Fruit

8 Fruits You (Probably) Won't Find at the Grocery Store

April 13, 2016

If you’re into foraging, you probably know where your local stash of ramps or morels are hiding. You know which unclaimed apple trees are free for the picking. You know which neighbors have a giant rosemary bush—and don’t mind you stealing a few sprigs.

Photo by James Ransom

Today, we’re going to delve into the wild, colorful, occasionally prickly world of local fruits: where to find them, when to pick them, and what to do with them. Read this post, then take a walk around your neighborhood and see what you can find…

1. Jelly Palms (also known as Pindo Palms or Wine Palms)

Typically found in southern coastal areas, as well as Northern California, these palm-fronded trees have huge, heavy clusters of yellow-orange fruit. The fruit, which has a hard-to-pin-down tropical flavor somewhere between mango and banana, ripens in the warm summer months, and is, naturally enough, typically used to make jelly and wine. The fruits can be gathered easily by hand or shaken down from the tree. Seeds of the fruit are used to make palm oil.

Photo by Specialty Produce

2. American Persimmons

Native to Kentucky, American persimmons can be found throughout the South Atlantic and Gulf states. Like their Asian counterparts, they produce copious amounts of very sweet, almost jelly-like orange fruit. American persimmons ripen in autumn (and don’t pick them any earlier, as they are mouth-puckeringly astringent when immature), but the fruit will stay good on the tree through winter. A persimmon is ready for picking when its skin is wrinkled and the fruit comes free easily when tugged.

Shop the Story

American persimmons can be substituted in any recipe you would use a Fuyu or a Hachiya (here are 13). Fun fact: Their seeds can be roasted, ground, and used as a coffee substitute!

Photo by Eat the Weeds

3. Mayhaws

Mayhaws, the fruit of the thorny hawthorn tree, are found in wet areas throughout the southern United States. Their fruits ripen in late April and through May, hence the name: May-haw(thorn). The easiest way to harvest the small red mayhaw fruits is to lay a tarp or blanket down below the tree, shake it, and then gather the fallen bounty.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Glochids are not the large spines on Opuntia pads, they are the small, barbed hairlike spines that surround them and seem to jump out of the fruit and into your skin- where they're the devil to remove. Most of the common berries are either Rose family (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries etc.) or Rhododendron (Heath) family- blueberries, cranberries, huckleberries etc.). Another great fruit for foraging is the loquat (at least in California) which is rarely available commercially and really is much at it's best right off the tree. Key lime trees, which are incredibly prolific, are also sometimes stumbled across.”
— Smaug
Comment

According to most Southerners, there’s really only one thing to do with mayhaw fruits: Make mayhaw jelly. Use extra juice to make a glaze for cooking meats and throw the pulp into mayhaw pound cake. Be sure to strain the fruit purée before storing it, since the skins can be bitter.

Photo by Texas Jelly Making

4. Prickly Pears

If you have any Opuntia cacti in your vicinity, you’re getting two foraged foods for the price of one: Both the green pads of the cactus (called nopales) and the vibrant red fruit (called the cactus fig or tunas) are edible. Found in hot, arid climates across the U.S., the vibrant purple tunas reach maturity in late spring through fall, depending on the species. The green pads of the cacti are good eating year-round. Try to harvest the younger, more tender pads.

Be sure to pick fruit and pads using gloves or tongs to avoid their prickly needles, or glochids. One online source recommends torching the fruit to burn off these spikes. If that sounds a little extreme, or you’ve misplaced your blowtorch, you can also wash the nopales or tunas thoroughly under fast-running cold water, or just prep them as-is, using a tea towel as hand protection.

To prepare the de-spiked tunas, slice the fruit in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Blend and strain for an awesome, neon-purple juice, ready to add to lemonade, cocktails, or make into jelly. Warning: Like beets, prickly pears’ vibrant pink juice will stain everything—including your hands. Be sure to wear clothes you’re not fond of and slap on an apron before working with them.

To prepare the nopales, remove the tough exterior with a vegetable peeler, going with the grain of the needles, not against it. Grill the prepared pads and add them to tortas, quesadillas, or burritos.

