While the wild service tree ("Sorbus torminalis") occurs in many parts of Europe, it is very rare today and found for the most part only in woods. In Lower Austria, where the tree is referred to as “Odlatzbia” (High German: "Adlitzbeere"), the knowledge and handicrafts surrounding the “queen of the wild fruit” are passed on from one generation to the next. “Odlatzbia Oröwen” is the culmination of the work process that extends from the planting of the tree to the destemming of its fruit.
Lower Austria’s Wiesenwienerwald has approximately 1,000 solitary wild service trees. This is unique in all of Europe and ensures the continued survival of the tree. About 250 years ago, the farmers of the area first began cultivating and utilising this variety as a fruit tree. Every year between September and November, some 300kg of fruit is harvested in a manual process that is not without its dangers. In this procedure, long ladders are leaned against the tree, the bottoms are buried in the earth, and the tops are anchored to the tree branches with ropes. Armed with a sack for the fruit and a rake for pulling in the branches, the pickers climb up and harvest the ripe fruit. This is followed in the evening by the social event called “Odlatzbia Oröwen”.
For this, the culmination of the process, the farm families and their helpers and friends gather together to manually separate the fruit from the cymes. They not only work but also tell stories, sing, and eat. Subsequently, the fruit is processed in various ways to make, among other things, jam, confectionary, and tea. Very popular is the schnapps made from the fruit, which has a characteristic flavour reminiscent of almonds and marzipan.
The knowledge and handicrafts related to the harvesting and processing of the fruit of the wild service tree are passed on from generation to generation. “Odlatzbia Oröwen” is an occasion for the exchange of this knowledge. Through the practices and rituals surrounding this tree, such as “Odlatzbia Oröwen”, the fruit becomes an identity-building element for the local farmers and the many helpers who work with the fruit.
Since 2007, the ElsbeerReich association, in collaboration with local farmers, has strived to renew the population of wild service trees through planting campaigns and promote the exchange of information through events, festivities, and public-relations work in order to draw attention to the traditional harvesting of the fruit and the custom of “Odlatzbia Oröwen”.