Posts Tagged ‘fruit’

Blueberries

June 27, 2010

I intended to write this entry last summer, when I was lost in the wilderness of Washington and managed the hours in the woods by eating huckleberries, but that doesn’t really fit the “Great Lakes” theme of the blog.  I found them on a recent backpacking trip here in Michigan, though, and was delighted to discover that they were ripe and ready to eat.

Finding Blueberries

I have never found blueberries in my section of Michigan, but they were growing in patches as far as the eye could see just 50-60 miles north of where I live.  I haven’t found a great way to find blueberries, but anytime I’ve come across them, it’s been in a relatively undisturbed coniferous forest.  This makes sense, as blueberries require an acidic soil, which is typical beneath the pines and cedars I’ve found them under.

I don’t know of any lookalike plants that may confuse the blueberry-seeker–the berry is pretty distinctive, both in shape and color.  They may be smaller than grocery store blueberries, but they’re unmistakable.  The bushes are a foot or two tall with fairly sparse leaves.  The leaves are football-shaped, small (about the size of a quarter), and bright green.

Harvesting Blueberries

I’ve always found several types of blueberries growing together, and the ripe color of each variety is a little different, from blue to an almost purple-black.  The best way to determine if they’re ripe is to taste them.  They darken as they ripen, so berries of similar color should be similarly ripe.

Preparing Blueberries

They’re really best eaten out of hand, right off the bush, but they can be used in any recipe that calls for blueberries.

Eating Blueberries

Wild blueberry plants are quite different from domesticated plants–the bushes are much smaller less densely covered in fruit.  The berries are much smaller, sometimes even a quarter the size of grocery store blueberries, but there is no difference in taste.  I might even say that a handful of wild blueberries is better than store-bought, since you won’t find any of the bland, over-sweet and over-ripe berries on wild bushes.

More on Mayapples

August 22, 2009

I expressed my love for mayapples last year, when I first tried them.  Since early this spring, when their umbrella-leaves first started to appear, I began plotting my harvest on a massive scale.  I’ve picked about a bushel of the fruits (not including a false start noted in the comments on my previous entry), but now I don’t know what to do with them.  I’ve got them in a plastic bag, and I eat a few out of hand for breakfast as they ripen.  It’s an inconvenient ordeal–I cut it open, suck out the pulp, then use my teeth and tongue to filter out the seeds, which I spit out.

I’ve tried chopping the fruits and running them through a food mill, but this pushes through a lot of the bitter rind, which gives the resulting pulp an unpleasant taste.  I’ve also tried running just the pulp through the food mill, but the pulp sticks to the seeds, and very little goes through.  This is where I’m stuck.  They are a delicious fruit, but I can only eat a few of them at a time, and it’s hardly worth the effort.  If anyone has any suggestions, I’d like to hear them.  All of the internet sources I’ve looked at recommend running them through a food mill, but no one mentions how to deal with the rind.

Mulberries

June 23, 2009

I thought eating mulberries was a universal childhood experience, but my wife and I found a mulberry tree on a walk, and it had never occurred to her to eat them.  With that in mind, I submit this entry.

Finding Mulberries
I don’t remember ever seeing a mulberry tree “in the wild”—they’re always along sidewalks, in backyards, etc.  They are medium-sized trees, topping out around 15-25 feet tall, with a weirdly lobed leaf.  They are most easily identified by their berries, which look a lot like raspberries and start out white, then turn pink, and wind up nearly black.

Harvesting Mulberries
I read (I think in Stalking the Wild Asparagus) about a method for harvesting mulberries.  By placing a big sheet under a tree and shaking the tree, all of the ripe berries will come loose and land on the sheet.  I did not have this option available, as the tree I was picking from was growing alongside a parking lot.  I brought a bowl, picked berries by hand, and put them into the bowl in a shallow layer.  If they get stacked up too high, the ones on the bottom get crushed by the ones on the top.

Preparing Mulberries
When picked, the little stem stays on the fruit.  You can leave it on.  Although they can be eaten out of hand, or right off the tree, they are best mixed with other fruits.  Smoothies, fruit salads, and cobblers are all great uses for mulberries.

Eating Mulberries
My copy of The Joy of Cooking suggests that mulberries are best left for children, and I’d agree that they aren’t great by themselves.  They have a bland sweetness that is easy to get sick of.  Mixed with other fruit, though, they’re delicious.

A Forager Forgives: Rosehips Revisited

December 10, 2008

The first “wild” food I tried in order to generate material for this weblog was rosehips.  For that entry, I tried some withered old fruits that were not very good.  This year’s attempt went a lot better.

Finding Rosehips
I had my eye on a wild rose in my foraging grounds, but it bore tiny TicTac sized hips.  I went back to the few roses I have in my yard—one shrub and one climber.  I’d love to find a wild source of rosehips, but I imagine I could find an ample supply in some of the more affluent neighborhoods in town.

