Eating Hackberries

The North American Hackberry is an overlooked tree – and that’s a shame! It’s beautiful – graceful and statuesque –  like the mighty elm. It’s native to the United States and can tolerate most of our climates and soil types.

IMG_4632

Check out this groovy bark! What other tree has bark this cool?

Here in Minnesota, our Hackberry trees are thriving in almost pure sand in zone 4a. It’s a tough tree!

Best of all – it makes fantastic little fruits.hackberries spread out

These fruits are favorites of pheasants, birds, deer, and even humans. Legend has it that many a generation was spared from starvation by eating the hackberry fruit. The fruit is  quite high in protein and sugars.

They are not “berries” like raspberries or strawberries. They are hard and dry. The outer layer of skin is sweet and tastes like a fig – minus the seeds (like the inside of a fig newton.) The seed itself is hard. Hard, hard, hard. If you bite it, you could break a tooth.

Inside the hard seed hull is a white creamier seed. It tastes “green” like the bottom of a blade of grass or a young unroasted sunflower seed. That is where the protein lies.

When we set out to gather hackberries, we collect a ton of them. The high sugar content of the skin prevents the berries from going bad. They can sit on the counter or chill in the fridge for a very long time. Over time – the skin does dry out and wrinkle. Still edible, but very dry.jars of hackberries

The jars pictured held about 1 cup and  weighed 160 grams.

Each 100 grams of Hackberries contain 72 calories. They are 18% carbs, 14.25% protein, 6.27% lime, and .38% phosphoric acid. They are purportedly high in iron and vitamin C.

This amount of hackberries would give about 115 calories or about 7% of a daily required food intake. From a mature tree, this would take just a few minutes to pick

If you could just chew them up and swallow them, then that would be the end of the story. That’s not the case.

You have to grind them up. You can use a mortar & pestle.mortar and pestleOr do what we usually do and put your hackberries into the blender with enough water to cover them.hackberry milk

We used a vitamix.  Now we have Hackberry milk. We strain the milk in a cheesecloth/organza bag. You could use any sort of tea towel or fine sieved strainer.

The puree left in the bag is very sandy. Crunchy in the teeth, sandpaper on your enamel.  Put it in the compost or give it back to the tree. Keep the milk.straining

The milk separates into liquid and creamy components.hackberry milk separated

stirred

It’s easy enough to stir the milk components back together. Or store the milk in a jar and just give it a shake.

jarred hackberry milk

How does it taste??? Well, it’s good. Like almond milk but with a deeper flavor. There is no more hint of fig. It’s nutty with the essence of protein powder,  like a bland caramel. If I had to name the milk, for flavor and looks, I would have called it a caramel milk. It’s good and definitely drinkable. We like to add ours to oatmeal.

The skin is great for a nibble, and the whole shebang makes a pretty good milk. I never pass a hackberry tree without eating the skin off of at least a few berries. Or I put them in my pocket for nibbling later. It’s definitely a “giving tree.”

Now…back to the sandy pulp. My thoughts are that it is probably easier to compost, feed to your chickens, or give the nutrients back to the tree. However…

When I take the pulp out of the jelly bag, I notice it is still squishy and full of goodness. The sandy components are very mixed in. I could not feel them between my fingers even though chewing the pulp was gritty for my teeth.

This leads me to believe that the sand can probably be extracted by sedimentation. If you had the time and desire, you could probably make a flour or energy bars from these berries.

hackberry

If you have luck separating the “sand” let us know. We would love to hear how others are using this fantastic tree.

Bottom Line – Hackberries are good. They taste good and are probably pretty healthy for us.  Making hackberry milk is fairly simple and worth doing if you have easy access to the berries. Want to grow your own Hackberry Trees? We sell seeds!

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