Local Food Trees

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

I’d like to think I’ve accumulated a lot of plant knowledge over the years, but my tree knowledge is embarrassingly thin. It’s all down to the fact that I don’t have anywhere to plant and grow one. I’ve grown small fruit-producing trees from pits, limes and kumquats, and the odd houseplant tree in pots but what I know about real, outdoor trees could fit in the palm of my hand.

However, if I did have a backyard or a piece of land I would be all over looking for food-producing trees to grow. In my land-owning fantasies I imagine growing my own apples, pears, plumes, peaches, apricots and most especially cherries. And until recently I hadn’t thought too much past these obvious options because I assumed they were pretty much the standard food trees suited to this region. But this year my fantasies have been expanded by the wild foods supplier at my local farmers market. They’ve been selling fruit and nuts from locally grown trees this past autumn and it has been a real shock to discover what will grow here. For example, just this past week alone I bought persimmons, butternuts (Juglans cinerea), sweet chestnuts, and my new favorite, hickory nuts (Carya). They were selling paw paws but I didn’t get to the market in time. I knew paw paws grew in parts of the southern US but had no idea there were trees growing around Toronto! I bought hazelnuts a few weeks back and walnuts at a local corner shop about a month back.

The hazelnuts were amazing — I did not buy enough. I love that I can make tasty, roasted chestnuts that aren’t imported all the way from China. And the hickory nuts have a fresh pecan-like flavor that finally makes me less jealous of southerners who can just pick up and eat pecans straight off the ground. It doesn’t matter that the walnuts were terrible, the persimmons coated my mouth with a strange film, or that the butternuts are delicious but physically impossible to open — I’m just excited to know they will grow here and that when and if my fantasies become reality, I’ll have far more choices then I ever imagined possible.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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15 thoughts on “Local Food Trees

  1. Interesting. I’ve never even seen butternuts for sale, and I live in a much more mild climate, with seemingly endless amounts of locally grown weird foods to try. I’ll have to ask the local farmers market to recruit a wild foods seller.

  2. Over the summer, I heard an interview on a CBC podcast with a person in central Newfoundland who was growing bananas outside. This has lead me to conclude that a lot more can be grown in Toronto than is now.

  3. You have to let the persimmons get really really ripe, otherwise they “burn” the inside of your mouth. Some sort of acid or something, I think.

  4. Make persimmon tarts. Then you have a pastry to take your mind off how mushy they are, and they’re more like jam instead of rotten fruit that aren’t rotten.

  5. It looks as if the butternut tree is on the endangered list in Canada and may be added in the United States.

  6. there are 2 different kinds of persimmons i believe, the kind that my uncle has in backyard are firm and about the size of a tomato. they smell of cinnamon and a peachy/apricot/pumpkiny-ish scent blend with a smooth to firm mouth feel very familiar with a firm plum. and these are when they are ripe. the other variety which my aunt has, same look however they are soft and mushy like they are almost bad or rotten.

  7. How does one eat/prepare a butternut? ive never even seen one. They look rather northern and cold weatherish. (I live in florida) Are they soft or hard? Sweet or bitter?

  8. Victoria: The nut meat is soft and buttery. Although we’ve only been able to get one open so far. They are solid as a rock! I’ve been bashing them with a hammer!

  9. Thanks for the clarification. How silly I would have looked going around calling butternuts hickory nuts… You’ve saved me years of nut-related embarrassment.

  10. Thanks for sharing, Gayla. I also have this dream of growing many more trees and having so much more provision than current space allows. When I was a kid, we had huge grape vines, 2 plum trees, cherry tree, raspberries, strawberries, 2 apple trees and always an overflowing garden. I guess I have always longed for that in my grown-up years too. ~Flora, NW Flower and Garden Show Blogger

  11. I was not too sure about persimmons as a kid until my aunt taught me about persimmon “sorbet.” It works better with Hachiya, the kind you eat soft. You can eat Fuyu hard like apples but they do that same fuzzy tongue thing that undercooked eggplant does. Wait till the persimmon is incredibly ripe and squishy, cut the top off (just around the stem so the inside is easily accessible) and freeze- I set mine in a cup so it won’t fall over. You can eat it with a spoon right out of the skin. You can also use them instead of pumpkin in pumpkin bread or muffins.

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