Let's Talk About: Local native fruit

With Thanksgiving and the harvest season over, you can still purchase locally grown fruit at your neighborhood farm market. You can get many kinds of apples and fresh pressed cider. However, almost all of our local fruit was not available to the area's original inhabitants.

Southwest Pennsylvania has a rich Native American history. The Meadowcroft Rock shelter, the oldest continually used habitation site in North America, was inhabited for 19,000 years until it was abandoned during the Revolutionary War.

What kind of local food did Native Americans eat? It was variety of nuts, including acorns, fruit and berries. However, there were only a few kinds of fruit trees found in our area. The only native (not introduced by European settlers) apple is a type of crab apple. There were also two plums and two cherries found locally, but neither is the large juicy one you find in your local market. There were also two other not as well-known tree fruits that are larger and perhaps tastier.

The Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is a ping-pong ball sized orange colored fruit. When ripe, it is very sweet, with the feel of a well ripe pear. When I located some recently, I saw the seeds in small piles left by animals before I found the tree. Its unripe sourness is well known, perhaps giving the strongest pucker ever produced.

My favorite local native fruit is the Paw Paw (Asimina triloba), sometimes known as the custard apple. Not common, you will know it from its large tapered leaves and plump 3- to 6-inch fruits that start out green, but are ready to eat when they begin to turn yellow. The largest native fruit found in the country has the feel and taste of a ripe banana, with some citrus mixed in.

Next growing season, take a walk in the woods and look up for a local grown snack.



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