My daughter, my mom and I have been enjoying black raspberries on our evening walks through the woods. They just started ripening a couple of weeks ago in Northeast Ohio. The first few handfuls were bitter and sour, but they’ve gotten sweeter and more abundant.
Black raspberries are one of the first fruits to ripen and become ready for harvest in the summer, signaling the beginning of an abundance of foraging opportunities from mid-summer through the end of fall.
Some popular wild fruits that can be harvested during mid-summer include black raspberries, red raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, black huckleberries, serviceberries, elderberries, gooseberries, strawberries, dewberries, red and white mulberries, black cherries, peaches and crabapples.
As the harvest season for these fruits fades, a new one will start for fruits ripening during mid to late summer. Those will be replaced by fruits that mature from late summer and into fall. Ohio is abound with wild fruit foraging opportunities from now until late fall.
The common pear is one fruit I’ll be on the lookout for this year. It’s not something typically found in a woodlot, but that doesn’t mean it’s too difficult to find.
Where to look for wild pears
The wild Ohio pear is a common orchard pear that has escaped cultivation and taken root in the wild. They are often accidentally planted by anglers, hunters, campers and other outdoorsmen that toss a core after eating a commercially-produced pear. Wild pears are commonly found near boat launches and hiking trails and in parks. They grow best in sunny spots with rich and moist but well-drained soil.
How to identify wild pears
Common pear trees are medium to large trees that can grow up to 20 feet tall. They have straight trunks and open, spreading crowns. They tend to grow taller than domestic pears as they are not grafted to make picking easier.
Branches. Wild pear trees have gray bark and gray to reddish-brown branches. Their branches are often smooth and have grey lenticels — raised breathing pores. However, side branches may have wrinkled bark and appear more knobby-looking.
Leaves. The leaves of the common pear are glossy, thick and leathery. They grow up to 4 inches long and about two-thirds as wide in clusters on long yellow-green stemlets. They are broadest below the midpoint and fold slightly along the midline. They have pointed tips, serrated edges and may appear wavy.
Fruit. The biggest difference between commercially-produced pears and wild pears is the absence of a neck. Wild pears have very little or no neck at all. They are also slightly smaller than domestic pears at about 1-2 inches across. They grow on a thick stemlet with a crown on the bottom like a large crabapple. They have rough greenish to yellowish skin with fine brown patches or dots. They are generally firmer than commercially-produced pears, but have a similar taste.
When to pick wild pears
Wild pears ripen from mid-summer through early fall. When harvesting wild pears, choose fruit that has fallen from the tree or that detaches easily from the branches. Avoid fruit that has heavy insect damage.
Wild pears may fall off the tree before becoming fully ripe, but will ripen if left on the counter for a few days. Ripe fruit can be stored in a brown bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks before processing or eating.
Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio Wild Berries & Fruits Field Guide, by Teresa Marrone
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