Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Urban Foraging

As Stacy and I walk through our neighborhood every morning with our dogs, we see the changing seasons which includes the ripening and all too often wasting of fruits from ornamental fruit trees. Stone fruit trees are beautiful in the spring when they show their tiny, blushing blooms. As spring turns to summer, the fruits grow into flame-colored spheres hanging beneath the green leaves. One particular house along our walk has two plum trees that grow between their back fence and a street. They don't prune or water the trees, yet the trees faithfully produce an abundance of small, intensely sweet plums year in and year out. One is a green plum and the other a small red. Both are of the Hardy Plum variety which are more well suited to Northern climes, which also do very well with little or no water, and thus appear as drought tolerant trees in home landscapes.

In mid summer as the fruit ripens and falls to the ground, it saddens me that the homeowners don't show more respect to their faithful trees by eating and preserving the fruit. Instead it falls to the ground to turn into mush which feeds the rodents, opossums, and raccoons that sulk around our neighborhood at night. Or it rots, which attracts green-bottle flies, biting flies, ants, and other annoying insects.

This year, I decided to harvest as much of the fruit as I could reach when it ripened. In about fifteen minutes I had acquired one and one-half gallons of the tasty fruits and only a few puncture wounds and scrapes from the nasty thorns hiding on the thicker branches. The project made me appreciate why our ancestors devised ways to preserve fruits as almost the entire crop ripened within one week. We are hosting a meetup August 2 when we will be preserving fruits using the hot-water bath processing method, in which we will process jars of jam. These plums will make a star appearance at the event and later this year when I am enjoying some on a piece of toast I will remember the warm July day that I picked the fruits.

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