Photo by An Eye for Texas

5. Pawpaws

Pawpaws have a long history in America: Lewis & Clark mentioned them in their journals; President Thomas Jefferson grew them at Monticello. Pawpaws grow across a large swath of middle America, from the Great Lakes down to Florida— in fact, there’s about a 50% chance that pawpaws are native to your state.

Their fruit ripens from September to early October, but start preparing for pawpaw season now. They might not look like much, but the pawpaw’s plain green exterior gives way to creamy, white flesh with a taste reminiscent of mango, guava, and peach. Most purists will tell you pawpaws are best eaten straight from the tree, but if you have your heart set on using them in the kitchen, we’ve got a few ideas.

6. Salmonberries

Salmonberries, actually a member of the rose family, look like peach-colored raspberries. They’re found all along the West Coast, from Alaska to as far as California or Idaho, but they are particularly prominent in the Pacific Northwest. They ripen in late June and into July, and the berries are ready to pick when they’re large, tender, and have a dark sheen on their drupelets.

Surprisingly, salmonberries are not named for their rosy color. The First Nations people of the Pacific Northwest would eat the sprouts and berries of the plants with fresh salmon or dried salmon roe. The slightly sour berries can be eaten immediately, but they are also wonderful in jam, pie, or as a glaze for—you guessed it—salmon.

Photo by Alaska Floats My Boat

7. Mulberries

Mulberry trees are quite prominent, found in most temperate areas of the U.S. As Lindsay-Jean, our fruit and foraging expert, wrote, there is probably a tree growing in your yard—or down your street—right now. The berries ripen and begin to fall all over sidewalks, driveways, and pedestrians in late spring. The trees keep producing berries through the early summer months, so find your mulberry spot early on.

Use mulberries in any recipe you have for blackberries or raspberries, but be forewarned: They have a lot of seeds.

8. Elderberries

Perhaps the most well-known use for this plant is St. Germain, a liqueur infused with elderflowers. Elderberry plants begin to flower in the late spring/early summer, and their blooms give way to dark, wine-purple berries in August and September. High in vitamin C and antioxidants, the berries are often used in teas and tonics to promote health and treat the flu. They also lend themselves well to pies and jams, and can be used to infuse vinegars. Warning: Be sure to cook berries before consuming them! Raw berries contain cyanide.

Photo by Grow Forage Cook Ferment

What local fruit do you find (or hope to find) in your neighborhood? Share with us in the comments below!

Tags:

6 Comments

FrugalCat October 24, 2018
I live in the tropics and look forward to rambutan season. Also passionfruit and Barbados cherry, if you know where to look.
 
zoemetro U. April 14, 2016
Two years ago our farmers' a vendor had kiwi berries. They were kiwi flavor times ten, but the best part is that the skin is thin like a grape allowing one to pop the whole berry in one's mouth. And then another and another...Oh how I wish I had a kiwi berry tree and the green thumb to nurture it.
 
Chris R. April 14, 2016
Prickly Pears will also grow in climates with extremely cold climates and humid summers if the soil conditions are right. I've seen them growing wild in Northwestern Illinois along the Mississippi River in sandy soil where it can get to -25 degrees fahrenheit in the winter.
 
Randall J. April 13, 2016
My grandmother used to make Elderberry wine. It was very sweet and smooth with a dark purple color and a velvety texture. It was known as moonshiners wine, because the sweet berries made a wine with a fairly high alcohol content.
 
SpinachInquisition April 13, 2016
I had a pawpaw tree in my backyard in Southern Indiana - really cool. Also, huckleberries grew wild in my Seattle yard... really unique flavor. I loved making jam with them.
 
Smaug April 13, 2016
Persimmons and Nopales are pretty common in grocery stores in California. Glochids are not the large spines on Opuntia pads, they are the small, barbed hairlike spines that surround them and seem to jump out of the fruit and into your skin- where they're the devil to remove. Most of the common berries are either Rose family (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries etc.) or Rhododendron (Heath) family- blueberries, cranberries, huckleberries etc.). Another great fruit for foraging is the loquat (at least in California) which is rarely available commercially and really is much at it's best right off the tree. Key lime trees, which are incredibly prolific, are also sometimes stumbled across.