Everywhere you look right now, there is an abundance of food. Along country roadsides, in overgrown neighborhood alleys, in forgotten corners of back yards, fruit is hanging ripe for the picking. The last few weeks have been busy ones for me, with all the usual foraging that I do this time of year, the harvest that needs gathering on my own land, and all the preserving that ensues. With the counters covered in heaping baskets, and bowls I'm teetering on the brink of food preserving burnout, but am determined to keep going strong until the winter weather sets in. There hasn't been much time left over for blogging, but I feel that I would be doing you all a disservice by not sharing the knowledge that there is good, free food to be had all around, and giving you some ideas on how to go about finding it.
Since we live a ways out of town, and the kids still need to go in for school, I usually plan on spending a couple of mornings a week in town to save on driving. I load up the back of my car with baskets, bags and apple pickers, and meet up with my foraging friends. We have a lot of good times going around town together harvesting food. I imagine this is how women connected and socialized back in the day, before there were coffee houses and there was a lot of hard, honest work to be done. They foraged together.
A note: If you do not own an apple picker, you need to go out and get one. Here it is in the photo below. The best 15 dollars you ever spent at the hardware store. Seriously.
I'll start off with urban foraging. Alleys are excellent places to find fruit this time of year. Blackberries, plums, apples, grapes, you name it. The wilder and more overgrown the alley, the better. Forgotten fruit trees grow outside the fence lines of yards, overgrown grapevines trail out of back fences and blackberries grow unnoticed. Vacant houses for sale are another place to find un-harvested fruit trees. With the poor economy, some houses sit empty for a long time. There is a wonderful pear tree in a front yard that I have visited two years in a row now. I'm going to be a little sad when it does become occupied. Don't overlook vacant lots, parks and arboretums. Oftentimes, original homestead orchards were incorporated into city sprawl. We have one large local park with hazelnuts, beech nuts, and few black walnuts. There are places like Dorris Ranch Living History Farm where they still manage and harvest the hazelnut orchards, but allow gleaning once the harvest ends.
If you are fortunate to live in a college town, university neighborhoods are another excellent urban foraging scene. These neighborhoods are often old neighborhoods where the owners planted fruit trees at some point. Now they are student rentals, often inhabited by folks who are buried alive in homework and couldn't care less if there were an entire orchard in their back yard. They do not have the time to deal with it. They are worried about passing their exam next week and will tell you to please, please make all the fruit stop accumulating on their lawn, so their landlord will leave them alone. This past week a group of guys were happy to let us pick from their apple and pear trees. One of them said he thought he might make an apple cobbler sometime. That was the extent of his fruit gathering ambitions. Universities also tend to own a lot of vacant land with future campus planning and expansion in mind, and sometimes you will find old fruit trees left over from times when it was all still farm land.
Country roads are another good bet for foraging. I found this apple tree along a road not far from my house, and every year it has these delicious little yellow apples, just the right size for packing in my kids lunch baskets. They make great drying apples too. Another thing I should mention here, is that kids love foraging. I have gone with two friends now who brought their young children along, and they love to help and snack on the unlimited fruit.
For wilder foods, like elderberries for example, Forest Service and BLM roads are good places to look. I took some friends out elderberry picking off of the highway West of town this week, and we were all appreciating the bounty of wild food in the midst of the un-favorable crop growing season we've had this year. My friend noted that the bushes looked like we hadn't even picked off of them when we were done, there were that many clusters of berries still left!
It feels wonderful to bring home full baskets. I always find that I need to remember to plan in adequate time to process and store all the food I bring home. Between canning, freezing, pantry storage and drying, I always manage to put it all away for the winter, but not without some late nights and frazzled days. Still, it's absolutely worth it feeding my family food that I gathered and preserved myself.
This will not be the last you will hear of my foraging adventures, but for now, I will close with these words of wisdom to live by: