Aha! The Boston Globe has discovered the Earthworks Urban Orchards program! Earthworks, a local nonprofit with two decades of experience planting trees and tending Boston’s natural environments, has added hundreds of fruit and nut trees to Boston’s landscape over the years in Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, Dorchester, and beyond! If you can find a persimmon in a Boston park, school, or public housing courtyard, Earthworks probably had something to do with it. And you can eat it! You’re supposed to eat it!
Mind you, it might not be the prettiest persimmon you’ve ever seen. Earthworks is devoted to organic orchard care. Judging by the apples I’ve inspected at Earthwork’s heirloom apple orchard at the Shirley Eustis House, that means that the fruit can be, well, spotty. As a responsible grown-up who eats freckled bananas and avoids neurotoxin-based pesticides when possible, I don’t mind at all.
You can go on a do-it-yourself orchard tour of all the Earthworks orchards, but it might take a while if you’re a weak swimmer; Earthworks has planted two apple trees and a seckel pear on Grape Island, and the ferry only runs on weekends. Better yet, you can volunteer to help harvest all that fruit and give half of it to folks who need it more than you do (unless you actually did swim to Grape Island, and need the calories).
But what if you live in the suburbs? Do the lands beyond Cambridge and Somerville offer opportunities for legally sanctioned fruit poaching? They do indeed, but you need to look down. The early low-bush blueberries have been crisped by our summer’s sun, but there are huckleberries aplenty waiting in places like the Middlesex Fells. Look around in the oak-hickory forest understory for medium-sized matte black-blue berries that don’t taste quite as good as blueberries. If you eat something nasty, you’ve probably tasted buckthorn berries, the vile issue of a vile plant. Bone up on your botany, and try again– or go on a walk with someone who knows what he’s eating, like Russ Cohen. Life’s too short to eat indoors.