Wild in the City: Foraging Fridays

this week:

public (and sometimes private) fruit trees.

i don’t know about you, but that top picture makes me giddy. we are rapidly approaching the summer solstice and then it’s all things PLUM. all things PEACHY and LOPRAQUATY and APRICOTY. and you know what else that means? we be jammin’. and butterin’. and cannin’. yes siree.

there are public fruit trees all over san francisco. much of the fruit goes to the impoverished birds. still, there is plenty to go around and yet i am amazed at how much goes un-harvested, and un-eaten, falling on the ground to create a slapstick situation just waiting to happen.

i want to eeeeeeeat you.

my next door neighbors have this plum tree (pictured above) that is one of the most prolific producers i have ever seen. now, if it was in my yard, i would be rabid with anticipation, waiting under it with a wide open mouth, praising the sun each time it shone for the fact that it was ripening my bounty. and yet, every year i have been too shy to ask the neighbors, “um…say….you know that tree in your back yard? you gonna eat that?” thinking that of course they are going to use their fruit. those plums are like candy, how could they not? but every year i watch them ripen and fall, covering their deck in fermenting ooze, until they scoop it all up into a bucket that sits there rotting for the next 6 months.

you aren’t ripe yet. that’s cool. i can wait. (are you ripe now? what about now? now?)

so this year i asked the neighbor that has lived there the longest, an older gentleman, if they planned to use their fruit. he was very agreeable about letting me have it, and when i told him i would trade him jam for access to his yard, his face lit up and he said, “it’s a deal!”

if you are interested in accepting the offerings of the trees, there is this amazing website called neighborhood fruit (scroll over text for link). it is a map of all fruit trees on public land, all over the country. in sf and the east bay alone, there are public fruit trees EVERYWHERE. right in your neighborhood, i guarantee. so even if you don’t have a neighbor to bug, just go for a walk, and dig in!

sometimes you don’t notice at first, since it might be hiding.

it’s not easy, being green.

this week, i’m not going to tell you how to identify, since there are so many different kinds. but it’s pretty easy to tell, and i bet you’ll know. i’m also not going to tell you what to do with the fruit. (eat it silly!). but i will say a few words about harvesting.

we had an orchard on our property growing up. i have a few memories of when we first moved to the land, and were a little more die-hard about doing farm-ey kind of things. the big mystery was always how to get the fruit at the top of the trees, especially before the birds did. i remember a few instances involving ladders and neighbors and cursing.

last year, i dejectedly looked up at the top of many public fruit trees, sadly thinking my poor fate was sealed. and then i discovered the fruit picker.

what stroke of genius do i have to thank for this?

how we didn’t know about these, i’ll never know. but this is truly a must have tool for successful harvesting. beg, borrow or steal (and then return) one, but believe me, it’s worth it. you can even make your own…you need a long handle, like an old broom, and some kind of attachment on the top to both 1. grab the fruit and then 2. collect it once it falls. and old rake with a tupperware bowl attached is one idea. my friend (hi wendy!) made her own….maybe she can chime in with her design.

once you have your basket of abundance, i suggest the following protocol. on the way home, eat as many as you can, while they are still warm from the sun. roll the pit around in your mouth, savoring the nutty tartness. and then find a perfect place to spit it out, practicing the art of “pa-too-ey!”

at home, eat a few more over the following the day. and then call your grandmother, or your mom, and ask for her favorite jam or plum butter recipe. look in an old “joy of cooking” cookbook, or, as a last (and less romantic) resort, do a google search. eat some of your jam every morning, saving a jar for mid-winter, opening it on a cold, grey day, spreading summer on your toast.

little jar of heaven from 2009

The Disclaimer:

think with your stomach! do not ingest wild plants unless you are sure you have identified them correctly and are willing to take responsibility for using yourself as a guinea pig. it is SO not my fault if you eat the wrong thing and get poopy pants, or die. you’re an adult, you can make your own choices.

happy picking!


3 thoughts on “Wild in the City: Foraging Fridays

  1. love this!

    i’ve been eyeing the plums in the garden for weeks, now! Should we have a ‘jam’ making workshop in the garden??…hint hint.

  2. I went to that neighborhood fruit link thinking I would prove you wrong, for sure. But I put in my zip code and sure enough there are over a dozen public fruit trees in my ‘hood. Whoda thought? Thanks for this. 🙂

  3. gabriel, i think we should have a jam making party in my kitchen!

    betty, it’s crazy isn’t it? you should scope out how ripe stuff is, then we can go foraging together! any excuse to see you, you rascal!

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