Braving heat and bugs: Professional sand plum picker searches for jewels among the thorns

EDMOND, Okla. - They grow in sandy soil, along fence lines or in big thickets never touched by a brush hog blade.

"Looks like we have some scattered through here," said picker Shawn Dickenson.

Dickenson is one of a few people around who searches them out as a professional. He braves the heat, snakes, thorns, ticks and chiggers to reach the finest of summer jewels in Oklahoma, the sand plum.

"Sixty percent seed, and 40 percent fruit," he smiled. "But, the fruit that you do get is top of the line."

Dickenson found a thicket in Edmond near where his mother lives.

Dickenson knows better than most why the average picker leaves them alone, but he said the jam is worth the effort.

"A lot of people love it," he said. "It's my favorite jam, as well. I used to be a strawberry guy, but now sand plum is my favorite jam."

Birds, deer, wild pigs - they eat sand plums, or sand hill plums as some people call them.

Native Americans used to make a kind of flower meal from the seeds. Dickinson said they're good for you.

"They help with muscle movement, body circulation," he said.

Every spring, starting in March and running right through August, Dickenson goes to work on a list of people who've called in orders.

Most of the requests are between five and 40 pounds.

"Some people order 800 pounds," Dickenson said.

Dickenson picks them green to yellow then lets them ripen off the tree.

A cool summer means they're late this year, but a lot of rain made them fatter.

"This is an excellent year," Dickenson said.

Making something from them is only a little easier than the picking, but this is Oklahoma in a jar, a little tart, red with the blood and sweat it takes to produce. But, they're worth it, especially if you have a pro like Dickenson to help out.

Dickenson's operation is called Riverside Sand Plums.

To order or find more sand plum products visit their Facebook page.

Dickenson also mentioned an ice cream store in Tulsa that just started selling a sand plum flavor.

'Is This a Great State or What?' is sponsored by WEOKIE.

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