The flowering crab tree that each spring decorates our yard with color dropped the last of its blossoms four months ago or longer. But now, even as we negotiate the turn to a harsher season, its branches still bend under their load of fruit.
The apples — crab apples — are of a merry shade between orange and red. And they are quite small, about the size of a child’s marble. The literature, although describing them as somewhere between sour and bitter, says they can be useful for making jellies and preserves.
I was a bit tempted by that. But then I discovered the crab apple is among the wild fruits whose seeds contain trace amounts of a cyanide compound. So I decided to pass. I was reminded of that by something I learned nearly 50 years ago during a seven-month reporting trip through Africa, where colonial rule had only recently been replaced by self-government.
Across much of that continent — especially in the West African sub-Saharan region, where moisture is scarce, the climate is fierce and agricultural harvests unpredictable, many villagers depend on the cassava root as their dietary staple. Unfortunately, much effort is needed to make the root usable. And unless processed by repeated boiling to reduce cassava’s cyanide content, the consumption can be lethal.
More than once in my West African travel I happened upon situations where great numbers of people, sometimes whole villages, had been stricken by cassava poisoning.
It’s possible that squirrels and rabbits have digestive systems sturdy enough to deal with the effects of our fallen fruit. If so, they’re welcome to help themselves. For myself, however, I’m not tempted in the least.
It has been our practice in past Christmases to send dear friends a box of selected fruit treats and preserves — grape, peach, elderberry, plum, wild blackberry and the like.
If reading this causes any concern, I can promise them that this year there’ll be no crab apple jelly in the mix.