While scouting around for acorns last weekend, I was briefly distracted by clusters of red fruit resting on the leaf litter. Scanning the area, I noticed some of the clusters were off the ground, on the ends of arching stems with alternately arranged, parallel-veined leaves. In New England, this combination of fall field marks can be none other than Feathery False Solomon's-seal (Maianthemum racemosum)*. Recalling that the ripe fruit of this species is edible, I picked a few clusters to bring home. Continue reading Foraging Wild Fruit: Feathery False Solomon’s-seal
Autumn-olive* (Elaeagnus umbellata) and I go way back. When I was growing up, one of my neighbors had a hedgerow of Autumn-olive that formed a natural home-run wall for neighborhood baseball games. But it took until my 20's to learn the name and eat the fruit of this species.
Autumn-olive shrubs often grow and thrive on disturbed sites with sandy soils. The flowers of Autumn-olive are yellow-white and extremely fragrant. The ripe fruit is red, covered with silver dots, and is about the size of a green pea. The leaves are entire (not toothed) and have silvery under-sides and, often, silver-speckled upper-sides. The branches can have thorns, so foragers should use caution to avoid puncture wounds.
The berries may be small, but shrubs can be densely covered with fruit. Using both hands, I gather berries into a bucket that I tie around my waist. Fully ripe fruit detaches easily from the stems, so waiting until the fruit is plump and deep red not only cuts down on post-foraging sorting but also results in better tasting fruit.
I enjoy fresh Autumn-olives by the handful. Depending on the bush and the degree of ripeness, the fruit -- each of which contains a single chewable seed -- can be puckery sour or surprisingly sweet. In years that I gather several pounds of fruit, I like to cook some portion in a pot with a touch of water, mash it all up, pass the pulp through a strainer to remove the seeds (or you can leave the seeds in), and pour the resulting pulp onto trays bound for the dehydrator. The resulting wild fruit leather has a flavor like none other. A web search reveals tons of other culinary creations that utilize this wild fruit.
*In his book Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants, Samuel Thayer also refers to this plant as Autumnberry.
In early September, I added another wild fruit to my life list. I was walking a familiar trail, apparently at a new time of year, when the fruit-filled branches of Purple Chokeberry (Aronia floribunda) caught my attention. Continue reading Foraging Wild Fruit: Purple Chokeberry
Piping Plovers and Least Terns aren't the only beings who've been adversely affected by the "development" of Maine's coastline. For example, many of the habitats that once held Beach Plum (Prunus maritima) have been converted to lawns and human housing, and today Beach Plums are listed as endangered in Maine. Thus, I was surprised this year to be able to gather an abundance of these tasty little plums.
My plum adventures began when a friend invited me to pick some Black Cherries from an amazing tree in her yard. While I was picking, she asked if I liked Beach Plums. I, of course, said yes, and was escorted to a part of her yard where several Beach Plum shrubs, which she had planted* years ago, were heavy with juicy ripe fruit. I couldn't believe my eyes, and with her encouragement giddily gathered some of the fruit. The following day I shared some of what I gathered with friends, and pitted and dehydrated the remainder for later consumption.
Another opportunity presented itself just a few days later, when a friend prompted me to contact the caretakers of a property with numerous planted Beach Plums. After obtaining permission, I visited the property to find a bountiful plum crop. I photographed, sampled, and gathered for an hour; later, I pitted and froze the majority of the fruit for future sauce making.
In hand, a single Beach Plum (1/2 - 1" in diameter), with its heavy bloom and round shape, looks a lot like a Fox Grape. However, the flavor and hard pit is, as you'd expect, that of a plum. Leaves are toothed, hairy on the underside and alternately arranged along the stem.
If you're not sure where to find Beach Plums, try asking around. In some areas, wild populations abound. Here in Maine, you might have more luck connecting with people who've planted Beach Plums on their property and have an excess of fruit to share.
*You might consider planting some of your own.
Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) is a native shrub who offers edible fruit in late summer and early fall. Continue reading Foraging Wild Fruit: Nannyberry