Harvesting Rosehips
My field guide recommended I pick rosehips that had turned orange, indicating ripeness.  I only had a few orange hips ready to go, so I picked a few green hips, as well.  It didn’t seem to make much difference.

Preparing Rosehips
After gathering a handful of rosehips, I trimmed the stems and brushed the blossom end off a little to remove the stamens (or whatever it is at the end of a rosehip).  I sliced them in half, and poured boiling water over them.  After 10 minutes, I poured the tea through a sieve into a cup.  I served it as a tea with a little honey.

Eating Rosehips
I was deliriously ill when I tried this, so I concede I may not be qualified to comment.  The tea was a bit bland, but the honey made it more palatable.  Rose hip tea is reputed to be very high in vitamin C, and as a means of delivering vitamins it wasn’t bad.  As a food for pleasure, it was mediocre.  If was choosing between drinking rosehip tea and getting scurvy, the choice is easy.  Choosing between rosehips and an orange, though, is just as easy.  It remains to be seen how deep I’m willing to go into this local thing.

Paw Paws: The Losing Streak Continues

November 15, 2008

I have a relative who’s set up a paw paw nursery, and she passed me a few of the fruits to try out.  The trees are reputed to grow locally (there’s a town not far from here named for the fruit), but I’ve never found them.  Like the mayapple, they are harvested green and kept at room temperature until ripe.  Also like the mayapple, paw paws have a faux-tropical flavor, something like an over-ripe banana.

Preparing Paw Paws

When they were borwn and soft, I sliced the pawpaws the long way and scooped out the flesh.  I fished out the nickel-sized seeds and wound up with a little less than a quarter-cup of pulp per fruit.

Eating Paw Paws

I ate some of the pulp fresh, and ate some after it had chilled in the freezer.  Some of the fruits were a bit over-ripe, which gave them a bitter flavor that I couldn’t handle.  The fruits at the right stage had a pleasant sweet taste raw.

It is my understanding that pawpaw can be used as a substitute for banana when baking.  It’s possible that baking would eliminate the bitter taste.  I didn’t have enough to work with to experiment with baking.

All told, I probably wouldn’t order paw paws if I saw them on the menu.  I planted the seeds in an empty lot near my house, I may have a chance to sample the fruit again in the 15 or so years they should take to fruit.  I’ll be ready to give them another chance by then.

Wild Apples: Foraging the Familiar

October 25, 2008

It’s been a long while since my last entry, in part because of my non-weblog obligations, and in part because I was hoping to fix the digital camera upon which I’d saved the pictures of my apple harvest.  The camera is done for, but fortunately, my loyal readers should know what an apple looks like.

Finding Apples
Michigan is apple country, so it’s not hard to find a wild apple tree.  Keeping an eye on the highwayside while driving should turn up a few apple trees, and a single tree should supply enough apples for the beginning forager’s needs.  It’s easiest to wait until the trees have fruited to identify them.

I found my tree growing in the middle of the grounds of an apartment complex behind the neighborhood Blockbuster.  To be honest, I think it’s just a Golden Delicious that has gone feral.

Harvesting Apples

I pulled an apple off to taste-test for ripeness.  When they were ready to go, I pulled them off until my bushel basket was full.  It’s times like these I wonder if I need to stick to my finding-harvesting-preparing-eating format for foraged food entries.

Preparing Apples
I put a little effort into picking apples that weren’t particularly wormy, but they all were a little more damaged than I’d enjoy eating out-of-hand.  After chopping one up, with the intention of making a cobbler or something, I discovered that making anything but applesauce wasn’t really worth the effort—by the time the apple was peeled (a pain with such small apples) and cored, there just wasn’t a lot left.

When I’ve made applesauce in the past, using commercially-produced apples, I peeled and cored them, simmered them over the stove, then mashed the cooked apples, but that didn’t work with whole apples.  After several frustrating attempts to make do with the implements I had in my kitchen—at one time I ran the apples through a meat grinder, then tried to push them through a colander—I swallowed my pride and purchased a Foley food mill.  It made all the difference, and I’ve used it for processing tomatoes since then.  It’s a human-powered technological marvel, and I’d recommend you pick one up if you find it used—you’ll find uses for it.  By the end of my bushel full of tiny wild apples, I was roughly chopping the apples, cooking them down a bit, then running them through the food mill with the fine plate on—the coarse plate let the seeds through.

Eating Apples

I tried a few of these apples eaten out-of-hand, and they tasted a lot like Golden Delicious, but they were too small and insect-bitten to be a pleasurable hand fruit.  I haven’t come up with a better way to eat them than in applesauce form.  I’ve been adding applesauce to cooked garden squash, though, and it’s a great way to spice up squash, right about when you’re getting sick of it.

