Belated Christmas Post: Bois d’Arc Crafts

Last summer I did a post about bois d’arc and horse apples and included some ideas for craft projects involving the fruit. Well, I actually made an attempt to use some horse apple slices in a crafty way for Christmas.

The idea: Use horse apple slices as Christmas ornaments.

After my summer post, I had several people bring me horse apples. In a few weeks my bounty began to overtake the fridge here at the museum. As Thanksgiving approached (and I noticed some of the apples were rotting inside their plastic bags) I realized I needed to clear them out of there. Most of them made their way to my compost bin, but I saved a few of the better looking ones to play with.

I had read (and written) that horse apples are messy, sticky, and generally difficult to cut. Did I heed these warnings? I did not. I simply got out my glass cutting board and my sharpest kitchen knife and got to it. The first cut was easy, and I wondered what all the complaining was about. By the 6th cut my board was covered in milky sap and I struggled to get the knife all the way through the fruit. It was amazing how quickly things got sticky.

Some slices were too thin, some too thick. Some started thick and somehow ended thin. I obviously needed more practice with this and had plenty more apples to spare. But as I tried to clean off my knife and realized dish soap didn’t really help, I knew this would be my first and last sliced horse apple for this test project.

There are two ways to dry the slices. One can leave them on a baking pan in the oven on low for several hours. Or one can do as I did and leave them on a baking pan in a spare bedroom for several weeks. They take a long time to dry. The thicker pieces never really did dry and turned into a dark soft mess. The thin ones half-stuck to the pan and broke when I tried to peel them off. I was left with two decent-looking usable horse apple slices.

I could have strung them with wire and hung them on my small fiber optic tree as intended, but it seemed a little silly with only two. I just lay them on and around the tree instead.

The result:

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Two slices: one at top in lieu of a star, one below by the stocking

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A close-up of the stocking slice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I learned:

1. Horse apple slices CAN be pretty decorations for fall and winter projects! They’re not entirely useless!

2.  When cutting the apples, work quickly. Once the milk is exposed and starts to dry things get tricky.

3. The optimum thickness for a slice is approx. 1/8 inch.

4. Wear gloves. I mentioned this in the previous post but I didn’t do it. Latex or dishwasing gloves, even gardening gloves. Not necessarily helpful in the cutting but definitely in the aftermath. Trying to clean up sticky when your hands are sticky isn’t fun. I half expected Desi Arnaz to walk in as I stuck to things then got those things stuck to other things.

I think this is a good project. The slices look nice enough and would complement a tree with a “natural” theme like pine cones, berries, or small woodland creatures. With a few tweaks I could make it work next Christmas.

Maybe.

Kendall

 

Did you undertake any Christmas crafts this year? Anyone still have horse apples and looking for something to do with them? Post a comment on our facebook page.

Bountiful Bois d’Arc

Horse apples. Hedge apples. Monkey balls. I’m talking about the fruit of the bois d’arc tree, or osage orange. We have a lot of bois d’arcs around Forney (we pronounce it BO-dark). Last week our webmaster Tracy brought in some horse apples that she cut from a tree near White Rock Lake. They don’t usually ripen and fall to the ground until autumn.

Tracy's harvest

Tracy’s harvest

Bois d'arc tree

Bois d’arc tree

Bois d’arc trees don’t really look like much. They’re kind of brushy and non-descript. But they played an important role in Forney history (before there actually was a Forney) as the area’s earliest agricultural commodity.

As settlers arrived in this part of Texas, one important natural resource was timber. Hardwoods such as ash, walnut, pecan, bois d’arc, and oak flourished in the bottoms of the East Fork and had value as fuel, furniture, and wagon parts.

The bois d’arc was especially prized for being very dense and rot-resistant which made it ideal for building materials such as fence posts, railroad ties, foundation piers, and street pavers. Early settlers traded the wood with Indians who used it to make bows. The thorny trees could be used as windbreaks or hedgerows along property lines before barbed wire. As early as the 1850s, John M. Lewis was harvesting and selling the seeds for that purpose.

In the 1880s Forney shipped bois d’arc to Dallas to build its downtown streets. In downtown Forney, portions of the sidewalks along Bois d’Arc and Center streets were paved with bois d’arc, too. William Cisel, known as “Bois d’Arc Bill”, was Forney’s largest dealer while James A. Bolding’s Forney factory made bois d’arc walking sticks to sell at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

You still can find older houses in northeast Texas with bois d’arc fence posts or foundation blocks, the wood having lasted a century or more. Cattle, hay, and cotton eventually overtook bois d’arc production as a staple of the Forney economy.

Today, bois d’arcs still make good hedge trees but don’t enjoy the popularity they did before wire or metal fences became the norm. The wood has a very close grain and an attractive yellow-orange color that darkens to brown. A very dedicated woodworker may make carved bowls or guitars using this dense species.

As for horse apples, some people swear that they repel roaches and spiders when thrown under the house or stored in a closet. The fruit isn’t technically poisonous to humans but is considered inedible. Deer and hogs might eat them, though, and squirrels will dig at them to get to the seeds.  When cut, horse apples exude a milky, sticky sap that many find irritating to the skin, and thorns on the bark and branches of the tree can prick pretty good. So, why would anyone bother messing with them?

 

To use the vibrant green coloring in a centerpiece or floral display.

To use the vibrant green coloring in a centerpiece or floral display

 

To cut, dry, and include in potpourri.

To cut, dry, and include in potpourri

 

To complement Halloween decor.

To complement Halloween decor

 

Or you can do what my family did as kids, namely throw them at the fence, the house, or even each other to see if they would burst.

If you’re feeling crafty, check out these websites for inspiration:

Decorated Chaos

eHow

Garden Guides

Don’t forget to wear gloves for  sticky protection. And if you find yourself in a horse apple fight you better be quick on your feet. Those suckers will leave a bruise.

 

Tell us your bois d’arc and horse apple stories on our facebook page.

Thanks,

Kendall

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