This post was written by Eric Ritskes, blogger and active volunteer with Not Far From The Tree. If you have a story to share about your fruit picking and eating adventures, by all means send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org.
One day, while high up in a tree, reaching for a ripe pear, it hit me. If you added up all the fruit trees that exist in the yards of Toronto homes, you would have acres upon acres of orchards.
This summer, thanks in most part to the genius of Not Far From the Tree I’ve clambered through the trees of Toronto’s neighbourhoods to pick cherries, serviceberries, mulberries, apricots, plums, pears, grapes, and apples. Not only are there acres worth, but those acres are diverse!
Sometimes the picks are small, collectively you might pick 15lbs of cherries to divide. Sometimes the picks are huge and you might pick 250lbs of apples or 60lbs of grapes or apricots. With each pick though, I’ve had more than I wanted to eat fresh so I’ve had the chance to expand my preserving repetoire this summer.
Preserves are a great way of ‘stretching’ the bounty of summer, be creative, as well as creating delicious homemade treats. For me, it’s even more than that, along the lines of this article which calls preserves “ideology in a jar”. That said, here’s some of what I’ve done!
Cherries went into Cherry Bounce (a bourbon infusion) which, 3 months later is tasting so amazing that each night I see it on the counter and have to talk myself out of drinking another ounce. I really need to hide this…
Serviceberries, though small, got pressed out into the most amazing pancake syrup. Especially with the shortage of maple syrup this year, it’s nice to have this alternative (and don’t even mention Aunt Jemima’s to me….).
Mulberries were stewed down into a simple sauce that we use on top of pancakes, to flavour our homemade yogurt, or just eat by the spoonful. I freeze it in a manageable size and pull out a batch when the craving hits!
Apricots were done similarly, stewed down with a bit of cinnamon and thrown into yogurt. I also used it to make a killer alcoholic Apricot Ginger Slush! Alcohol is always a winner in my house.
Plums were canned whole in a simple syrup with a stick of cinnamon and a piece of vanilla bean. They were not quite ripe when I canned them so each plum is an amazing mouthful of tart, sweet, and warming spices. I used some of the simple syrup from the plums to make a Bourbon Plum Smash, mmmmm….. I also made a batch of plum sauce for Asian dishes or for my little girl to dip her chicken fingers in.
Pears were turned into three different types of jam: a tasty Pear Pineapple preserve with which I plan on making what look like the most beautiful cookies ever, a hybrid Peach Pear jam that is impossible to mess up, and a really tasty Ginger Pear Jam that has bits of candied ginger in it. Last year I made Pear Jam with pumpkin ale in it and it was stunning… but, when you pick with the seasons, pumpkin ale isn’t in the LCBO yet when pears are being picked!
When I picked grapes we got some green and purple ones. The green ones were too good not to eat fresh. The purple ones went into grape jelly. After thinking there was only so many ways to preserve grapes, a fellow picker put me on the trail of pickled grapes. I made a little of the only two recipes I could find for it… If you can wrap your head around trying it, the flavor will take your tongue for a wild ride!
Apples, which have been a little sparser this season, made a terrific pink colored apple sauce. I’m pretty sure everyone knows what to use applesauce for…
It’s been amazing to have so much local, organic fruit available all summer and, with all the preserving, all winter. Each pick has been fun, to clamber up the ladder or talk to interested passerbys who stop to chat because they’ve never seen anything like your nifty apple picking pole before. The people I’ve picked with have been super friendly and it’s always fun to meet others who are into local food, using the bounty of Toronto’s yards, and working to build community.
To read more stories by Eric Ritskes, check out his blog: ericswanderings.wordpress.com.