Storey’s digital features editor slowly overcomes a long-held fear of eating wild food.
I confess that my own experience with backyard foraging is limited to a specific moment in my very early childhood when, riding my bike on our dirt road, I was seduced by the rich purple color of some berries. I ate a handful and pedaled home, where I proclaimed my find “delicious.” Though I never identified the berries I ate and I never fell ill, my mother’s response — a panicked lecture on the dangers of consuming unfamiliar wild foods — dried up on the spot any further temptations to sample roadside flora I might have had.
That is until this past weekend when, wandering my neighborhood, I spotted these beauties on a tree and recognized them from the cover of Ellen Zachos’s Backyard Foraging as the fruit of the kousa dogwood, a flowering tree I’ve spotted in lots of yards and town greens. According to Zachos, the best way to eat the fruit is to squeeze “between two fingers and squirt the flesh into your mouth, spitting out the seeds. Alternatively, pull apart the skin and suck out the flesh (again, discarding the seeds). Kousa fruit can be run through a food mill, and the flesh can be used as a side dish like applesauce. It requires very little sweetening. Cooked, kousa fruit can lose some of its taste, so while you’ll read recipes for kousa jam and jelly, I prefer to eat mine raw.”
I pulled an especially rosy fruit from the branches, so ripe it burst at the tiniest amount of pressure from my fingers, and sampled the yellow-orange fruit right there on the sidewalk. The taste was as Zachos promised: first melon, then flavor of banana. The seeds are large (you can’t miss them), and the flesh has some stringy fibers that might be annoying if consuming the fruit in large quantities (the food mill suggestion is a good one). But it was a lovely tropical taste on an October Saturday in New England, and I felt a surge of childlike satisfaction as I safely ate my find.