Tasty first fruits of spring
One of my favorite memories of growing up on a farm is pickling and eating plums and dewberries that grew wild on roadsides, hedgerows and uncultivated fields.
Plum bushes were prevalent on our farm, as well as those of our neighbors. Some grew on ditch banks and could be reached with little difficulty, while others thrived in thickets and were harder to reach.
They bloomed in March and produced ripe fruit in late April and early May. Us kids watched with interest as the blooms turned into pea size green plums and matured into juicy yellow and red fruit the size of large marbles.
As we strolled down a dirt road, on our way to go fishing, play a pasture baseball game or visit a friend, we’d stop to grab a handful or two of the ripe plums. We’d indulge ourselves by popping them in our mouths, squeezing out the tasty juice and meat and spitting out the seed.
These wild plums have apparently vanished from the farm landscape. On return trips to my homeplace, I’ve not been able to find them where they once existed. I’ve been told a disease wiped them out many years ago.
Wild dewberries are another fruit that grew on roadsides and in uncultivated fields on the farm. The vines were knuckled to the ground and produced berries that ripened in early spring. We’d pick and eat the dark red berries anytime we ran across them. When we had our fill, we’d take some home for our mother to bake a cobbler.
Not long after plums and dewberries were gone, June apples were in season.
Most farm families had one or more apple trees that produced ripe fruit before the hot days of summer. Well before they ripened, however, they were the targets of kids who just wanted a green apple to gnaw on. More often than not, a stomach full of green apples was a stomachache waiting to happen.
When ripe, they often found their way into apple pies.
However, the apple of the eye for homemakers was the horse apple. You could find one or more of these trees on most farm home sites. They were a hardy variety that didn’t get ripe until late summer, but they were worth the wait. Some were picked, sliced and spread out to dry on barn tops. They would later be the main ingredient for fried apple pies. Others were used to make apple jelly and apple butter.
Perhaps the most popular of all wild fruits found on the farm were blackberries. They flourished anywhere they put down roots. Wet soil with part shade seemed to be their best habitat.
They ripened in early Jul,y and most families designated a certain day for blackberry picking. Their end uses included cobbler pies, jams and jellies, and they found their way to the kitchen table throughout the year.