The large Celtis occidentalis tree produces tiny, dark red berries that live up to the claim that fruits are nature’s candy. These are commonly known as hackberries.
Hackberries are native to North America and were used extensively by Native Americans as a source of food and medicine. They are high in calories, protein, and sugars, so they make a great trail snack that can be gathered directly from the tree during a hike. The only catch is that these trees can be quite tall. To access the berries, you’ll have to hope some branches are low enough to be in reach or knock them off with a stick.
The texture of the fruits is similar to a peanut M&M. They have a sweet, dry pulp and a crispy shell enclosing a hard, edible seed at their center. They don’t melt in your hand or your mouth, but each bite offers a delicious, candy-like taste along with a satisfying crunch. The pulp is very sweet, with a flavor similar to dates and black tea.
The main drawback is that the seeds can be very hard. Native Americans got around this problem by pounding the berries into a paste or powder that they then stirred into porridge or used to season meat.
Need to Know
Hackberries are not sold commercially, so you'll need to forage them. To safely identify the trees and their fruit, you should thoroughly research their appearance. The hackberry tree has a distinct warty, gray-brown bark. Fruits ripen in the fall and do not generally rot on the tree, so you can collect them even during the winter.