Wednesday, August 11, 2010

preserving the wild harvest

this summer i’ve had unbelievable luck finding fruit trees on public land. it started with the apricots in horseshoe bend. then reed and i found a *nice* crabapple tree (not the ubiquitous, tiny, crappy crabapples you can’t really do much with). a few days later i was walking home and along the way i found a plum tree and some kind of cherry tree, right next to each other. the cherries weren’t quite ripe yet, but the plums were, and the tree was so full of fruit some of the branches were bent all the way to the ground.

i went to pick mirabelles at my usual spot...bad luck there, actually, i don’t know what happened to the three trees along the greenbelt this year. i picked maybe a dozen. then i moved on to an apple tree that didn’t produce at all last year, but this year was loaded with delicious fruit.

later that day i found more mirabelle trees, including one that had more than enough fantastic ripe fruit to fill my bag:

since then i’ve found probably half a dozen more mirabelle trees. they seem to be all over the place. i keep running into more and more apple trees too. blackberries are everywhere and just starting to ripen...i’ve picked a few handfuls so far. and yesterday while out on a hike i came across a mulberry tree! i’d never eaten mulberries before--they’re like blackberries but smaller, less tart, less juicy, less flavorful. not my favorite, but still cool. and it’s a beautiful, huge old tree.

what’s eluded me, though, are the currants. i know they’re here, in fact i think they’re kind of common, but i haven’t located a single one. i’ll keep trying.

so far i’ve picked...

12.5 pounds of green apples,

7 pounds of apricots,

6.5 pounds of mirabelles,

6 pounds of plums,

1 pound of huckleberries,

and 6 pounds of crabapples.

clearly i needed some way to preserve all this. i dehydrated half the huckleberries and a few pounds of apricots:

and then, on july 25, my mom taught me how to can.

my mom is the master of canning. every year she enters jars of food at the western idaho fair--it’s tradition, she makes her famous bread and butter pickles, watermelon pickles, flavored vinegars, etc; her friend gail makes jams and jellies; and i print some of my photos for the photography exhibit. we all drive out to the fair together to submit our entries. the two of them have a running competition for who can collect the most “best of show” purple rosette ribbons. my mom has five so far, and literally hundreds of blue ribbons. she wins just about everything she enters, and there is seriously tough competition.

obviously she’s a good person to learn from. we made apricot jam together, and she outfitted me with a ton of canning supplies. she’s too busy to make much this year--i got her a watermelon with a nice thick rind (she said it was thicker than any she’s seen in a decade) so she made two batches of watermelon pickles, then she made 10 gorgeous flavored vinegars, but that’s probably all she’s doing this year.

anyway, since i learned how to can i’ve been going crazy with it. i made mirabelly jelly, mirabelle preserves, crabapple butter, spiced apple butter, mom’s apple pie in a jar, plum preserves, plum-apricot preserves and more. i was even able to re-process my remaining dandelion jelly, and this time it gelled perfectly:

i’ve produced 44 cans of food so far:

only 35 pictured...i gave away a few, ate two, and i’ve made four more since the photo. almost all of them were made entirely from fruit i picked myself. one exception is the bread and butter pickles. since my mom was too busy to make them this year she let me use her recipe--actually it’s her friend suzanne’s friend tina’s recipe that she’s been using for the last couple decades. i feel like a secret has been passed down to me.

i think my favorite so far is the crabapple butter. it’s extraordinarily flavorful and complex, and the texture is perfect:

in fact the whole batch is almost gone already. this is one of the ones that took the most work, too. i had to quarter and cut the blossom ends off of five pounds of crabapples, then cook them, then work them through a sieve, then cook them some more. just the first step took over an hour.

my cousin gets here tomorrow...i can’t wait to see her. i’m definitely taking her fruit picking.


Andrea said...

My mind is boggled at all the preserving you've accomplished! Fabulous array! And to think you foraged so much of the bounty — amazing. Last year I found plums and blackberries but I froze or ate them all.

mangocheeks said...

Woaw Emily,
I am so envious of your fruit haul. All I can see growing wild, are plums and all are out of my reach and blackberries that are starting to ripen.

I love how those jars glisten. What a bounty to look forward to Stunning.

Do hope you find some black or red currants!

Emily said...

andrea--i wish i had more space in my freezer so i could freeze a bunch too! i'm thinking of turning some mirabelles and blackberries into sorbet, so that way they'll take up less space and i can keep them around longer.

mangocheeks--isn't it exciting to see the blackberries starting to come in? i hope you get a good harvest.

GoneferalinID said...

Wow, what an abundance. I've been keeping my eyes on the blackberries, but haven't spotted any fruit trees on public land yet. I guess I haven't been looking though. I have never even heard of a mirabelle, I'll have to Google them. Does you mom have a recipe book? If she did, I'd be her first customer.

Emily said...

mirabelles are pretty amazing...i think they're also referred to as cherry plums, but that's less specific because other varieties of cherry plum exist. i was out on a walk tonight and i found another tree less than a block from my house! have you picked any blackberries yet? today was the first time i've been able to pick more than i could eat in one sitting. my cousin and i gorged ourselves and there were still plenty of ripe ones left.

Jessica said...

That's so cool that you were able to learn how to do this from your mother. I'm sure that was a fun and special experience that you'll always treasure. How fabulous that you've picked all of this fruit for free, too. Way to go!

Emily said...

thank you! it really was fun and special...and i wouldn't have been able to learn without her help, i think. i tried checking out a whole stack of books on canning from the library but something about the subject makes for such insanely boring, annoyingly technical reading, i couldn't force myself to pay attention and it just wasn't clicking at all until i got hands-on instruction.

Tammy said...

Wow,oh,wow! You have really inspired me to keep trying. Your jars are gorgous. Just bought a new canning book which looks like it will be helpful.

Emily said...

thank you tammy! i hope your next batch turns out fabulous.