mold. Garnish with the almond slices. Bake for 65 to 70 minutes until golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before un-molding. Loosen the cake by gently pulling up on the wax paper and then lift it from pan. Cool on racks until warm or room temperature, then peel off the wax paper. Serve on its own or with a little crème fraîche.
  6. Cook’s note: The cake will keep for 2 to 3 days in a cool place, but is better the day it’s made.

Serviceberry and poppy seed cake

dessert, cake, serviceberries


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  2. Catherine Brix

    Superb! Absolutely divine cake recipe for my juneberries! Love, love, love the flavor combination of lemon and juneberries.

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  4. And also how well would this cake keep if I froze it after making it? I have a class presentation to do and I’m trying to find the best ways to show my class how delicious serviceberries are and how underutilized they are. But the presentation isn’t until over a month after they are in season. So I need to do something with them and preserve them until then.

    • Viviane Bauquet Farre

      Theya, I will admit that I am not a big fan of freezing food, except for the occasional sauce or leftover soup. So I have never tried freezing this cake. I wish I could be more help!

  5. I was wondering if you think it would be fine to use serviceberries that have been frozen?

    • Viviane Bauquet Farre

      Hello Teya! Yes, you can definitely use frozen serviceberries for this recipe. Good luck with your baking!

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  9. I’ve enjoyed watching the birds devour the fruit from our serviceberry tree for almost 20 years but never harvested them for the family… until I found your cake recipe. Outstanding! Our season is pretty much over, but you’d better believe the birds will have some serious competition for those berries next year!

    • Hi Kathie! I am so happy you love this cake – Just made my day! Since the berries are very similar to blueberries, you can use your berries in any dessert that calls for blueberries or make jam with them. I’m glad you’ll be giving the birds some competition… They need to learn to share! 🙂

  10. Yum! I Googled “baking with serviceberries”, because we have a serviceberry tree in the back yard and more fruit than we know what to do with. This was one of the first results, so I tried it this morning. It was delicious! I did have to substitute orange Grand Marnier because we didn’t have any kind of berry liqueur, and I used crushed almonds since we had no sliced. I’m sure it would be delicious either way. Thanks!

    • Raichu, thank you so much for your note. I am so glad you enjoyed this cake! I think I need to work on more recipe for serviceberries… the season is upon us!

  11. I haven’t heard of serviceberries before. I need to look them up. the cake looks fabulous though.

  12. Martha Theis

    I have always picked and used Serviceberries, as a matter of fact, we picked some today.
    We are in WY. and the berries do not ripen here until August, but this year, there is a wonderful crop. I will make Jam, I love this jam!

  13. Monique Léger

    Ottawa, Canada’s capital has been planting the service berry bush ( also known as saskatoon berry) for the past twenty years all over the city. deemed a beautiful tree for people, a nourishing tree for animals and a no fuss tree for the city guys. Check out where we harvest the fruit from city trees for the Food Bank. Just about to make your cake! merci for the recipe.

    • Dear Monique, thank you so much for your wonderful comment… I’d say Ottawa’s city planners are very wise! I hope you enjoyed the cake… I’ve been eating my service berries with Greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey all week. So delicious!

  14. Harlan Pruden

    Viviane, thank you for acknowledging one the Indigenous foods/berries of this land and great job on the amazing research, specifically with the use of Saskatoon! As a First-Nation Cree growing up on my mother’s reservation, Beaver Lake Reservations, located in northeast Alberta, Canada, one of things we looked forward to each year was when Saskatoon were ready for picking and eating! Sadly all to often, many non-Native people (and their descendants) not only colonized the Indigenous Peoples of this land, but also the many contributions our people have to the today’s food stores. Take for example the following items: Corn, Popcorn, Wild rice, Bean (14 varieties), Squash, Pumpkins, Cranberries, Maple sugar and syrup, Potatoes (white and sweet), Turkeys, Clam bakes, Pemmican, Jerky, Tomatoes, Pineapples, Avocado, Tapioca (Manioc), Chocolate (Cacao), Peanuts, Vanilla, Wild rice…. 60% of the present world’s food supply comes from Native American agriculture, primarily consisting of corn and the so-called “Irish” potatoes. Another good example of this coloniziation is “Dutch” chocolate, which is as ‘Dutch’ and I am….LOL!!! Since 1994, I have lived in NY and have found so many Saskatoon bushes here in the NYC….. right now (June 17, 2013) my partner and I are busily making our rounds and picking as many Saskatoons as we can!! This year, we will use some to try your recipe! Once again, thank you! -Harlan Pruden

    • Dear Harian, Thank you so much for your wonderful and informative comment. It is really great that you’re so aware of the richness that abounds in nature (even here in NYC!) and the treasures the Native American culture contributed to the world. Here’s wishing you an abundant and happy Saskatoon picking… And I hope you enjoy the cake! Warmest wishes…

