Friday, September 23, 2011

A Good Gleaning Haul

Yesterday while running an errand I noticed that the Bartlett pear tree around the corner from our home was hanging heavy with fruit.  The owners of this property have put up a "free pears" sign on their lawn about half the years since we've been living here, but it hasn't been consistent.  Well...I wanted those pears, and I wanted them before they all fell to the ground.  Pears are best picked off the tree before they ripen.  Many times the ones that fall naturally develop hard crystal-like formations in their flesh, which aren't very pleasant to eat.

We purchased a long-handled fruit picker basket last year to help us pick the high fruit from our own apple tree.  It's a handy thing that extends our reach by about 9' (2.7 m).  So we put it in the car along with a bushel basket (I was feeling optimistic) and went to ask after the pears.  The property is just far enough away from ours that I don't consider these people neighbors, exactly.  Our area is sort of rural, and sort of suburban; "around the corner" can be a fair distance in these parts.  As is so often the case, when we asked politely the owner of the property was delighted to let us take the pears.  He said he didn't like to see them go to waste, but that he and his wife don't use them.  I mentioned that I'd collected pears from his tree a few times in previous years when he'd put the sign up, and thought perhaps he just hadn't gotten round to putting one up this year.  He said that was exactly the case and emphasized repeatedly that we were welcome to come back any time for the fruit.

We cleaned the tree of almost all the fruit that was still on the branch.  There were a few that even our long-handled picker couldn't reach, but not many.  As a courtesy we picked up all the fruit on the ground too.  Most of these had obvious damage on them, some from a lawn mower.  I'll send them on with our early drop apples to my farming friend who raises hogs.  The appearance of the pears makes it obvious that they haven't been sprayed with anything, so I'm sure she'll feel comfortable giving them to her animals.  The fruit we kept for ourselves came nearly to the top of our bushel basket.

I mentioned that pears are best picked before they ripen on the branch.  It turns out that pears are rather tricky to bring to what humans consider a nice state for eating.  They need to be picked before maturity and then chilled.  The chilling time depends on the variety, but fortunately the Bartlett only requires a couple of days.  So these will be in our refrigerator for a little while and then I'll spread them back out to ripen up on cardboard in the front room.  That way I can keep an eye on each one and no fruit gets crushed by the weight of fruit above. It's certainly a lot of fruit.  I don't mind though.  In fact, getting this much fruit free for the picking was a great mood booster.  I've been frustrated with several things that are happening or not happening around the homestead lately.  Free pears go a long way towards cheering me up.  And this is a nice time of year to make jam and do the hot work of canning.  Temperatures are definitely dropping off.  I put aside a small amount of elderberry juice last month and stashed it in our freezer.  I know what a surreal and gorgeous color even a little bit of juice makes when I combine it with a pale fruit like pears.  So when the pears ripen up, I'll make more elderberry-pear jam.  Needless to say, when it's done some will go to our benefactors around the corner.

I'm also planning to revisit an amazingly yummy cake recipe I found over at 101 Cookbooks.  Heidi's salt-kissed buttermilk cake recipe is easily adapted to many different seasonal fruits.  I tried it once with pears from the farmer's market and simply could. not. stop. eating. it.  The nice thing about that is that for a cake, this one is surprisingly non-naughty: only half a cup of sugar and 4 tablespoons of butter.  Buttermilk does the rest in terms of adding flavor and body to a very light-textured cake.  I switched from Heidi's raspberry and lemon zest flavorings to sliced pear, minced crystallized ginger and almond extract.  The salty-sweet topping for the fruit made the flavors really pop.  This one went directly into my printed out recipe binder.

My husband is shocked that I don't count gleaned fruit as part of our harvest tally.  I explained that my project is to demonstrate how much food can be produced by perfect nobodies on an average residential lot in our area.  Since we didn't grow it ourselves and it didn't come from our property, I don't see that we should get "credit" for it as part of our harvest.  I'd certainly count any weeds we foraged off our own property for consumption, but gleaning elsewhere is another thing entirely.  Still, gleaning what we can is part and parcel of our overall drive for frugality, and I hate to see food go to waste.  So I see his point.  Maybe from now on I'll keep a separate gleaning tally for things we gather off-property.  It could be an interesting adjunct figure to go with our harvest tally.

Any good gleaning going on in your neck of the woods?


Michael Greenberg said...

City gleaning is a mixed bag. There fig trees scattered throughout Philadelphia, many of which overhang public property. To my mild shame (and less mild pride, perhaps), I've picked a fair few walking back from a late night.

kristine said...

I recently picked about 10# of apples from a city park--when I called the parks&rec office to see if it was ok, they said no one had ever asked them that before!

Christine said...

We're giving beech nuts a try this year since they are dropping and acorns are not. The beech nut is so much smaller, but it seems to be easier cracking. We'll see how they taste in about a week.

Anna said...

May I also recommend pear butter? I like it better than apple butter, even. For me, it's a nice change from jam or jelly; a rich but subtle flavor, often less sweet, and great with morning oatmeal! I like to season mine with fresh nutmeg.

CallieK said...

I work with an organization called Not Far From The Tree ( and we glean all over the city of Toronto. Sadly this was not a great year, rain washed out the pear (and cherry) blossoms in spring so I haven't got to pick a single pear yet this year! Lots of grapes and apples tho so I can't complain too much.

