It was when I recently made a batch of jars of quince jelly and gave them out as presents to my friends and family that the realization hit me there are many foods, once commonplace, with which we are totally unfamiliar today. Most of the people to whom I presented the jelly had never heard of the fruit “quince”. The rest of them thought they had heard of it but had never actually seen or tasted any; however, quince trees were once quite plentiful across the American landscape. The trees are drought-tolerant, disease and insect resistant and can bear even when planted in quite poor soils. In addition, quince has so much natural pectin (the ingredient that allows jams and jellies to thicken and “set”) the addition of commercially-produced pectin is unnecessary.
I can imagine a time in the history of our country when strawberries, grapes, oranges and other fruit from which most of the jams and jellies popular today are made would have been nearly non-existent. Fruit trees and vines take a few years after being planted to actually produce usable crops and strawberries must be replanted year after year to assure prolific fruiting. During the pioneer days, native fruits and nuts surely helped bridge the gaps until planted orchards began to produce. Native species would also have had more innate immunities to the maladies and pests most prevalent in the areas in which they were found; so this would have been one subject in which the European-descended newcomers would have looked to the Native Americans for guidance since they were the ones who were the most familiar with edible native plants.
Gradually, however, new hybrids and commercial propagation on a large scale supplanted the use of the old fruit and native trees but, with all the hue and cry lately about the possible adverse effects of GMOs, pesticides and even, in some cases, fertilizers — along with an increasing movement toward “sustainable agriculture”– it would appear the time for books such as “Southern Bounty” has come.
Author Trey Watson re-introduces us to such succulent delicacies of the past as paw-paw, muscadine, crabapple, black walnut and serviceberry (among others) with this complete guide on how to propagate, grow, harvest and preserve them.
Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of popping a ripe American (Virginian) persimmon — or, indeed, any of the old, native fruits or nuts — into one’s mouth and savoring the sweet texture of it will want to recreate that experience: “Southern Bounty” provides a welcome opportunity to do just that…