Mayapple

August 1, 2008

Finding Mayapple

Mayapple is easy to identify by its distinctive leaves, which can be seen on the Wikipedia page.  The umbrella-like leaves can be found in forests.  Unlike the past several foods I’ve tried, which are found on the borders between woods and fields, I’ve found mayapples deep in the understory of hardwood forests. 

Harvesting Mayapple

It’s a little difficult to find mayapples anywhere near ripeness, since they are a favorite among wild animals.  I picked them a little underripe and stored them in a bag for a few days to ripen.  Since the fruits are low to the ground, I found them by getting close to the ground to look under the umbrella-like leaves.  The lemon-like fruits can be seen in the not-so-great photo below:

The smallest of them is about the size of a ping-pong ball.

Preparing Mayapple

 There are recipes for jellies and jams made with mayapples, but they all call for cups and cups of the fruit.  The above picture represents my total harvest from the forest near my house, so making jam is not a reality at the moment.  I just cut the top off of a dead ripe mayapple and sucked the pulp out.  The pulp was very seedy, so I spit the seeds out.  I was able to chew through the skin, but it was a little tough and sour, so I stuck with eating the pulp.  My mayapple jelly recipe calls for using the entire fruit.

Eating Mayapple

The taste is a little similar to wild grapes, which probably doesn’t mean much to the beginning forager.  It’s a perfumy, almost tropical flavor, and I really enjoyed it.  This may be the best-tasting wild food I’ve found so far, and I’m eagerly anticipating next year’s mayapple season.  In the meantime, I’ll be scoping out new patches of the fringed umbrella leaves.

Black Raspberries

July 10, 2008

Following the unpleasantness of milkweed (see previous post), I needed a palate-cleanser.  Though the purpose of this weblog was to spur me into trying new local foods, I’m writing about a long-time favorite today.  It’s wild raspberry season in Michigan, and that’s a beautiful thing.  I’ve got about 4 patches around the city that are worth visiting, but one is within walking distance of my home.  It’s not far from a busy street, so I was treated to conversation with a few passersby who saw me waist-deep in the brambles.  The highlight was an exchange with a few sceptical youths, who asked me if I needed to wash them off before I ate them.  I didn’t give them the long answer–these haven’t been sprayed with pesticides, handled with improper sanitary measures, packed into crates, bathed in diesel smoke and road dust, and put on store shelves several days after being picked.  Instead, I said, “They should be OK.  It just rained.”

Finding Raspberries

Like the past several entries, raspberries grow in marginal areas between wooded areas and paths, rivers, fields, or roads.  I imagine the combination of fertile leaf-enriched soil with increased sunlight plays a factor here.  It’s not hard to spot raspberries visually, especially in the spring, when their arching, blue-grey-green canes are not yet covered in the greener, more nondescript leaves.  Raspberries are most easily found, of course, by accidentally wandering into the middle of a patch.  Most people with any experience in the less-cultivated areas of their neighborhood have had an intimate meeting with brambles.  When you find a patch that isn’t fruiting, remember it and return.  Some patches fruit heavily, and some will disappoint, so it pays to always keep an eye open. 

Harvesting Raspberries

The faint of heart can usually pull a decent harvest from the edge of a bramble patch, but the committed go in.  Scratches will happen, blood will be lost, and sweaters will be snagged, so dress appropriately.  I usually wear shorts and a t-shirt I don’t mind getting stained, as raspberry juice can leave a mark.  Most of the wild raspberries I’ve found are black; if you’re picking red raspberries, you’ll have to taste a few to find out what indicates ripeness.  In black raspberries, look for dark, plump, shiny berries.  I use a gentle three-finger grab and pull the berry off of it’s “plug”, so that only the edible part comes off. 

Harvesting is easier than transporting.  I have a few broad, flat tupperware (used for packing sandwiches, I gather) that are ideal.  If the berries are packed too deep, the bottom berries will get crushed.  Wild berries are a bit firmer than the store-bought variety, but I still don’t stack them more than two deep.

In an hour, including commute (on foot), I gathered a couple of pints.  Given the cost of a little plastic clamshell of over-ripe raspberries at the grocery store, raspberries may be the only foraged food that return a respectable per-hour value.

Preparing Raspberries

I’ve never gathered enough raspberries at one time to do anything with them but eat them out of hand or with cereal or ice cream.  I had a conversation with a gentleman today while picking who described a raspberry shortcake recipe that sounded delicious, but I’ve yet to find a method of preparing raspberries that improves on their natural state.

Eating Raspberries

Everybody’s eaten raspberries, so there’s not much to say in this section.  I will say that I can’t imagine the sales pitch raspberry breeders make for their latest specimen, because commercial raspberries aren’t really an improvement on the wild versions.  The may be a little larger, but that’s not really a selling point.