Have you ever noticed something resembling fruit on the sidewalk, falling from a near-by tree and wondered if it was edible? Well recently, due to my love of food and my tight budget, I realized that I better start paying a lot closer attention to the free food growing all around me in my city neighborhood. I've written about snagging up free dandelion greens (from my chemical free lawn) and happening upon onion grass in the early spring...these are pretty safe plants, easy to recognize by sight or smell. But, earlier this spring a few houses down I finally decided to explore the cherry like fruits that fall from a huge dark purple tree, littering the sidewalk with it's squashed fruits.
I'd picked a few of the fruits in past years and while they look like cherries, they never rippened like the tender cherries we are used to, and have an orangish flesh, more closely resembling a plum. This year I decided to scan the internet. Dozens of sites identified the fruits and the tree either as a sand cherry or sand plum, a few with "old timey" recipes for sand cherry jam, so I knew I was on the right track. I couldn't find any signs of warning, and honestly wasn't that concerned since they look exactly like a cherry...I know I was taking my life in my hands, and I do recommend that you all use the utmost caution in foraging and exploring new plants so that you are certain what you are eating is safe, but I felt fine about these, they were so clearly fruits, and figured they were better for cooking than eating fresh. I took a little nibble, the fruit was tart, sweet and watery. The flavor would do well with the concentration that would come from a long simmer.
I washed the cherries well, tossed them whole into a pot, added a little water, a few cups of sugar and let it simmer for as long as I could, praying that the seeds and skins would add enough pectin to thicken the fruit up to a syrup or jam. As luck would have it, it worked! I poured the cooked fruit through a stariner and we got a nice pint of cherry jam all for the cost of a little curiosity and a few cups of sugar.
Keep on the look out, wine berries are ripening now, and wild apples are on the way.....
Do you have any favorite wild edibles? Please share!