Also: pears in elderberry syrup, just sayin'

Kate said...

Micheal, that's right. I forget that Philadelphia has its very own microclimate within PA - just warm enough to make the difference for figs. I say be proud of your urban gleaning!

Kristine, nice score. I wonder if the parks & rec people might be a resource to learn about other gleanable trees on public property?

Christine, I'd love to hear about your experiences with beechnuts. If you post anything about them, would you kindly let me know?

Anna, excellent suggestion. Thanks! I love pear butter, but it hadn't occurred to me to make some.

CallieK, sounds like a great organization. We lost our cherries to the same phenomenon this year. The pears in this area bloom later, I guess. Enjoy the grapes and apples. I don't think I have enough spare juice to make a significant amount of syrup. But I'll keep the idea in mind for the future.

Anonymous said...

I'm surrounded by gleanable fruit (apples and pears) and yet again, just haven't gotten around to it. :(

Thanks for the tip about how to pick pears - chilling never would have occurred to me!

meemsnyc said...

This is so amazing! How wonderful that you have a neighbor that generously allows you to harvest pears off their tree. I can't wait to read what you do with these pears!

Denise said...

This past spring I was able to glean two rhubarb plants.....I was able to harvest some, but I didn't over-pick as I wanted to give the plants a chance to settle in.

Dorothy said...

I just gleaned almost a bushel of what appear to be Golden Delicious apples from a bank-owned home in my neighborhood. I spoke to all of the house's neighbors about my idea to pick the fruit and surprisingly, not only did the neighbors not care, they thought they weren't edible b/c they were never sprayed. That's why I wanted them! ORGANIC. =)

Dmarie said...

wow, that's some impressive gleaning!!

Cindy said...

Wow, that's a lucky haul! And I would totally count gleaning into my homesteading total, since we're counting the food which is available to us. We still haven't gone to the abandoned apple orchard down the hill from us, but your post has inspired me!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Well, there's this crabapple tree. It's huge. It's beautiful. It groans with fruit.

Last year, I made a crabapple anise jelly that was addictively good, from crabapples I took from the side of the tree facing the road. This year, though, I feel like I should knock on the door and ask permission, and I don't look forward to that sort of thing.

Your post bolstered me a bit; maybe I'll manage it this weekend.

Amish Stories said...

Greetings from the Amish community of Lebanon pennsylvainia.I was just passing though and thought id say hello. Richard from Amish Stories.

Kate said...

Emily, it would never have occurred to me either, except that I was harvesting this big load of pears before they were off the tree. See what we learn when we explore?

meemsnyc, I made a few of them into elderberry-pear jam today, but I've only just scratched the surface. I pulled a couple of dozen more out of the fridge to start ripening. That'll take at least a week though, so I have time to think about what's next.

Denise, nice! Nothing like scoring free plants!

Dorothy, good move. If the bank were to care one way or the other, they'd probably prefer the fruit not rot on the ground. Probably the neighbors too. What are you going to do with them?

Dmarie, yes, now to make use of it all...

Cindy, that's another way of looking at it. I'll probably keep separate tallies, because I don't want to misrepresent what can be done on a small property. My goal is to show others what they can do on a lot my size, and I wouldn't feel right claiming I produced this myself. Glad I inspired you to visit that orchard.

Tamar, that jelly sounds lovely. If not asking is working for you and the neighbor, I won't insist you make it a formal arrangement. But you do seem to have a certain je ne sais quoi that inspires people to generosity. It's probably generosity on your part which you're too modest to mention. But if I bolstered you, all the better. Gleaning is fun!

Hi Richard from Lebanon Co! Welcome to my little outpost on the internet. I can't say I've run across too many Amish on the internet, so I'm glad to have you stop by. I'm not in your county, so I can't offer you a cup of tea. But it's good to hear from a fellow Commonwealther.

Christine said...

Kate, I wrote a little post about our beech nut harvest, which was quite pathetic. I'm very sad there are no acorns this year, but maybe it will reset the mouse and squirrel populations.

timfromohio said...

Wow - your recent post must have brought us some good luck with pears as a neighbor called us up to let us know that we were free to take all the pears we wanted off of their two full-size pear trees! My boys and I picked a grocery bag each, barely putting a dent in what was on the tree, and the neighbors were shocked by how little we took. Perhaps we'll go back this week for more. Question - how are they to can? I have limited canning experience and while I have several books on the topic, always appreciated real-world opinions. I'm not sure what variety they are, further complicating the matter.

As an aside, the real benefit was not the free fruit, but rather the fact that we spent some time getting to know our elderly neighbors better - they invited us in to visit, sampled some desserts they were making for company they're expecting tomorrow, and had a nice time. Genuine community building - a true blessing.

Plain and Joyful Living said...

How wonderful for you.
We need to take a ride to gather all of the wild apples from the roadside to make applesauce.
Warm wishes,

Kate said...

Christine, thanks for letting me know about your post. Good one.

Tim, I don't think I can take any credit for your luck, but I'm happy you got some free fruit. Can't offer any advice on canning whole pears or pear halves. I only make them into jam or use them fresh in baking. I'm generally not a fat of canned fruit, as fruit. The texture is all wrong for me, so I'd rather just have it as jam.

Tonya, go to it! And I hope your haul is at least as good as mine.

Hildegarde said...