Though far from perfect in appearance, apples foraged from untended urban trees have a delightful flavor unmatched by most store-bought fruit.
Last Saturday, a dozen or so folks met in Eastown for OKT’s Bicycle Tour of Fruit and Nut Trees. Sunny skies, comfortable temperatures and a brisk breeze made for a lively, enjoyable ride.
Seasoned cyclist, Josh McBryde, planned the route and led the tour across Wealthy Street and over to Cherry Park. On the way there, tree expert, Laura Cassaletto, pointed out various trees and their edible uses, bringing the group to its first stop alongside an old apple tree, full of ripe fruit, outside of a two-flat apartment house.
After assuring us that she had gotten permission from the property’s owner, Laura invited everyone in the group to pick and enjoy an apple. She mentioned that the tree’s owner had told her that the apples were not good for eating as they had not been sprayed with pesticides. The group broke into laughter. And, with a close eye for worms,we took bites of the “imperfect” fruit. All were amazed at the incredible flavor these small, old fashioned, untended apples offered.
Laura recommended foraging such untended apple trees around the city. She likes to use them for applesauce. When the apples are put through the food mill, it’s easy to pick out any critters that might have eaten their way inside the fruit.
In Cherry Park, the group identified different varieties of nut trees, scavenged nuts from off the ground and even cracked and ate a few. Heading back across the neighborhood, a stop near Diamond and Cherry yielded a look at mulberry trees (already done fruiting) as well as locust trees. Seasoned urban forager, Richa, shared that the spring flowers from the locust tree are delicious. (At the conclusion of the tour, he shared a loaf of his homemade acorn bread).
Crab apples, yes.
Along the route, Laura pointed out that ornamental crab apple trees have edible fruit. She explained that crab apple trees are related to the rose, and like the rose, are edible. High in vitamin C, their edible fruit can be identified by the “crown” at the bottom of the fruit. While fruit with a crown is edible, she warned not to forage white fruit and berries, “White is the color of death.”
She also advised us to try new foraged fruits and nuts in small quantities to see how our own body reacts to it. Because trees, like people, are individuals, the fruits and berries eaten from them have differences in flavor and in how they align with each individual person’s digestive system.
In Wilcox Park, the group snacked on plump wild grapes and tried edible, though bitter, viburnum berries. We also learned that the colorful bittersweet nearby was just for decoration and not an edible. The group ended its tour at Aquinas College, where Josh handed out tree identification maps the college provides to visitors. We stopped to gather, crack and snack on beech nuts beneath an elephantine beech tree.
A 16-year-old on the tour remarked, “It was so cool to learn that if I had to, I could get enough to eat from nature.” Cool indeed. Food is growing all around us. Let’s learn to appreciate it!