By Darya Mead
There is something very satisfying about picking fruit and making treats to share. Even though I was brought up in NYC I have always coveted fruit picking. From apple orchard harvests to berry patches, I love that Little House on the Prairie mystique of living off the land, even if it is just a small portion of what it would take.
I live in a dynamic urban neighborhood, windy, not always pretty, with lots of flying trash. Despite the urban eyesores, the area is full of hidden edible treasures. We bought a house here because of the large plots and the fact that it was, at the time, one of the last affordable neighborhoods in San Francisco, out of the fog belt. The mix of new immigrants, young families, inter-generational housing and long-time residents has made for a colorful ten years.
The fruit trees in our backyard are one reason we cherish our little house. Our mini-orchard includes two apple trees, a limping lemon and a few cherry trees. All around the Excelsior and Portola neighborhoods in the southern part of the city, lemon, pear, plum and fig trees thrive. Each year we make a few cherry pies, maybe a French farm specialty, clafouti, and even freeze a few bags for the depths of winter.
This year, our neighborhood community Nextdoor site was a great tool to link prolific fruit bearing trees with keen local jam and pie makers. I responded to a message, begging folks to claim lemons. The poster had so many that she said they were falling off her tree. I swung by and picked up a bag; it made my day!
Another local mom with an ample and productive backyard, posted about her plums needing to be picked. Her family had eaten so many they couldn’t look at another. I ran over, filled a bag, and had a great conversation about kids, urban farming and the neighborhood. I promised to deliver a jar of jam later in the week.
This time of year, blackberries are also in bloom in McLaren Park and urban foraging has added yet another treasure hunt dimension to my summer produce gathering.
I made the plum jam, (tart, not too sweet) employed my kids to decorate the labels and have been sharing jars with friends and family and of course the plum tree owner. I have had an ample supply if urban blackberries for my morning muesli and have frozen many bags for smoothies. I haven’t bought lemons in weeks. Sure, I could buy lemons, cherries, plums and blackberries at local markets, but how deeply meaningful it is to me to connect with neighbors, glean potentially wasted fruit and make jam and pies from scratch. If you have a productive tree, start a sharing network with other neighbors or donate to a local food bank. It’s surprising how much hand picked fruit can make folks happy!