Free Fruit, Community Required: Raid a Local Fruit Tree in Three Steps

Lisa's pear bounty“Free organic fruit. Perfectly ripe. Locally grown. Yours for the taking.”

Your ears perking up yet? If this showed up on your local Craig’s List or Freecycle would you be frantically e-mailing, “When can I come over”? Amazingly, such an opportunity probably exists right now, perhaps right down your road, as fruit trees ripen and – too often – fall to the ground and rot.

Like an archeological remnant of a past generation, industrious homeowners often planted these fruit trees several decades ago, before our era of mega-supermarkets and the universal concept that we can, and should, buy everything 24/7. Seems these trees tend to fall into two categories: either they belong to senior residents who can’t physically pick and process the fruit, or newer residents who bought the house with the tree and don’t have the time to pick, much less know what to do with four bushels of pears. Other folks even go as far as considering these trees a nuisance, as overripe fruit falls to the ground and attracts bugs and rodents, eventually chopping the tree down.

Don’t anger the Lorax, make pear pie instead. By connecting with these untapped fruit sources, you cook up something bigger than your private food stash – you will be an ambassador for building community, one bite at a time. I made my annual pilgrimage yesterday to local seniors John and Mary’s house to raid their pear tree, coming home with three five-gallon buckets of fruit. No secret invasion needed; Mary calls every year right before Labor Day to let me know the pears are ripe and we’re welcome to harvest.

Here are three tips for foraging a fruit tree near you:

1. Approach
Find a tree and ask permission to pick the fruit. As most of these trees tend to be in backyards, traverse the alleyways to discover that rambling apple tree with branches drooping heavy with fruit over the yard fence.

Seniors make great fruit tree adoption candidates as they typically appreciate the opportunity of such bounty, but are past the life stage of climbing ladders and trees. Don’t be surprised if you get a reaction like, “Oh I’ve been waiting for you” from an area senior, thrilled to find an appreciative fruit picker. Post a flyer at the local senior center for more potential harvest opportunities. Remember these connections, particularly with seniors, go beyond produce exchange. With many seniors either shut-ins or living alone, your company and conversation goes a long way in making their day. Be sure to come prepared with empty buckets and bags for the fruit. Empty coolers work well, too, for hauling home the harvest.

Don’t fall discouraged if your picking request receives a negative or hesitant “well, maybe you can take a few” reply. An unfortunate consequence of our world today, people sometimes no longer know how to react to a “friendly stranger” on their doorstep, so they react with fear. Be thankful for whatever is given, and move on till you find a friendly face.

2. Appreciate
Once you bring the fruit home, use it or you’ll loose it. Make sure you have time that day to process the fruit, complete with a plan on what you want to make with the necessary ingredients on hand a ready to go. There’s nothing worse than running out of sugar when making jam.

First, go through your buckets and divide the fruit into three categories:
* Use immediately (i.e. very ripe or with damaged sections you need to cut out)
* Great to eat (perfect, unblemished)
* Let ripen (Needs some curing time, such as waiting for hard green pears to soften and yellow a bit).

Once divided, work through the “use immediately” booty right away.

One sweet consequence of tapping into these abandoned fruit trees is the fruit is often organic as no one sprayed the tree with anything, much less pesticides.

3. Return
Express thanks for this fruit gift by bringing some goodies back to the folks who owned the tree. Seniors light up when someone stops by with baked goods. Take your time and don’t rush to your next destination. If someone invites you in to share some of your own pie together over a cup of coffee, say yes. If you’re lucky, this may be the start of an on-going annual connection – and friendship.

If you’re going to make pie, might as well make two. It doesn’t require much additional work, you already have plenty of fruit that needs to be used and you can fuel the good karma fruit cycle by giving the second pie away in gratitude. This recipe is from our B&B cookbook, Edible Earth: Savoring the Good Life with Vegetarian Recipes from Inn Serendipity, which also includes other pear favorites inspired by Mary and John’s bounty, such as Pear Ginger Muffins and Pear Cordial.

Pear Crumb Pie

Crust Ingredients:
1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
½ t. salt
½ c. butter (1 stick)
2 to 3 T. cold water

Filling Ingredients:
½ c. brown sugar, firmly packed
2 T. cornstarch
½ t. ground cinnamon
¼ t. ground ginger
1/8 t. salt
Dash ground nutmeg
6 c. thinly sliced, peeled pears
1 T. lemon juice

Topping Ingredients:
2/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 c. cold butter (5 1/3 T.)

* In a bowl, combine flour and salt; cut in shortening until crumbly. Sprinkle with water; toss until mixture is moist enough to shape into a ball.
* On a floured surface, roll out pastry and fit into a buttered 9-in. pan.
* Combine filling ingredients; spoon into crust.
* Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.
* For topping, combine flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over filling. Bake 40 minutes longer.
* Cover edges with foil during the last 15 minutes to prevent over-browning if necessary.

Serves 8.

Related Posts:
A True Campaign for Change: Five Tips to Stir Up the Local Foods Movement in Your Community
No Gardening Required: Five Tips to be a Local Foods Forager
Free Food: Grazing for Local Greens in the Lawn

Photo Credit: Lisa Kivirist

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1 thought on “Free Fruit, Community Required: Raid a Local Fruit Tree in Three Steps”

  1. Great idea for a post! One of my fave childhood memories was picking fruit for elderly friends and family members and sharing the bounty. Plums, pears and peaches were great. But the real prize? Blackberries plucked from the back of a ranch in East Texas. They were simply perfect.

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