My yard produces two berries in abundance – agarita in the spring, and chiletepíns (a.k.a chile pequin) in the fall. And I wish I could do more with them both.
Both are remarkable native plants in their own rights, even without the abundant fruit. Taken together, they are an incredible source of food for wildlife lasting collectively from early Spring (which in Texas can sometimes seem to be January) to late Fall (i.e., November).
According to Matt Turner’s Remarkable Plants of Texas, agarita berries have been used by humans since 7,000 BCE in Texas for everything from jellies, pies, cobblers, cool drinks, wines and margaritas. If you eat them straight from the bush, they have some of the qualities of strawberries – high acidity, but some sweetness. And a lot of seeds. Those seeds, when roasted, have been said to be used as a coffee substitute (as have many things when times have been lean).
The problem is picking them:
Those leaves are as sharp as they look, and guard their fruit well. I picked a small bowl of them, and my fingers felt like they had been used as a pincushion. I read that there are better ways – beating the branches above an upturned umbrella, for one. I’m a little skeptical of that.
Chiletepíns, on the other hand, are easy to pick. In fact, they are so easy to pick, birds tend to pluck them readily and spread their seeds all over the yard. I have many small bushes in various places, with the two most productive ones growing out from under my back deck.
Turner describes the chiletepín as “the reputed progenitor of all domesticated peppers […] including such notables as the Anaheim, bell, cayenne, jalapeño, pimento, poblano and serrano.” To my mind, they are just hot, though they possess a good flavor, too. I will occasionally eat them straight off the bush just to revel in the exquisite burn for five minutes or so. Usually all it takes for me is one. But the bushes produce hundreds if not thousands at any given time. I’ve taken to harvesting small bags of them for a couple co-workers who appear to appreciate them far more than I do.
I have a third plant producing fruits that are somewhat undervalued by me… a small asian persimmon tree. While the tree is not native, the fruit is gorgeous and visually inviting. Sadly, it’s so astringent I couldn’t even put a slice on my tongue without recoiling. Maybe they are good for jelly or something, but that’s beyond my current skill.