Monday, January 28, 2008

Free Range Fruit

While writing the article on fruit and nut trees, I realized that we don’t live in a particularly good belt for agricultural production. Most good producing trees don’t get the proper chill requirement here and the summers never get warm enough. Yet many are in flower while it is still too cold for most pollinators.

This made me reflect on how as kids we were tuned into the local crops, much the same way that bears seem to know when the salmon come up stream and when the berries should be ripe.

I came from a town that was inhabited for over two hundred years. The house I lived in is now 150 years old. Many of the houses there were even older. These old houses all had old fruit trees. Some of the houses were farm houses and their property had been divided and developed leaving several of the fruit trees in the yards of the new homes.

Word would get out that the cherries were ripe on Catherine Ave. A short time later there would be five bicycles parked under the cherry tree and five kids with sacks walking out on the branches. Then apples would be ripe on Winter’s Hill or pears were ripe on Strisko Road; we would be there. There were walnuts on Franklin Turnpike and on Railroad Ave. Can’t forget the wild strawberries and black berries on Ridge Road.

My favorite time was when the concords were ripe in the woods. The smell of grapes would arrive on the wind. It awakened our senses and our attention. I don’t know if the concord grapes grew naturally wild in the woods of New Jersey or if they had escaped cultivation, like how black berries are spread out here. A bird eats it and poops out the seed and it starts a new life. The grapes were especially tart but they were really good.

It seems that there was always a free meal out there from June to October. We would even hit old abandoned rhubarb patches. Yeah, that’s sick, but remember kids love tart and sour.

I hope there are still packs of kids out there who hunt down their fresh local produce and graze as we were meant to. I would hate to think that my generation was the last to actually leave the house for wild epicurean delights.


Blogger Beth said...

Sadly, I think our generation may have been the last to "graze" for free, healthy meals. Or, at least far fewer kids are able to these days. The area where I "grazed" no longer exists except as a housing development.
(Mmm...concord grapes...I remember making grape jelly with my mom.)

6:37 AM  
Blogger Patrick McGee said...

My next door neighbor has one of the best, as she calls it, "Pie Apple Trees" God could ever blessed this earth with.

Reliable as a swiss clock.

Way too much for her, plenty left for the neighbors.

8:35 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Patrick, there were several neighbors with apple trees where we were welcome to pick at will, but every one of them were lost in the storm. We used to pick feed bags full of them and dole them out to the horses as snacks, and we take the best ones for pies. You are fortunate not to have lost your source.

Beth, were they wild Concords? I wish grapes would grow out here, but as someone said yesterday with the climate change we may be able to grow them here one day.

10:48 AM  
Blogger weese said...

wow. This brings back memories. Tho I lived in CT suburbia - we still gathered and stuffed our selves on wild berries and apples.
I mean geez... we had to eat - we were out there all day unattended reaking havoc in the neighborhood :)

9:46 AM  
Blogger Bpaul said...

Our house is planning to map all the public access fruit within biking distance of our property.

Now I'm not in a suburb, I'm in Portland, not far from Mount Tabor (far enough for a blue collar house, however). There are many many trees to pick -- pears, many apples, some cherries (the birds really do a number on them in the city though, especially the tall rangy ones), persimmon, asian pear, blackberries, and thimbleberries.

That's off the top of my head, and only stuff that's either entirely on public property or feral and hanging enough into public property that you are doing someone a favor by picking them.

I'm wanting to learn how to prune orchard trees so I can help some of these feral monsters get into shape as well, but that's just one thing on a long long list of skills I want to acquire.

Regarding global warming and Oregon -- a few years back the Western Garden Book upgraded Portland from a "temperate" to a "Mediterranean" growing area. I can't remember the numbers, I think from a 6 to a 7 or 7 to an 8. Most other gardening books followed suit.

8:28 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

I don't know how parents of couch potatoes survive the summer time financial burden when their kids don't go out and free range.

BPaul, check back in a couple days, I have a pruning article coming up.

5:14 AM  
Blogger nootka said...

I need to keep up on your blogs, better!
I lived over on the (Long Beach) peninsula when very small.
We free ranged through the local cranberry bogs which were our neighbors (out on Joe Johns Rd. near Nahcotta), and there was an abandoned strawberry patch, there.
Fiddlehead ferns, huckleberries (deciduous and evergreen)...
blackberries, mushrooms...luckily my mom was pretty good with such things (oh, yeah, she did have us harvest those other kinda mushrooms, too, though)...
Thanks for a happy memory.

7:21 PM  

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