With strawberry season winding down in our region, and raspberries just coming on strong, it's a good time to talk about fruit. Setting aside the fact that much of what we harvest from our vegetable gardens is, botanically speaking, fruit, it seems to me that fruits of the sort that end up in pies and jams are under-represented in North Country gardens. There are several reasons for this: concerns about short growing seasons, insufficient space for large bushes and trees, inability to fend off marauding birds, and lack of awareness about the diversity of fruits you can successfully grow here. One additional reason may be that wild fruits are readily available to many of us.
Right now in overgrown clearings and meadows around the North Country, wild raspberries, known to locals as "black caps," are ripening. Easily recognizable, black caps are an obvious choice for wild picking. Here are other options:
-Wild grapes are too bitter for my taste, but when the conditions are right, you can pick enough for a pie. Several years ago I interviewed a Greek woman in Watertown who picks wild grape leaves to make dolma.
-Elderberries are usually picked to make wine, but with enough sweetener you can produce a respectable pie or jelly. Anyone care to write in about the virtues of the elderberry?
-Mayapples are an endangered plant in the Adirondacks. Herbalist and plant conservationist Jane Desotelle believes this may be due to maturation of the forests where they grow. Jane harvests fruit from a patch of mayapples growing in sun alongside her solar panels. Some years she collects enough fruit to make jelly to sell at farmers markets.
-Abandoned orchards and wild-seeded apple trees are common where farm land is reverting to forest. With just a bit of pruning, these trees will produce fruit for cider or sauce.
Next week, I'll write about growing fruit in the garden. If you are growing unusual or less common fruits in your garden, please send me photos and a description to share.