Monday, November 18, 2013

Fall Foraging in Franklin!

These wild edibles were found in Williamson County, TN local parks at the end of October and beginning of November:

Harlinsdale Park:

I have been to this park many times but on this trip, the Curly Dock and English Plantain looked the healthiest that I have ever seen. 

Curly Dock
English Plantain
Perilla aka Shiso Skeletons.  Find these and you will find the plant next year.
These are Tartarian Honeysuckle berries.  They are everywhere and tempting to a new forager.  Do NOT eat them.  They are poisonous to humans! If you squeeze one, you will see that they are actually quite nasty.

Winstead Park:
Black Walnuts

Black Walnuts everywhere!
One of two bags of Black Walnuts collected.  I love the smell of these.
Cleaning Black Walnuts is a job.  I wore two pairs of gloves together and still managed to stain my hands.
Honey Locust Tree with pods and seeds.  Young green pods and seeds can be eaten raw or cooked.  They taste like raw peas. The young pods can also be dried and ground and used as a flour.  The beans in these pods above can be roasted and ground and used as coffee.  That would taste like bitter chocolate. They can also be soaked (several days as they are hard) and boiled and used like beans.
Juniper Berries are what is used to make gin.  They are also a popular flavoring for meat and many German dishes.
Wild Bradford Pear Fruit.  Yes, they are edible!

Bradford Pear Jelly

If you forage, it is always a good idea to take advantage of the plants that are the most abundant around you.  Bradford Pear trees would definitely fall into that category!  They are everywhere.  Homeowners both hate and love Bradford Pear trees. They are attractive, nicely shaped and resistant to most diseases. However the roots are shallow, the limbs are weak and a strong wind storm easily destroys older trees.

The root stock of the Bradford Pear, Pyrus calleryanna, was brought to the U.S. in 1910 from China. At that time the U.S. pear orchards were being threatened by a blight. Because this root stock was resistant, it was widely cloned.  Further experimentation on this root stock produced the Bradford Pear which was sterile, beautiful, and easy to reproduce which made it a commercial success. It had a built in genetic prevention to self-pollination. This worked great in the beginning when all Bradford Pears were from the same root stock.

As with any successful venture, competition was not long to follow. New cultivars of the Bradford Pear provided enough genetic variation that when cross pollination occurred, some trees produced edible, marble size fruit. This small fruit was then eaten by birds and the seeds transported to new locations. Thus, it has gone from being ornamental to being considered invasive.  The new variations are fertile and bear small edible fruit.

Because the tree is relatively new to the U.S. and probably not bearing fruit during the Great Depression, we do not have the benefit of old recipes that would best utilize the fruit. Most results from an Internet search would tell you that the fruit is inedible. That is not because it is poisonous, but because it has a tart pear flavor and the small size makes it unworthy of commercial usefulness, much like the Crab Apple. Actually, the most common cooking pears in North America are relatives of the Bradford.

If you look for recipes for the Bradford Pear, you will find a handful for making them into wine.  This is understandable because if you have ever tried the fruit, you will first notice the pear flavor and second the tart dryness which would make an excellent dry wine. If you are interested in trying a recipe for pear wine, HERE is a recipe.

My first attempt at using Bradford Pear fruit was to make jelly.  The final product is a beautiful color. It tastes like a pear sweet tart. It is pleasant, reminiscent of a dry white wine.  I think it would make a great glaze for a baked fruit tart or on a meat.  I added pectin to this recipe since it did not appear to have enough to make it gel as I was cooking it.  However, I suspect that if I had picked the pears earlier in the season (currently early November), the pectin in younger fruit may be enough to not use additional pectin.

Bradford Pear Jelly


Plastic grocery bag of Bradford pear fruit
Stick of cinnamon
2 T lemon juice
Box of powdered pectin


Clean the small pears by removing the stem. If you let them sit on your counter for at least a day, the stems dry out and are easier to just pull off. If you get a stubborn one, when you cut the fruit in half and it comes right out. Because it was late in the season, I had no problems pulling the stems off.

Put pears in a large pot. Fill pot with water to just above the fruit. Add stick of cinnamon.

Bring to a boil and reduce temperature to simmer. Cook until pears are mushy (about an hour). Using a potato masher or spoon, lightly mash the pears to help release the pectin and flavor.

Start your canner and water to boil if you plan to complete the jelly on the same day. Mine takes about an hour to get to a boil so now is a good time to turn it on.

At this point, you can drain your mixture using a jelly bag over night, however, I am too impatient for that. Start with a spaghetti strainer and strain the large part parts out of your mixture. Add the leftover fruit mush to your compost. Then move to a fine mesh strainer and strain juice twice. Finally, put coffee filters into your spaghetti strainer and then strain the juice. This takes about 10 minutes which is much easier than waiting overnight and works just as well.

Measure your juice. For every cup of juice, add a cup of sugar. Add two tablespoons of lemon juice. Bring to a boil, stir often. 

Pear juice with just added sugar and cinnamon stick.
In a separate bowl, mix your powdered pectin with about a half cup of water until powder is no longer lumpy.  Add to your boiling liquid.  Stir and bring back to hard boil.  Boil for an additional minute.  

Fill your jars with the hot liquid and boil in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Bradford Pear Jelly!