Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Edible Fall Fruits
Nature Bulletin No 161-A   September 19, 1948
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor

Autumn is the favorite season for many people, and especially those who have the hobby of harvesting wild fruits for home use. In the forest preserves they, and you too, can have the fun of hunting, finding and gathering them. You can have the added satisfaction of making -- for enjoyment by your family and friends -- jellies, jam, preserves, pickles, and beverages that are "different".

One of the most abundant, but least used of all wild fruits in the Chicago region are those of the hawthorns, We have perhaps 200 species, hybrids and varieties, most of them along woodland borders and in thickets that have taken over many old fields and clearings. Their fruits, called haws, vary widely in size and color when ripe. Most of them are small and many are dull red; some are yellow and some are spotted. Only a few bear the mealy, bright scarlet fruits, from 3/4 inch to more than an inch in diameter, which are most desirable and known as "red haws". Some folks, mostly boys, eat them raw. Others use them to make a unique jelly.

Next in abundance are wild crabapples, the fruits of small trees similar to hawthorns in their habits of growth. Our most common species is the prairie or Iowa crabapple. Long after the leaves have fallen, its apples -- about 1 1/2 inches in diameter -- do not appear to be mature: their waxy skins are yellowish green and they are hard and sour. After being frozen, however, they become fragrant and few wild fruits make jellies and pickles as tangy and spicy. The pioneers discovered that, after lying on the ground under the snow until spring, they make a potent cider.

Most commonly used, and abundant in a lush year such as this one (1964), are the fruits of wild grapes, elderberries and wild plums The last named are borne by a small tree which, in early spring, is covered with white blossoms. It is found in several forest preserves, especially along former fence rows and roads where it often forms dense thickets, The fruit, about an inch in diameter, -- red on one side and yellowish on the other ~ are sweet and delicious when fully ripe in September. Jellies and preserves made from them have an excellent flavor.

Wild grapes can be found in quantity in almost every thicket and woodland edge where they have the habit of climbing over smaller trees and shrubs. The bunches of fruit hang on the vines and are full of flavor until well into the winter. Eaten raw, they are too tart for the taste of most people, but they make fine jam, jelly and filling for pies. Their sharp flavor may be toned down by combining them -- half and half -- with sweet bland elderberries which ripen at about the same time. The latter are borne in large flat clusters, each with hundreds of berries that turn purple, then black, as they ripen. The shrubs that bear them are often found only a few steps away from wild grapes.

Wild black cherry trees and the smaller choke cherry were loaded with fruit this year. Now, mid-September, most have ripened and fallen but some still hang on. The black cherries are sweet and juicy with just enough of a bitter tang to be pleasant. The choke cherries are too puckery to be eaten raw. However, both make excellent jam and the wine called "wild cherry bounce" is famous.

Walnut and hickory trees are common in many forest preserves but the squirrels harvest most of the nuts before they are ripe enough to fall.

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