Every city has grown out from heritage neighborhoods, uniquely identifiable by the presence of big, old, fruit and nut trees originally planted by our great-great-grandparents as food assets. After decades of suburban sprawl and in-fill housing, most of the trees have been eliminated. Finding a fruit tree in the city can indicate that you’re in a heritage neighborhood. Things change: ask a resident today and often you’ll hear they don’t know what kind of tree it is and consider it to be a nuisance, haven’t tended to its care, nor tasted the fruit!
This year I wanted to become more sustainable by offsetting my food costs with foraged food. The season started with the Seed Swap held at the main branch of the County Library in Klamath Falls, Oregon, last winter. I brought seeds of alpine plants I gathered in the mountains and traded for carrot seeds from a local gardener. Then I raised my hand and asked if the group was planning to make an effort to harvest neglected tree fruit. A signup sheet was passed around and about five people were interested, on a wait-and-see basis, reporting that it had been many years since the last good fruit yield in this town.
Through email and meetings the urban foraging group started thinking about the Senior Center, whose members probably know of, or have, apple trees to share, and would they like to have a cider-making fund-raiser? The Senior Center director said yes; our group ran a clip-out add in the Senior Center flyer in the newspaper to connect with them. We needed a place to store apples before cider making, and I asked the Klamath Food Bank for the use of their cold storage — they said yes.
We lacked a cider press and grinder, so I asked the local Tool Library if they could acquire one; they said not unless it was donated. Then questions came up about liability insurance and ladders. To move forward, we met with a rep from the Oregon Food Bank headquarters in Portland, who explained how farm produce is gleaned from Willamette Valley and donated to a network of food banks around the state. In fact, our local home gardeners and farmers contribute 30,000 pounds of produce each year. I asked for guidance from a more experienced group, the Portland Fruit Tree Project; they shared their volunteer waiver forms.
By springtime, undaunted and still inspired, I began taking walks in the old neighborhoods to spot baby tree fruit. It helped that the Klamath County Museum held several plant ID walks in the parks. I went on the walks and attended a class from the OSU Extension on fruit trees.
I learned that in this area we have a moderately good climate for stone fruit: cherries, peaches, apricots, and the native Klamath Plum. Plus, the rosaceous family fruit: apples of many types, pear, quince, and rosehips. Ornamental trees have fruit that sometimes looks like edible fruit. My strategy was to return weekly to observe the ripening. Like foraging birds and deer, I had an urban food route.
It was early summer when an unexpected frost threatened the fruit blossoms and the group’s wait-and-see inertia froze in place. Yet, by mid-summer the fruit was ripening and it turned out to be a banner year! Among new friends, whoever was ready to process the fruit got a box full. I purchased extra canning jars, a scale to weigh pounds of fruit, and I wanted to try dehydrating too. A farmer friend told me how he built a bulk dehydrator for apples in his greenhouse and I built the same in my greenhouse.
Foraged fruit is not like the supermarket variety: blemish-free, extra-large, and grown out of region. None-the-less, foraged fruit can be processed at the peak of ripeness with superior flavor over any Big-Ag fruit. Canning recipes call for a fixed amount of sugar, which, with ripe fruit creates overly sweet preserves — instead, add sugar to taste.
There is a best way to preserve each type of fruit and overall there are nine different ways to preserve fruit: jam, jelly, marmalade, conserve, butter, preserves, syrup, paste, and leather. Jars can be sealed with wax or by water-bath canning. The dehydrator worked great and the fruit needed nothing more than a blanching before dehydrating.
Fortunately, double checking the plant ID book vetoed eating toxic horse chestnut and wax berry that I had misidentified as sweet chestnut and snow berry. The chestnuts will be used with pinecones for holiday decorations. Another warning heeded was do not pick up fruit already on the ground because it is likely contaminated with bacteria from roaming critters
My top two foodie picks are: 1) partially dehydrate apple rings, and then soak in orange juice, then finish dehydrating, making a fun apple-orange flavor; 2) make syrup from rosehips and honey, then drizzle over fresh pears, creating the most delicious flavor I’ve ever experienced. Next year with the right juicing equipment, I hope to make equally exciting refreshment that isn’t all foam and sediment as from the usual home juicer. Yeah, you could say it was a good season for a foraging foodie.
More ideas for your homestead and small house are in Christopher James Marshall’s holistic guide, Hut-Topia: How to Create Sustainable Small Homes and Homesteads. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here including his articles Dual-Mode Hot Water System Heated with Solar and Wood, Six Things You Can Repurpose into Homestead Mojo, and Livable Space Design for Tiny Homes. Read all of Christopher's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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