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Wild-fruit pickers find bumper crop

Making the best of nature’s bounty

Staff writer

In decades of picking wild sandhill plums, Letty Enns of rural Durham had never been so fortunate as to be able to sit in the air conditioning while she picked fruit to make into jelly.

Not until Saturday, that is. Enns and neighbors Helen Penner and George Schutte went out Saturday morning to pick sandhill plums on the edges of hay fields. When Enns drove her pickup truck through a gap between wooded areas, she noticed there was a thicket within arm’s reach.

Chuckling at her good fortune, she rolled down her window and started picking the red fruit by the handful. The thicket was perfect — it was loaded with big, ripe fruit at just the right height to pick through the window.

“We’ve never had it this good before,” Enns said.

Sandhill plums are a little bit bigger than grapes and firm. They have a rosy color when ripe, Penner said. The ripe fruit tastes sweet at first but is tart in the middle.

Sandhill plums are good for making jelly, which mingles the sweet and tart flavors, Enns said.

Enns and Penner have made jellies from sandhill plums and other wild and domesticated fruits and berries for years. Other favorites include choke cherry, wild grape, gooseberry, and elderberry, Enns said.

They have sold their jellies at Arts and Crafts Fair in Hillsboro for many years, but Enns said 2010 will be her final year selling at the event.

While out Saturday, they were surprised to find ripe elderberries. They filled a plastic bag with the small black berries. Schutte noticed a wild grape vine growing next to a sandhill plum thicket, so he picked a couple bunches of the grapes to share.

Sandhill plums are often seen along roadsides, but Enns recommends picking them elsewhere.

“It’s best not to pick them on the road,” she said. “They might be sprayed.”

The wet spring and early summer was beneficial for wild fruits and berries.

“They’re just everywhere this year,” Enns said.

Joy Waldbauer of rural Durham agreed.

“This year, it’s just absolutely amazing,” she said. “They are loaded this year.”

Waldbauer picks elderberries which she makes into several products, including jelly, jam, and concentrated juice. Elderberries have a slightly bitter flavor.

“They’re really good for you, though,” Waldbauer said. “The juice will cleanse you.”

She said she scouts for elderberries and sandhill plums during the spring when the plants are blooming, so she knows where to look for them in August when it is time to pick them.

She learned to can and preserve from her mother, who taught her to not be wasteful.

“I think people should take advantage of God’s bounty,” Waldbauer said. “It’s out there.”

Last modified Aug. 18, 2010

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