Wild Fruit Won­der

WHAT TYPES GROW IN YOUR AREA?

Modern Pioneer - - Contents - By Michael Pend­ley

What types grow in your area?

No mat­ter your lo­ca­tion in North Amer­ica, there’s likely a tasty wild fruit avail­able for pick­ing some­time dur­ing the year. While Na­tive Amer­i­cans and early pi­o­neers ac­tively picked and ate wild fruit, few peo­ple bother to seek out and pick them to­day. That’s a shame be­cause many wild fruits have a fla­vor un­like any­thing avail­able in gro­cery stores or farmer’s mar­kets.

You can de­ter­mine the fruits avail­able where you live by study­ing guide­books, or you can seek an ex­pert’s ad­vice. Great sources for in­for­ma­tion in­clude state fish and wildlife bi­ol­o­gists, agri­cul­ture co­op­er­a­tive ex­ten­sion pro­grams from state uni­ver­si­ties and lo­cal his­tor­i­cal and home­steading groups. If these don’t yield a men­tor, chances are good they’ll at least point you to­ward one.

As with any wild food, make sure that you’re cer­tain of what you’re har­vest­ing. De­pend­ing on lo­ca­tion, there can be some nasty looka­likes. While most will cause only stom­ach dis­tress, some pose se­ri­ous harm. If an ex­pe­ri­enced lo­cal for­ager isn’t avail­able, cross check your find with at least two re­li­able guide­books be­fore you pro­ceed.

Fruits and Uses

Once you lo­cate and pick wild fruit, what can you do with it? The most ob­vi­ous is to en­joy it as you pick. Most wild fruit is ex­tremely de­li­cious with­out su­gar or ad­di­tives. Other dishes that work well in­clude pies, tarts and cob­blers, but don’t limit your har­vest to desserts. Try a fruit re­duc­tion with a splash of bal­samic vine­gar over grilled veni­son or wild turkey for a main course. Still have ex­tra fruit? Try your hand at wine­mak­ing. Wild mus­cadines, mus­tang grapes, el­der­ber­ries and more make won­der­ful wine that you can proudly serve to your friends.

While the fol­low­ing list breaks down ge­o­graph­i­cal ar­eas, many of these wild fruits can be found in one va­ri­ety or an­other through­out most of North Amer­ica.

NORTH

If you live along the north­ern bor­der of the United States or in south­ern Canada, there are two wild fruits you might en­counter.

Wild Rasp­ber­ries

Look for wild rasp­ber­ries along for­est edges and grassy ar­eas. Rasp­ber­ries flour­ish in

re­cently dis­turbed ar­eas like clear-cuts. Watch for them to ripen in late spring, turn­ing from white to deep red when ready to pick.

Ripe rasp­ber­ries are per­fect for eat­ing as a snack, or cooked in a pie or cob­bler.

Wild Blue­ber­ries

Found in lo­ca­tions sim­i­lar to rasp­ber­ries, but later in the sea­son, wild blue­ber­ries will ripen around mid-sum­mer. Look for them on sunny slopes at higher el­e­va­tions. Wild blue­ber­ries grow in mas­sive clumps of ground­hug­ging shrubs.

Wild blue­ber­ries excel in baked goods like muffins or when added to your morn­ing pan­cake bat­ter.

MID­WEST

De­pend­ing on where you live in the Mid­west, you should be able to find a ripe berry or fruit of some sort just about all sea­son long. A few of the more com­mon in­clude:

Black­ber­ries

Like wild rasp­ber­ries, black­ber­ries grow in a tan­gled mass of thorny bram­bles along open fields, for­est edges and tim­ber cu­tovers. Watch for black­ber­ries to ripen mid-sum­mer, turn­ing from green to red to deep pur­ple or even black.

A handy tip when pick­ing black­ber­ries is to wear long sleeves and heavy jeans de­spite the heat that usu­ally ac­com­pa­nies their ripened state. Their thorns are noth­ing to mess with. Spray down with in­sect re­pel­lent be­fore har­vest­ing black­ber­ries or you’ll risk a nasty round of chig­ger bites.

Cook black­ber­ries in a cob­bler, a pie or, my fa­vorite, black­ber­ries and dumplings. Sim­ply heat a cou­ple cups of black­ber­ries with a cup of su­gar and a cup of wa­ter un­til the mix­ture comes to a sim­mer. Drop in clumps of bis­cuit dough and keep sim­mer­ing un­til they’re cooked through for a per­fect sum­mer dessert.

“You can de­ter­mine the fruits avail­able where you live by study­ing guide­books, or you can seek an ex­pert’s ad­vice.”

Wild Straw­berry

Along the up­per Mid­west and north­ern U.S., wild straw­ber­ries ripen in late spring. Watch for them in sunny, open ar­eas of dense for­est and along for­est edges.

Wild straw­ber­ries are worth watch­ing closely. True wild straw­ber­ries will have a white bloom be­fore set­ting fruit. If you crush a wild straw­berry, you’ll smell a strong berry fra­grance.

