The Unique Berry That Makes Up Oregon's Official State Pie

The U.S. loves pie. According to the Smithsonian, the pastry has a long, strong history in America. Even lately, nearly 200 million pies were bought from U.S. grocers annually. There's nothing more American than apple pie, of course, but individual states have their own favorites. These official state pies include key lime for Florida, pecan for Texas, and pumpkin for Illinois (per State Symbols USA). In Vermont, its state pie is apple, but it is legally supposed to be served alongside cheddar cheese, cold milk, or vanilla ice cream. Indiana has an "unofficial state pie" that's legally recognized: Hoosier Pie, also known as sugar cream pie (via Visit Indiana).

It should come as little surprise that Oregon's official state pie is berry-based. The Beaver State, per Oregon Berries, has an ideal environment to cultivate berries. Its coastal air is fresh — cold at night and hot during the day — while the ground is rich and the water is clean. As such, the crop has plenty of time to achieve peak sweetness. In fact, Oregon is the top producer of black raspberries and frozen blackberries, and it's among a handful of states that grow the most boysenberries and frozen red raspberries. So, which berry is Oregon's official state pie made with? That would be none other than Marionberry.

Look and taste

Per Oregon Berries, the official state pie of the Beaver State is Marionberry Pie. This crop is a purple-black fruit that's long, conical, and decently sized. They're safe to eat raw and provide a good deal of calcium, fiber, and vitamins. They also deliver an earthy sweet-tart taste that goes nicely with bold, savory flavors. Per Eater, the berries are super juicy, too. Some people refer to these fruits as the "cabernet of blackberries," as reported by The Oregonian.

Marionberries grow from high, prickly canes, and the fruit is harvested during the summertime. Willamette Week states that the berries of such trailing plants are often so big they can easily be mistaken for grape clusters. The canes themselves can grow as long as 20 feet, and they produce at a rate of six tons per acre each season. For all of those berries Oregon grows, Serious Eats states that Marionberries account for 25% of the total amount.

Region and history

This unique variety originally hails from Marion County, Oregon. According to Willamette Week, it was there that the strain was created by Oregon State University. After a long process of combining elements from Chehalem and Olallie blackberries, researchers were able to grow Marionberries. These berries were officially unveiled in 1956. As recently as a handful of years ago, nearly all of the Marionberries across the globe were cultivated in Marion County. Apparently, per Eater, the state's volcanic soil is partly responsible for this success story.

Yet the pastry didn't become the state pie until 2017, more than 60 years after the berry's debut (via Oregon Berries). As reported by The Oregonian, a resolution to designate Marionberry as the official state berry was put forth in 2009. Becoming a cultural symbol is a big deal, however. Thus the idea was scrapped when cultivators of another blackberry variety, the Kotata, raised concerns about the unfair publicity it would give to their crop's competition, the Marionberry. Still, the Marionberry could not be stopped. Just eight years later, a new resolution was introduced to make it the state pie. This time, Kotataberries couldn't stop Marionberries, and their pastry was made official.

Marionberry recipes

Marionberries can be used in many different recipes. Oregon Berries suggests pairing them with meat and cheese. They also have a Marionberry cheesecake ice cream sandwich recipe. That same source also features Marionberry date bars as a possibility. Meanwhile, Willamette Week mentions cobblers, ice cream, and tarts, but they also point out that simply putting whipped cream atop Marionberries helps accentuate their taste. Eater notes that jams, marinades, and vodkas can be found across the state in novelty stores for tourists, even after the traditional Marionberry season ends. We recommend making Marionberry pie shakes with crumbled crust. Of course, you can always go the classic route by following a Marionberry pie recipe (via 1859 Oregon Magazine).

Marionberries are truly versatile. Still, if you find yourself out of Marionberries, they are a sort of blackberry. So, as noted by Summery Rule, you can easily replace them with standard blackberry varieties (or vice versa), including the frozen type. Given how distinctive this variety is, though, it may be worth it to track down some true Oregon Marionberries.