This afternoon my 5 year old and I went picking grapes (above). It was a beautiful vine in someone’s tiny little Toronto backyard, and I noticed that they had tomatoes growing. It had me a little confused that someone who grows their own vegetables wouldn’t want their own grapes, but it was pointed out that the vines were actually coming from across the driveway and originated at the neighbour’s place. Ah, of course. These are not their grapes at all! Anyway, it was a quick pick, and luckily there was a tall person there (I think it should be a requirement for every pick) for the very high bunches. We picked 25 pounds (11.3 kg) and the homeowner didn’t want any, so the pickers each took about 2 lbs of delicious grapes home. They are a little tart, but nicer than store-bought as they have a more complex flavour. What a treat.
Friday morning my 7 year old and I went on an apple pick. That was a tough one. The tree was very, very tall and the low branches had all been taken off by the city so as to keep them clear of the power/phone wires. So we got 80 lbs of apples from the branches we could reach with the extendable poles with bags on the end (see right), one of the pickers up on the step ladder a neighbour lent us, and one picker climbed the tree. It was a difficult tree to climb-and-pick as there was really only one spot to sit. I tried. I had to. My 7 year old really wanted to climb it, but like I said, it was a really tall tree with no low branches, so he was our windfall guy. He was very helpful. But the 80 lbs we got was probably less than half of what was on the tree. We just couldn’t reach it. The apples looked like red delicious but were some sort of crab apple. The inside were red and the seeds were red as well. They were tart, but I cooked them all up and now we have 1 cup portions of applesauce in the freezer for future use.
I noticed today on Not Far From The Tree’s facebook page that one of the gleaners writes for the Star and wrote an article on picking berries in the city. Which reminds me of a story of my own on the subject…
One day in June when I was on my way to an appointment down at Princess Margaret Hospital I saw a woman standing on the concrete side of a planter in front of the Swiss Chalet in the Hydro building at University and College picking something from the shrubs in the planters. I was curious, so I stopped and asked what they were. “Saskatoon berries, or serviceberries. The city planted them all over and they’re ripe now but only for a couple of weeks…” I had a taste but had to get to my appointment then. Afterwards I had some time and an empty coffee cup, so I stopped and picked a bunch of berries to share with my boys at home, and someone stopped and asked me what they were. And this is how the information and the goodness is passed on. The boys loved them, and just so you know, Canice (from the Star article above) isn’t kidding, they are only good for a day or two so eat ’em while they’re fresh!
Then a couple of weeks later, while we were out east on a camping trip, my 7 year old noticed some of the same berries at the tourist stop on the NB side of the Confederation Bridge and asked if he could pick some. I checked to make sure they were the same thing (happily there was a sign confirming that they were serviceberries) and let him have at them. I love that my son likes to forage. And not just for fruit. When we are in the land of garlic mustard he loves to nibble on it. At home our spearmint has taken over our little garden patch so we pick it and keep a pitcher of minty water in the fridge. We’ve made fresh mint chocolate chip ice cream with it, and tea (tisane) as well. This is a big part of why I take the boys on fruit picks with Not Far From The Tree. It’s great to know where and how food grows, what grows in this climate, and what’s edible.