Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Autumn Fruits and Nuts
Nature Bulletin No. 572-A  September 13, 1975
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Autumn, in many respects, is the finest time of the year for strolls and "cooks outs" in your favorite forest preserves. For added enjoyment, there is the fun of finding many wild fruits and nuts. Some you will relish as you pick them; others may be taken home for use in various ways.

Elderberries, filled with crimson juice, are ripe now. Those large shrubs are common in woods and along roadsides, ditches and watercourses. The deep purple berries are sweet but rather flat-tasting. If lemon rind or, preferably, wild grapes are included, they can be used like blueberries in pies, muffins and pancakes. For jam and jelly add vinegar, or pectin, and sugar.

Wild grape vines, climbing over shrubs and small trees, are abundant along the trails and woodland borders. They bear bunches of small grapes that, when ripe, vary in color from light blue to nearly black. The purple juice has a tart tangy flavor. Wild grapes are fine for wine and jelly. Most kinds become sweeter after a heavy frost.

Black cherry trees are common in our preserves. They have a slightly bitter but pleasant winey flavor. They are easily picked from the smaller trees and used to make jelly, jam, preserves and wine, or to flavor ice cream and beverages such as "cherry bounce. .

The choke cherry is a shrub or small tree that grows like a weed along fencerows, woodland borders, in old fields, and as an understory in the forests. On many of them the branches are drooping with clusters of dark red berries. They have very bitter and "puckery" juice but Indians used them, and it is said that they lose that astringent quality when cooked to make jelly. Birds love them.

The wild plum, a small thorny tree, is scattered through the forest preserves. Its round pulpy plums -- red or sometimes yellow -- have a tough skin but are good to eat or use for jelly, jam, preserves and pies.

Hawthorns, millions of them with fruits or "haws" resembling tiny apples, vary in size and in color from scarlet to dull red or yellow. The hard seeds are surrounded by pulpy flesh that is dry and tasteless in most species. The variety with large scarlet mealy fruit is the "red haw" commonly eaten, and makes good jelly if you can find enough that aren't wormy.

Wild crabapples, too, are widespread and many are loaded with small green apples. These are too sour to eat raw but taste better after being frozen, and few wild fruits make finer jelly. When combined with wild grapes they make excellent jam, preserves and pickles. If buried until spring, they make good cider.

In the wooded uplands there are innumerable shagbark hickories. On the ground, beneath some, you may find the nuts enclosed in thick green husks. Inside the hard white shell is a sweet kernel unsurpassed for cakes, candies and fireside eating. In some valleys and moist woodlands there are black walnuts. The nut, inside a round green husk that becomes black as it decays, has an oily kernel with a strong but pleasant taste. They are mighty fine in candy, cakes and ice cream. In a few locations there are thickets of hazelnut bushes. The hazelnut, small and much like the European filbert, has a sweet flavor all its own. All of these fruits and nuts are also important food for wildlife such as birds and squirrels. Please do not injur the trees, shrubs and vines.

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