Watch for a sim­i­lar fruit that grows in the same ar­eas. Called “In­dian straw­berry” or “mock straw­berry,” they’re nearly iden­ti­cal to wild straw­ber­ries. Mock straw­ber­ries have a yel­low bloom in­stead of white. When their fruit is crushed, there’s lit­tle to no fra­grance. While mock

straw­ber­ries won’t cause di­ges­tive prob­lems, they have lit­tle to no fla­vor.

Mul­ber­ries

Re­sem­bling black­ber­ries and rasp­ber­ries, mul­ber­ries grow on trees or small shrubs. Look for them to ripen in mid-sum­mer along for­est edges where they re­ceive good sun­light.

Mul­berry trees can have deeply lobed or al­most round leaves, or even pointed leaves, of­ten on the same tree. If you’re lucky enough to lo­cate a mul­berry tree loaded with ripen­ing fruit, watch it closely. Birds and squir­rels love ripe mul­ber­ries, and will of­ten strip a tree clean within a day of ripen­ing.

Per­sim­mon

Like the mul­berry, per­sim­mons grow on small trees along for­est edges. The fruit are slightly smaller than golf balls and will be­gin to ripen in late fall. The fruit of the per­sim­mon tree won’t fully ripen un­til they’ve gone through cool tem­per­a­tures. In my area, I pre­fer to pick them af­ter the first light frost.

Per­sim­mons that aren’t fully ripened are some­what sweet, but are very as­trin­gent and have a se­ri­ous pucker fac­tor and mouth­feel when eaten. Try a few be­fore you pick to make sure they’re ready.

As with mul­ber­ries, wildlife love ripe per­sim­mons. Foxes, deer, coy­otes, squir­rels and es­pe­cially rac­coons prize the fruit. The win­dow be­tween a per­sim­mon ripen­ing and an an­i­mal en­joy­ing it is short. Pick fast.

Paw­paw

Paw­paws have been de­scribed as the “best fruit you have never heard about.” They grow along creek bot­toms and tim­ber open­ings across the eastern Mid­west and all along the Ap­palachian moun­tain range. Many moun­tain towns hold paw­paw fes­ti­vals in the fall when the fruit ripens.

Paw­paws look strange. Egg-shaped and of­ten up to 10 inches long or longer, their flesh is tex­tured like a banana. Their fla­vor is of­ten de­scribed as a mix­ture of banana and mango. Use them in any recipe where ba­nanas would work. Paw­paw pud­ding is out­stand­ing.

“Try a fruit re­duc­tion with a splash of bal­samic vine­gar over grilled veni­son or wild turkey …”

SOUTH

Two fruits to watch for in the south­ern U.S.:

Wild Grapes

Along the south­ern Gulf coast, the most com­mon wild-grape va­ri­ety is the mus­tang grape. Once you move away from the coast, through­out the south­east­ern U.S. mus­cadines are the wild grape of choice. While both grow in sim­i­lar habi­tats—along wooded edges and open­ings in the for­est—the mus­tang has a three-lobed leaf, while the mus­ca­dine has a sin­gle-lobed, more pointed leaf.

Both grape species are per­fect for jams, jel­lies and wine­mak­ing. Since wild grapes grow in bunches, it’s easy to pick sev­eral pounds at a crack.

Dew­ber­ries

Much like their cousins—the rasp­berry and black­berry—dew­ber­ries are found through­out the south­ern U.S. in thick growths of wild bram­bles. Use them as you would black­ber­ries: in pies, desserts, wines or in a re­duc­tion over grilled meat.

WEST

Yes, even the Wild West of­fers wild fruits. Here are some to hunt for:

Sal­monberry

An­other com­pound berry that grows on thorny bram­bles, the sal­monberry is found mainly in the Pacific North­west. Look for bram­bles along sunny hill­sides and along stream open­ings through alder forests. De­pend­ing on lo­ca­tion, Sal­monber­ries ripen from late May to July.

Ripe Sal­monber­ries can range from pink­ish or­ange to deep red, de­pend­ing on species and lo­ca­tion.

Prickly Pear Cac­tus

The fruit of the prickly pear cac­tus re­sem­bles a small pear, hence the name. Na­tive to the south­west­ern U.S., the en­tire plant is ed­i­ble. To pick the fruit, use heavy leather gloves or metal grill tongs to avoid the sharp spines. Slice the ripened fruit down the cen­ter, and use a knife or spoon to scoop the flesh free from the prickly skin. Avoid touch­ing the fruit’s small, hair-like tufts as they con­sist of thou­sands of tiny spines that will imbed into your skin.

The flesh of the prickly pear fruit can be eaten raw—seeds and all—al­though many pre­fer to pick out the seeds be­fore eat­ing the flesh. The fruit pulp can also be made into jel­lies or mixed with vine­gar for salad dress­ing.

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