Another Tale of Wild Food

There is a reason why humans began to cultivate food. Cultivated food is within human reach. It comes at predictable times. And you know exactly where it will be—right where you planted it.

Foraging for food requires eyes constantly alert because you can never be sure when or where you will find an edible treasure. My husband, Forager Man, starts his search for wild grapes in the spring. He identifies a vine and watches it all season to see if and how much it will bear fruit.

There are grape vines all over the place. Most of them never yield grapes. But that does not keep Forager Man from looking.

“We’ve had them here before. There must be some around here somewhere.”

He says this a lot. About grapes. And watercress. And morels. And hen of the woods mushrooms.

And he’s probably right. There are all those things growing at Maywood. But Maywood is a large enough area that we are not going to search every square foot of it.

Well, I’m not. He can wander the woods all he likes. And report back.

Finding foraged food on the kitchen counter works for me (unless it requires me to drop everything else I was doing to process it).

If I’m going to eat it, I have to be able to find it.

Without getting maimed by thorns or attacked by insects and wild animals.

This year, he discovered a fruitful vine a short way behind the tool house. And it is loaded with big purple grapes.

Big purple grapes

I stand at the edge of the woods in an area mercifully cleared recently by the tractor. Forager Man physically hauls the ladder from the house to the foraging area only to realize that there is no way to safely stabilize the ladder.

He tries leaning the ladder directly against the vine. I try to figure out how to direct paramedics to this precise location on our property.

He decides, after some wifely input, to go back to the house for the truck and kitchen step ladder, which worked pretty well for gathering the wild black cherries. No guarantees that we won’t topple the stepladder off the truck this time, but our prior success emboldens us.

I wait. Sweat oozes from every pore because the humidity today is literally 100%. I am not even doing anything and I am standing in the shade.

There are a few grapes at ground level that short little me can reach. More can be found at truck-bed ladder height. But, of course, the best grapes are way up high—gorgeous clusters worthy of display in an organic market. God has reserved the best for the birds of the air. (At least until someone invents a grape picking drone.)

Fortunately, grapes are larger than wild black cherries, so it does not take too long to fill our bags with enough to make jelly. We don’t even fall off the ladder.

We collected 2 colanders-full of grapes

I make two batches of grape jelly and have some juice leftover for drinking. Forager Man like his fresh grape juice straight up. I prefer mine with seltzer and fresh lime. And, as a public service FYI, since wine-making takes time and I like instant gratification— gin really perks up a grape spritzer.

So now I have a pantry stocked with jam and jelly from the bounty of Maywood—much of which I will gift because we don’t actually eat much jelly! It would be easier to buy grape jelly at the store. But it wouldn’t be tastier.

And I wouldn’t have a story to tell.

P.S. In case you were looking for actual useful information here, I used the Sure-Jell grape jelly recipe. One batch was regular. The other was low-sugar. Definitely prefer the low-sugar.

It’s Not Chokecherry

There is a tree overhanging the parking area of our driveway at an awkward, ugly angle, and it really looks like it should be cut down.


Every once in a random year it blesses us with enough fruit to make a most scrumptious jam.

For years I have called it chokecherry jam because my husband said they were chokecherries because his grandfather said they were chokecherries. And who is going to dispute Maynard on the provenance of the trees on his own property?

The fruit looks like a chokecherry. It grows in a cluster like a chokecherry. It tastes very tart like a chokecherry (hence the name chokecherry). And it works perfectly in chokecherry jam recipes.

Image result for Black Chokecherry
Black chokecherry–Bing images

But chokecherries grow as a bush, low to the ground where raccoons and bears feast upon them. The fruit-bearing thing in my driveway is most definitely a tree.

A wild black cherry tree. Prunus serotina, if you really want to know. Honey bees love the flowers in spring. We love the fruit in summer.

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Prunis serotina–Bing images

Saturday, my husband decided it was time to pick them. It wasn’t on my agenda at all. I was just emerging from my annual Sloth Week and had housework to do. Suddenly, vacuuming gave way to counting jam jars and lids. Then, of course, the trip to the store for fresh jam jars and lids. And pectin. And sugar. (And ice cream. Because ice cream.)

We weighed what Forager Man had already gathered. It did not seem to be enough. So we both went out to resume picking.

I kind of wish the tree were a chokecherry. A chokecherry bush would be low and easier to pick. John had already picked the low-hanging black cherries. The rest of the cherries were up out of reach. If only we had a cherrypicker.

But we don’t.

For lack of a cherrypicker, we picked what we could by standing in the bed of the pickup truck. But even more fruit hung tantalizingly just out of reach. So, we put the kitchen step ladder in the back of the pickup truck, and took turns climbing up the step ladder, pulling the already arching branches down as far as we could, hoping that the branch would not suddenly fling back and send us flying.

The branches did not fling, but one did snap. Then it was really easy to pick. I just sat in the truck bed, with the branch across my lap, plunking cherries into my bucket while trying not to sit on any escapees rolling around the truck.

We collected over four pounds of cherries. Two half gallon containers. That equals about a bazillion cherries. They are smaller than blueberries, about the size of baby peas, with most of the size being the pit. Filling a container cherry by cherry reminded me of trying to pick two cups of violet blossoms last spring. It just seemed like the container would never be full!

After simmering the cherries and passing them through the food mill, the four pounds yielded about six cups of pulpy cherry juice, enough to make two batches of jam.

I don’t expect the grandkids to be big fans of this jam, although I think it makes a wonderful PBJ. And it is pretty darn yummy just licked off a spoon. But, it is a grown-up sweet-tart. It wants to grace a Brie or glaze a pork tenderloin. Hmm, that sounds like a menu idea for the weekend.

I used the chokecherry jam recipe from Miles Away Farm. She added almond extract to the jam, which is always a good way to win me over! She used 1 tsp of almond extract, which was a smidge overwhelming. I cut it back to 1/2 tsp to not overpower the cherry. Here are my notes for the jam, so I can remember the next random year we are blessed with wild black cherries:

  • Pick enough cherries to fill a half-gallon container.
  • Rinse cherries.
  • Add cherries and 1 cup water to large pot. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for 15 minutes, mashing the cherries with a potato masher.
  • Process the simmered cherries through a food mill. It should yield about 3 cups.
  • Add cherries, 1 packet of Sure-Jell, 1 tsp of butter to pot. Bring to a boil.
  • Add 4 1/2 cups of sugar and stir until it boils for 2 minutes.
  • Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 tsp almond extract.
  • Pour into jam jars and process in water bath for 10 minutes. (The jam thickened very quickly, so do not use the inverted jar method to seal lids or you will end up with large air bubbles.)
  • Yield: 5+ half-pint jars.