Urban foraging

Truth be told that most urban areas are not known for having edible plants growing in public spaces. Some notable exceptions to this include Cuba’s urban farming and the town of Todmorden in the UK. In Australia we have Buderim’s food street where the verges have been planted out with edibles to share. I really hope these exceptions become the norm one day.

Not incorporating edibles into urban landscapes is not only a shame but also means so many lost opportunities. So many lost opportunities to:

  • recognise the seasons and see what amazing produce is on offer
  • connect with others living in the community while picking and preserving the produce
  • taste produce at its best
  • have a closer connection to our environment
  • provide greater self reliance to get through difficult times.

There are laws around foraging in public places and while I’m not an expert it’s generally not encouraged. For example, in South Australia native plants can only be picked on crown land if you have a permit. It’s ok to forage natives on private property as long as it’s done responsibly and the local population remains intact. In urban areas issues of private land ownership arise and over harvesting of plant populations come into play. Most of the problems with foraging seem to stem from plant illiteracy and greed when people wish to profit from their finds.

I’m not going to go into detail about the principles of responsible foraging here other than:

  • know what you are picking
  • make sure you responsibly harvest whatever you are picking
  • pick what you need and leave what you don’t.

In my local area I have discovered some edibles growing along a council drain following an initial discovery of a plum tree. While picking the plums I noticed that there were also nectarines in the drain next to some of the dropped plums. I wandered up the drain to find where the nectarines were coming from. They were falling off a tree that was hanging over the fence. I also found in a very short distance a banana tree, grape vine, rosemary and mulberry tree.

This space is a great contender for some guerrilla gardening. The eroded drain provides a source of ground water for the established trees as well as a seasonal supply for watering the baby trees and plants by hand. Usually the drain is well dry at this time of year but had some water flowing due to the recent unusual storms. I’ll need to ponder a bit more about future guerrilla plantings in this space.

drain

Back to the plums. I gathered up some plums before Christmas and we ate them fresh. They were very tasty and tart which is how I like my plums. We went away for a week and during that time there was a four day heat wave. When I went back to the tree most of the fruit seemed to have fallen and it was now very ripe. They were still tasty so I collected some to make some fruit leather.

Plum leather recipe

plums

Get a large pot and a bowl ready for pips. Take the plums and squeeze between fingers over the pot. The seed should become loose and easy to remove. Place pips in bowl. Once all the plums have had their seeds removed squeeze some lemon over them. I used about half a lemon for 2 kgs of fruit. Put pot on medium heat on stove. Once the juices start releasing turn the heat down to simmer. Once enough juice has been released, use a stick blender to blend plums into a puree. Simmer for 10 mins and turn heat off.

At this point the puree needs to be dehydrated. If you have a dehydrator use that. I don’t have one so I use the oven. Prepare some baking trays by placing baking paper on them. Get a soup ladle and put the puree on the baking paper about 1/2 cm thick. Spread out puree evenly on tray using the back of a spoon and gently tap it to level out the puree. Place all the trays in the oven and cook on low heat 80c. Check regularly but expect it to take up to 8 hours to dehydrate. It’s ready when the mixture peels back from the baking paper.

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