Wild in the City: Autumn Foraging

Having thoroughly given up on summer, this week found me ready and willing to embrace fall. My animal body aches for countryside at seasonal turnings, and more than once recently I have felt a sigh welling up when I realize that I have to get in my car and drive over the Bay Bridge if I want to find acorns. I long for golden dried grasses and crunchy leaves, a refreshing nip in the dry air at night and perhaps my garden as witness as I admire pumpkins and dried corn stalks.

But let’s get real. I know it’s fall because of different markers. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is next weekend (hooray!), my favorite corner store has mini sugar pumpkins, I am excitedly anticipating setting up the Dia de los Muertos altar…and the apple trees all over the city are ready and waiting!

So on the equinox, Fern and I grabbed the fruit picker and a cloth sack, and visited the trees in the garden next door, as well as a few others in the neighborhood. Take a look around your own locale…I bet you can find at least one tree! But first, a word about wild, foraged, non-commercial apples.

You may need to take a moment to get over the concept of this as ideal:

and maybe get more down with this:

Ok, maybe this example is a little gnarly. The tree that leans over our steps has several clusters of overzealous funkiness.

Once upon a time, before the advent of chemical warfare and spraying our food with poison, our ancestors had lower expectations (and heartier constitutions) when it came to produce. Blemishes and imperfections are normal when it comes to…well, to many things! But particularly when it comes to organic food. A little wormhole, spiderweb or soft spot where a bird took a bite does not mean you have a bad apple! Just cut that part out and eat around it. Put the icky part back on the ground or in your compost. You won’t catch cooties, I promise.

And so, here is the core of our fruitful adventure (oh the hilarity).

I sat Fern on the ground while I prepared to pick. She was plenty occupied, playing with the watering can and eating bark mulch.
Carol the cat came over to help. She is a stray who comes inside every so often and loves us up. At first we thought she was pregnant, but now we think she's a little rotund having from having played on the sentiments of several households...and getting several meals a day as a result.
She is very sweet with Fern.
She flopped right down for lovins. I have been teaching Fern the concept of "gentle" ever since she began to grab, and she really gets it.
All yoginis know the importance of eating fresh fruit. I don't know how she does this pose. If I tried it....well, I can't grab my toes like that, but if I could I think the next sequence of events would involve some improper views and a lot of groaning.
She was delighted with each new delivery of bounty, helping me sort each one.
An apple of dubious quality.
We made several hauls, and when we got home, she taste tested a few.
Except all she has is bottom teeth, so tasting involved more of a sucking technique.
And this was before we washed them. I think this particular face is due to have slurped up some used cocoon.
Some of the first harvesting were used for this little beauty, in celebration of the turning wheel. (See recipe below).
I am obsessed with slicing them thinly and dehydrating to make apple chips. I keep filling up this jar and then nibbling away half. That dehydrator...best five bucks I ever spent! When not in use for the apples, I have been making "sun" dried tomatoes, and last night I had a dream that I stumbled across an orchard with tomato trees! The trees were loaded with fruit and my first thought was, "Wow, now I can make dried tomatoes to last us all winter!"
Using apples means that there are often peelings and pares and cores left over. I am saving them all in a bowl, and letting them sit out until they get nice and brown. Then I will be using them to make apple cider vinegar! (See recipe below).

Fern’s Apple Pie Celebration

5-6 cups apples, thinly sliced (leave the peel on, leave the core out)
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Cardamom
1/4 tsp Powdered Ginger
(spice amounts are guesstimates…I always spice by pinch and sniff)

1 TB Cornstarch
2/3-3/4 c Brown Sugar
pinch salt

The Crust

1 1/2 C Unbleached Pastry Flour
1/2 C Earth Balance Margarine
pinch salt
3 TB (plus or minus) of cold water

To make enough crust for a bottom and top, double the recipe above. In a large bowl, add the flour and salt and cut in the margarine. Using a pastry cutter, mash up the margarine until it is well combined with the flour and the margarine pieces are quite small. Sprinkle the water, and stir with a wooden spoon, until a ball of dough is formed. The amount of water will vary depending on the weather (humidity) the type of flour, etc.) Shape the dough into a ball without kneading it, and either refrigerate, or roll out right away. Place into a well greased pie pan.

In another bowl, place the cut apples. Stir in all other ingredients, making sure the apples are well coated. But don’t drive yourself crazy…as they cook, the spices will mingle together and do their little alchemical pie thing. Dump the apples into the pie pan.

If using, place the top crust, seal the edges and prick in several places with a fork. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, and then turn down to 350 and bake for another 35, or until the crust is golden brown.

Apple Cider Vinegar

(disclaimer: This is the technique I am using, but I do not have vinegar yet, because it takes a few weeks.)

Keep all your apple cores, peels etc in a bowl and let them sit out until they are brown and a little shriveled and totally questionable looking. Place in a jar and pour in filtered water to cover. Cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth and let sit in a warm, dark place.

The contents will start to thicken and a “greyish scum” will start to form on top. (um….EW….why am I making this again? Oh yeah, because apple cider vinegar is *the best* vinegar to use…in food, medicinally and even on your face to balance ph). Once this happens, you’ve got about 4 weeks to go. It is up to you how “vinegary” you want it, and you can taste test and leave longer if need be. When it is done, you can strain it if you want to, or just fish out the scraps and leave “the mother” (e.g. the primary fermented blob of slime that forms) in the vinegar. It’s ok! It’s raw! It’s like kombucha! Ok! So I think it’s actually really gross too, but we use ACV all the time, so here we go!

Happy Harvest to you all. Did you check out the moon this week? Each night it has arisen over the city, giant and golden, playing with the buildings and treetops.



6 thoughts on “Wild in the City: Autumn Foraging

  1. Inspiration! I keep putting off pulling my picker out and collecting the apples across the street. I am excited about applesauce and applebutter. I love keeping up with your foraging. If you make it over my way, you should swing by and get yourself some feijoas. They taste great dehydrated! *Hugs*. -W

  2. Lovely story. It’s good to see I’m not the only one that’s taking care of their neighborhood stray cat. You are keeping the apple seeds, aren’t you? We can never have enough apple trees in this world.

  3. Thanks for revealing yourself on my blog. I am a native Berkeley-an by the way. Love the yogini with apples. And a friend of mine is driving from Colorado out to SF for that bluegrass concert next weekend. Say hi to Kristi if you meet her (she’ll be wearing a lot of silver jewelry).

  4. i just got so many apples!! and i am really really hoping to make some vinegar after a pie or two or three….so you let the jar sit in a warm dark place with just the cheesecloth over it for 4 weeks?

    and, i am so in love with fern and her expressions. oh. it makes getting an iud seem like a horrible idea. but i know this planet is full. i’m really trying to be a responsible earthling. but damn, your baby is good, and she makes me want another one!!

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