Mid-October Foraging

Cornelian Cherries, Oregon Mountain Ash, Pine Needles, Medlars. 
I spent part of the morning foraging in Seattle’s parks, and came home with a selection of interesting materials from which to develop some unusual preserves. The standouts this year were:
  • Cornelian Cherries, which look like an olive but taste like a cherry,
  • Oregon Mountain Ash, with its underrated citrus-like flavor,
  • Pine Needles, from which I hope to make a jelly,
  • Medlars, a medieval fruit that requires “bletting” before reaching edibility.
What are you foraging this fall?

13 Responses to Mid-October Foraging

  1. Can you tell us more about these? I looked at getting cornelian cherry once for our yard, but what is the fruit load of a bush like? What is the fruit like? There are so many amazing edibles out there :)

    • Joshua McNichols

      Myrnie, I assume you’re asking mostly about the Cornelian Cherries. I have never harvested these before, only having seen them in the Raintree catalog. When I saw them in the park, they were so obviously bred to be an edible I tasted them before I had identified the fruit and was blown away. In flavor, of course they’re not as sweet as cherries, nor quite as plump. They also have a slight astringency, slight enough that you can eat them raw without being bothered – but I may try to ripen them slightly before jamming them. Even if that fails,I believe there’s a place for slight astringency in jam – orange marmalade for example can be slightly astringent.

      Alongside these “cherries” were Aronias, which I’ve also heard great things about. But unfortunately the Aronias were all infested by that small maggot that also infests real cherries, so I left them for the birds. In contrast, it was such a pleasure to find the plump and tasty Cornelian Cherries, ignored by the insects.

      The fruit load on the “cherry” was not bad. The fruits grew in bunches of 4 or 6 together, about the density and spacing of wild cherries, like chokecherries. Although they were in various stages of ripeness, you can harvest them all a fistful at at time in Mid October and have a nice selection of very ripe and slightly under ripe for a jam with (I assume) high enough pectin to set. It took me about 30 minutes to pick enough for a batch of jam, which is slow but not unexpected with these less-conventional fruits.

      The plant is really a large shrub, and you’d need a ladder to reach the higher branches. The branches are amazingly strong for their size, meaning your kids could climb it to help with the harvest.

      As for the others, the ash berries are native around here, and the medlars are another fruit I have been fascinated with but have never eaten or cooked with. I’ll post the results when I do later this winter.

      • Thank you! We’ve been reading the same catalogues :) . The descriptions are so glowing, but it would be disappointing to give up real estate to a plant that tastes bad, or has such a light fruit set I’d need six to get a decent-sized harvest :) . I’ve never heard of mountain ash before, I’ll look into those!

        • Joshua McNichols

          The ash are underrated, but they aren’t quite tasty like the cornelian cherry. The “cherry” is delightful on its own, whereas I’d use the ash berries less liberally. I think of the ash more like an ornamental and bird-habitat tree that has the “bonus” of allowing you to forage useful fruits from it. I like foraged fruits for the change they represent in my diet – they introduce pleasure, diversity, all that. But I wouldn’t want 24 pints of Ash Berry jelly. Know what I mean?

          There is also a cultivated variety of the ash that may have tastier berries.

  2. Annette Cottrell

    Sarah Moore has a Cornelian cherry tree and jams it every year. She’s been raving about them to me for three years now and eats them out of hand. I plan to get one when I put the orchard in but in a small, in city lot it might be better to get something you are certain to love like a pie cherry tree. Joshua which park did you find the medlars and Cornelian cherries at? I had an aronia bush and I just left the fruit for the birds as well.

  3. Annette Cottrell

    Joshua what are you going to do with the pine needles? Make ice cream? Or season meat like rosemary?

    • Joshua McNichols

      Make an infused simple syrup, which a few chefs are using in mixed drinks lately. Maybe turn that syrup into a sort of low-pectin jelly. Ice cream would be a great idea, but I don’t know if I have the freezer space.

  4. There were hundreds of wild rose bushes at Fort Worden from which I was *so* tempted to harvest rose hips, but alas it’s a state park, so I didn’t. I’ll see if I can find a local source.

    • Joshua McNichols

      I love rose hip jelly. And I know in India they flavor rice pudding with rose-infused water, which has a different fragrance, but now you have me thinking… There are plenty of rose hips along the Westlake trail on the Western side of Seattle’s Lake Union – it’s a new trail, built after the city figured out the value of native landscaping but before it ran out of money. Also, Discovery Park has some, but I’m not sure which part of the park.

  5. So, can you harvest pine needles any time during the year or are they best in fall? That’s so interesting. Thanks for sharing!

    • Joshua McNichols

      I don’t know when they’re best, to be honest. Because you’re not actually eating the needles, but rather an infusion of the needles’ flavor, the most important thing is that they’re fragrant and flavorful. The needles I harvested in October (just the other day) were wonderful. Very aromatic. I test their flavor by chewing them (they’re extremely high in Vitamin C, I hear). I selected supple, limber bunches of needles, just because they looked more appetizing to me than the older needles. I selected from a long-needled variety, so that I took in more mass per handful. I am unfamiliar with the growing habits of pines, but I suspect the ends of the branches will tend to have younger needles.

  6. I love cornelian cherries. They have good four seasons interest as a tree, with yellow winter flowers, late summer fruit and fall color. They get soft when they are ripe. If you try one and it’s aweful, it’s not ripe, because they are very sweet. Mine are black when ripe, but others are red or even yellow. They ferment almost immediately after ripening, so get them while you can. I’ve seen them in Kubota Gardens and on Seattle Center grounds near the space needle. You will recognize them as dogwoods and then do a double take at the fruit.

    Unlike Mt. Ash, I haven’t had cornelian cherries sprouting all over my yard from bird droppings, but they are popular with wildlife and I do find their seeds scattered far and wide.

  7. Joshua, what are the rules for foraging at a park? Do you ask?

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