Book Review — The Fruit Forager’s Companion

The Fruit Forager’s Companion
Sara Bir
Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018

If you know where to look, there is fruit growing everywhere, even in most cities. Much of this fruit gets wasted as it ripens, falls, and rots; either it is too much for the owner of the land on which the tree grows, or the property in uninhabited. Within my own city of Toronto, the growing season offers a variety of good things to eat, hidden away, or sometimes in plain sight, on public property; berries, quince, rosehips, greens like lamb’s quarters, and coveted black walnuts where a wily forager appears in a public park some evening in October with a ladder and a hook, and clears off entire stands of the trees, not a single precious nut left behind, like the Grinch at Christmas.

Having grown up in a semi-rural area in Nova Scotia, I spent my childhood in the woods, picking berries, fiddleheads, and mushrooms (with the guidance of my Grandmother), and on the beaches digging clams. Let’s just say Sara Bir is a gal after my own heart and I was excited to have the opportunity to read and review her book.

Bir concentrates on fruit, leaving other wild foods such as mushrooms to people with more experience. Rule number one of foraging – don’t eat the poison stuff. Rule number two – ask first, especially if the fruit you want to take is on private property. Bir encourages readers to knock on doors and ask, most people are usually happy to have you take all that fruit away. Bir also encourages readers to be safety-minded; if you can’t reach it easily, you probably don’t need it that badly. She also provides a list of necessary tools such as containers and the all-important gloves, because nature is pointy.

The recipe section of the book is comprised of fruit-based creations, sorted alphabetically, with each fruit introduced with a lovely drawing and basic overview of the fruit, its uses, storage, and cooking tips.

Recipes range from the expected sweet offerings (pastries, cakes, scones) to preserves and pickles, with a few main course dishes such as pork tenderloin with rosemary roasted figs and onions or trout with gooseberry sauce working the savoury abilities of the fruit. A few entries, such as the one for juniper, have no recipes, and Bir goes into varietal detail for some specific fruits but not all.

Happy to see: a reference to Not Far From the Tree, an organization here in Toronto that teams up with homeowners, volunteers, and charities to harvest fruit on private property and share it. Sad to see: Bir joyfully mentions Japonica quince but dismisses them as too much work. They’re not! I foraged Japonicas from my local park for years before they were removed in an effort to control some wandering bamboo, and they made the best face-puckering jam.

Depending on your geographical region, not all of The Fruit Forager’s Companion will apply to you, but even if you have no local lemon trees, the recipes can still be used for purchased fruit. And while the recipes are great, the real treasure here is the information Bir provides for aspiring foragers.

Usability (based on a pdf file): very good. Recipes are straightforward and easy to follow. Directions are in paragraph format with no step numbers or line breaks. Fonts appear to be a good size but this may depend on the overall dimensions of the finished printed format. Measurements include metric (yay!).

With thanks to Chelsea Green Publishing and NetGalley, this book was reviewed from an Advance Reader Copy and may not include exactly the same content or format when published.

Lucky Dip – Monday, August 8th, 2011

Dear restaurants, please don’t go thinking that hundreds of posts about your restaurant in the matter of a few hours, all using the same hashtag and (if you retweet every single tweet) flooding the twitter feed of everyone who follows you, is necessarily a selling point to make your place seem hot and vibrant and trendy. In fact, it’s annoying as hell and a real turn-off. Although that hashtag does make it easy for the rest of us to mute all the tweets and never have to see anything about your tweet-up (and possibly your restaurant) ever again. Social media can be a fabulous tool, but only if you use it judiciously. [The Grid]

It’s almost CNE time. You can tell because the ubiquitous (and horrifying) food-on-a-stick articles have started. Seriously, fudge? Why do you need a stick for fudge?? [National Post: Posted Toronto]

Fish-eaters – you know that all of these great promotions to get us to eat more sustainable species of fish really only work if you switch from the typical cod, salmon, tuna, right? Eating more fish overall, because you’re still eating just as much cod, but now are also eating mackerel, really defeats the purpose, yes? [The Guardian]

This will get your goat – Ontario’s goat industry (milk, cheese, tasty curry) is booming. [Toronto Star]

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Toronto’s Terre Madre Day

Over the past few years, Slow Food activists have taken part in a bi-annual event in Torino, Italy called Terra Madre. First held in 2004, the event brings together food activists from around the world in a giant conference and marketplace where people can exchange ideas and information. There are conferences, symposiums, dinners and markets, all with a focus on sharing ideas about how to promote sustainable food. Terra Madre takes place during the even-numbered years (2006, 2008… another coming up in 2010), and this year, Slow Food decided that it would be a good idea for individual convivia to hold local events – both as a great way to support local food producers, and because, well, not everyone can afford to get on a plane to Italy.

Organized and paid for by Slow Food Toronto (monies raised at the Picnic at the Brickworks allowed them to pay participating farmers and producers to take part, a rarity in the world of markets and trade shows where the producers usually have to pay to participate), this year’s Terra Madre Day took place at the FoodShare warehouse.

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The Charms of the Farm – Why a CSA is the Best Way to Enjoy the Harvest

harvestparsley

It’s almost April, and everywhere you turn people are planning their gardens – mapping out plots, ordering seeds. It’s enough to make a yardless city gal a little bit jealous, and I know I’m not the only one experiencing garden envy.

For those of us who can’t grow our own food (or who have ambitious plans in April that never seem to include weeding in the 30°C temperatures of August), the next best thing is to find our very own farmer who will do it for us – weeding included.

Spring is also when farmers start planning their upcoming growing season and is the perfect time for customers looking to get involved with a Community Shared Agriculture(CSA) programme to find a farmer to work with.

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How Do You Like Them Apples?

notfarapricottree

Got fruit? Many older houses in Toronto sport a fruit tree of some kind in the yard. From mulberries to apples, sour cherries to pears, backyards across the city offer a trove of hidden seasonal treasure. But in the recent real estate boom, plenty of people find themselves moving into a property that includes fruit trees in the yard and don’t know what to do with the things. Especially when it comes to harvesting the stuff. Even if they manage to pick their fill, there’s usually a lot left over – some for the birds and squirrels, but even more that goes to waste.

An organization called not far from the tree aims to change that, allowing homeowners to share their harvest with local charities, and with volunteers who will come and harvest the fruit in exchange for a share of the crop.

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The Local Food Scene – Who Does What? Part 1

whodoesberries

Although asparagus season is actually still at least a few weeks (okay, months) off, I keep trying to convince myself that any day now, I’ll run up to that display in my local supermarket’s produce section and the tag will say “Product of Ontario” instead of “Product of Peru”. Of course, when local asparagus becomes available, we’ll all know it – so many local organizations have popped up over the past few years to advocate for local food that they’ll be fighting to tell us all who has the first, best and cheapest asparagus around.

Despite working with and writing about many of the various regional food advocacy groups over the past couple of years, I still have a hard time remembering who does what. Which means that the average consumer in the Toronto area is probably even more bewildered than I am. Here then, is a brief primer, separated by category, of the various organizations, what they do, and where you can find them.

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