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Wild fruit season: Short but sweet

In the fall of the year, I wonder why the past plays so well in my mind -- the summer imprint is evident. Maybe it's because I can see the passing of time so readily in the harvesting of summer's wild fruit. This year, the seasons were most ap pa...

In the fall of the year, I wonder why

the past plays so well in my mind --

the summer imprint is evident. Maybe

it's because I can see the passing of

time so readily in the harvesting of


summer's wild fruit.

This year, the seasons were most ap

parent in the tasks I didn't complete. In

our region -- the Dakotas and Minne

sota -- it's always a scramble to com

plete the harvest of wild fruit in the

short summer.

Wild fruit ripens at its own pace.


Juneberries were early this year be

cause it was warm and rainy. I didn't

get any and had to resort to buying

from the Hutterites, who always have

juneberries because they have an or

chard. I visited them one year for a

"Prairie Voices" interview and saw the



Then, when the chokecherries fol

lowed, they came too quickly -- and as

quickly as they came, they seemed to

turn into bird food just as fast.

Chokecherries are one of my favorite

wild fruits. They were clearly hard to

find last year, but this year, they were

abundant and Grade A in taste.


Last year, I had to go to the Missouri

River bottomlands to find chokecher

ries, and they were limited there. This

year, every little tree had something to

contribute. Friends and relatives know

that I have an annual canning day for

chokecherries. This year, sisters,

friends and relatives called me about


chokecherries. I got some canned and

had to freeze the rest. There weren't

enough weekends this summer.

I missed the plum season com

pletely. They are excellent canning

fruits, but I especially like them for eat

ing. Several years ago, my aunt who

lives in the Badlands told me they had


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a bumper plum crop, so I went to visit


She lives in this wonderful, rough-

and-rugged place beside the slow-mov

ing Little Missouri River. We went into

the breaks and harvested some roots.

Then, across from her house, beside

their gravel road, there was a huge

grove of wild plums. When I tasted

them, I knew there would make excel

lent jelly. She helped me, and we

picked several small buckets full.

After we visited and I had some of

her home-baked cinnamon rolls, I left

for Grand Forks. I set the pails on the

floor of the car just behind the driver's

seat. I noticed that I easily could reach

back and grab a few plums as I was

driving. Well, before I got home some

six hours later, I had eaten almost a

pail full. My aunt wondered why I

didn't have many jars of plum jelly. I

just smiled and said they boiled down

too much.

This year, I didn't get to the plums,

so I don't know what they were like.

Wild fruits are fickle, and they take

their cues from the weather and land.

Their taste will change from year to

year. If the sun shines and it rains at

the right times and the soil is good,

they will be excellent. Other times, not

so good.

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Our family has this ritual with corn.

Usually, we get 15 to 20 dozen ears,

sometimes more. Then, we set up out

side -- it used to be at my Aunt Pearl's

place or my brother's -- and roast the

corn over an open pit.

We throw the roasted ears -- still in

their husks -- on a canvas until they've

cooled. Then, we scrap the kernels off

the cob into pans.

When corn is roasted, it has a nutty

flavor that is really good. The kernels

then are put on flat, screened boxes,

where they stay for a few days until

they dry thoroughly.

And after the corn is dried, it's put in

cotton bags or containers for the win

ter. I usually put a couple of bay leaves

in my stash. My aunt taught me that it

keeps the bugs out. I've never had that

problem, so I guess it must work.

The roasting takes all afternoon, and

we usually have friends and relatives

who help. We make it a big family

event. This is a corn ritual that the

Sahnish (Arikara) people have done for

as long as I can remember.

Another way to store wild fruit that

the old people used was to make the

chokecherries into patties that were

then dried. Today, they are made on

only a few occasions and are not like

the corn-drying ceremony.

As someone with her feet in both the

modern world and yesterday's ceremo

nies, I see great value in these rituals

of gathering what the Creator provides.

The harvest provides for our spirit as

well as our bodies in the winter.

I've also learned that the modern

world is finding more and more rich

and nutritional value from wild things

we harvest from the land. For those

lessons that the elders taught us, I am


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