  15. Letha Boust

    We have a Serviceberry tree out by our pond, so I got a bottle of the Cassis liqueur and made this cake following the recipe exactly. I used fresh grated lemon and juice instead of dried and bottled which I usuallly do and it really adds to the flavor to enhance the poppyseed. This is a very nice recipe and one could interchange the fruit. I imagine this would be excellent with raspberries or blackberries, even strawberries, oh, any fruit, really. We ran out of Serviceberries but had gooseberries, so I just make this using them instead. It’s delicious with Gooseberries as well so I may use this recipe for gooseberries from now on istead of making a pie. Somehow, eating a slice of a loaf-like cake seems less sinful than eating a slice of pie.

  16. Oh, please do not feel bad! I have NEVER heard of service berries either! Although I was born here, I relate a lot to my international friends. We had very little money growing up, so it was like I lived in a completely different culture. When I went to college, there were all sorts of things I didn’t know, songs I had never heard, tv shows I had never seen. And even now, I find that I often have a different frame of reference than my friends!

  17. I wasn’t familiar with service berries either! They look delicious in your cake though. Interesting that they’re found in every state except Hawaii. I’ll have to start asking around about them!

  18. Never heard of these berries. Thanks for introducing me to a new fruit and this cake looks yuuuummy!

  19. Vivian,

    Love your recipe. I don’t have the service berries and never heard about it until now. Our family love blue berries and poppy seed. What a great combination.

    • Hi Lily! It is so nice to read you here! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment… 🙂

      You’ll have to wait until next spring for the service berries, but you can certainly make that cake with blueberries any time of the year. It’ll work well with either fresh or frozen ones.

      I think I’m going to plant a service berry tree in the backyard next spring… They were that good!

  20. D. Rathjen

    I am having a bumper crop of serviceberries this summer in Ann Arbor. My son and I are beating the birds to get to the berries before they are all gone. We will be trying a “blueberry-lavender” sorbet recipe with the obvious substitution and will be baking a double-crust serviceberry pie for our 4th of July celebration this weekend…
    I was picking the berries (and eating them) right after harvesting some mint… good combo (may make that a “serviceberry-mint” sorbet, instead!).
    Our tree has the added bonus of turning a gorgeous scarlet pink in the Autumn also!

  21. These are so beautiful! Thanks for the recipe. I’ll have to see if I can find a serviceberry plant ASAP! Have never seen these in the store, but I’d love to try to grow them.

  22. Michelle Dorn

    Yesterday I made a serviceberry-blueberry pie. I’m glad I found this recipe today. Back to picking. Can’t wait to try it. Not many serviceberry recipes out there.

    • Michelle, Thank you for your comment! I’m so in love with these yummy Serviceberries that I’m going to plant a tree in my yard… Maybe by next year I’ll have a good harvest and create many more recipes with them! Hope the recipe turns out well for you…

  23. Yeah, I’ve never heard of service berries before either! I guess they’re not very popular in California….

  24. WOW this is the first time I’m hearing of this type of berry. Very, very interesting.

  25. Well I understand all about being eternally a little out of the loop. The food I’ve done a pretty good job catching up on, but French cultural icons, TV programs, movie stars, etc. – I’m always having to go look up on the sly. Gotta say though that service berries I know not of, despite growing up in California. I think they must actually be a bit exotic. Cake looks beautiful.

  26. Liz Prince

    What a BRILLIANT recipe Vivian has come up with for these berries!!!!
    So delicious!!!
    We’ve had this bush for years and never really been able to do enough things with the crazy amount of berries we get from it.
    We got the bush at Matterhorn Nursery to give to my father for his birthday. They recommended it because in the Spring it is covered with beautiful white blossoms and then in the Fall its the little leaves turn a brilliant red AND it gives you berries in June – huge amounts of berries might I add!
    Unfortunately I didn’t read the small print concerning how big the 5′ bush would grow to be- 20′ as it turns out! so my father asked that we return it as he had just moved into a townhouse in Portland Maine and it would be too big for the yard.
    We planted it here in Nyack and it has thrived for the last 6 years and really did grow to be 20′ high (right under where a Black Walnut used to grow in my neighbor’s yard so it is very hardy).
    I can’t wait to try this recipe for myself.
    Thank you Vivian for yet another delicious gold mine!

    • Liz!
      Thank you so much for the background history – Bill hadn’t given me so many details. And thank you for the delish berries… I must say I want to plant a tree myself! I’ll be off to Matterhorn this week… Hope you enjoy making the cake.

  27. I’m trying it today! Looks great! Hope I can find service berries..?! Never heard of them.

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