When my senior neighbor Mary calls me every year at the end of August with her annual message of “The tree is ripe – come pick,” I turn into the Bubba Gump of pears, gratefully using the four bushels of pears I harvest off her abundant backyard tree.
As the country whines about escalating food prices, there’s often rotten apples falling from some tree near you. Or pears, plums – name your fruit. You know the tree I’m talking about – the one you pass by every day in someone’s yard that is practically falling over with ripe fruit and you think to yourself, “Someone needs to do something with that.” How true – and that “someone” is you.
Talk about an organic homerun: By connecting with and harvesting a local fruit tree, you not only garner more organic, fresh, local fruit booty than you know what to do with – and put something to use that would otherwise have gone to waste. You build community by connecting with others. We’re talking community at its core, most sustainable essence, sharing abundance with others, relishing the gifts of the land.
Step up to the plate – or bushel – and tap into these unwanted fruit on trees in backyards across the nation that could be making the world a better place through more pie – or jam or cobblers or muffins – you get the picture. Here are three tips for foraging a fruit tree near you:
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 conservation 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.
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.
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 muffin booty 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.
Here’s a house favorite from our Wisconsin farm and B&B, Inn Serendipity this time of year — thanks to Mary’s Pears
Pear Ginger Muffins
2 c. all-purpose flour
½ c. brown sugar, firmly packed
2 t. ground ginger
1 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 ½ c. pears, finely chopped and peeled
½ c. raisins
½ t. salt
1/8 t. ground nutmeg
1/8 t. ground cloves
1 c. plain yogurt
½ c. vegetable oil
3 T. molasses
* Grease 18 standard muffin cups.
* In a large bowl, combine the first ten ingredients. In another bowl, beat the egg, yogurt, oil and molasses until smooth.
* Stir wet into dry ingredients until just moistened. Fold in pears and raisins.
* Fill prepared muffin cups almost full.
* Bake at 400 degrees for 18 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for about 5 minutes before removing from pan and placing on wire rack. Yield: 18 muffins.
Photo credit: John Ivanko