Burdock & Rose

wildly-crafted plant tales from herbalist, forager & author lisa rose

Tag: urban foraging

Wild Apples, Forgotten Harvests & ReWilded Pies

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A recent walk around my favorite farmer’s market led me to discover an abundance of wild and feral apples. I am one that is know to snack off trees and pluck greens from the ground as I go about my day, so stopping down to taste one of the abandoned beauties didn’t surprise my companion, who I also offered a taste of the wild, crisp deliciousness. “Why, it tastes just like a real apple!!” my friend exclaimed.

I had to laugh. Without blowing my friend’s cover, I’ll disclose that she is an apple person and her family owns an orchard in Upstate New York. “Well, yes,” I chuckled. “They are in fact real apples. Crabapples, maybe, and wild in flavor, crispness and sweetness, but apples just the same.”  I proceeded to fill her purse with the beauties, because I couldn’t stand to walk away from such an abundant harvest.*

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This year was another bumper crop for apples – both cultivated in the orchards and the feral ones in the field. This is good for foragers this year, as wild apples and crabapples are one of the easiest edible trees to find in parks, landscaping, edges of forests and along trails. Just keep an eye peeled and a harvest bag on hand to collect your windfall. There will be wild apples to gather well into November, both on the trees and on the ground. Just look for firm, healthy looking fruit and taste them along the way to select those with the flavors you prefer best.

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Your wild apple harvests can be stored in a cool, dark place and used into the first part of the winter. Of course, they can be prepared into apple sauces, fruit leathers, dehydrated apple snacks, and pies. The smaller, more tart crabapples are delicious made into a spicy chutney or even pickled. Both can be mashed and made into cider (fermented for hard cider) or made into a delicious apple cider vinegar.

This harvest was made into delicious french dessert called a tarte tatin. A tarte tatin, despite the fancy name, is really an upside-down apple pie. The tarte tatin is probably one of my most favorite french desserts (tied with a clafoutis). I learned how to make it while I was studying in France in college and love the tarte tatin for its rustic simplicity. Perfect for my little foraged apples. Click HERE for a recent recipe featured on Food52.

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It had been AGES since I had made, enjoyed and savored a tarte tatin … and sooo delicious it was.  I scooped spoonfuls of plain yoghurt on top and ate nearly the entire tarte tatin myself. Total perfection in both the feral harvest and rewilded French dessert. C’etait manifique.

A note on urban foraging: I foraging in and about Grand Rapids and am very mindful of the plants I gather, where I gather and when I gather. I feel it’s a forager’s responsibility to own the risks associated with foraging from areas that might be subject to soil and air contaminants and how the plant you are gathering could be affected by such contaminants. That said, I frequently muse to myself that these are plants — specifically like this apple tree — that live alongside me in the city, subject to the same pollutants and noise of the city. To that end, and knowing that there would be little issue of spray, brake dust, or heavy metal contaminants in the apples I was gathering (AND that the harvest was for my own personal consumption), I didn’t feel too concerned gathering these fallen fruits from the ground. 

On a plant writing sabbatical…

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Headed across the Midwest, with my camera and laptop in tow.

Destination is Big Sky & Jackson Hole for a writing sabbatical, working on my next book — “The ReWilded Kitchen: A Forager’s Guide to Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Midwest” (Timber Press, 2014).

Here, I stopped just outside of Gary, Indiana off of Interstate 94 to get up close with Chicory. Since Ancient Greek times, it’s been referred to as a Guardian of the Roadways (Wood). The wild Chicory, a delicious bitter green similar in flavor to cultivated Endive, is in full bloom and lines the roadways of the Midwest. Slow down and say hello to her!!

The choice of spot to take her photo — just a few miles from the US Steel complex in the heartland of the Rustbelt — was pretty intentional. Being a city-dweller myself, I am always drawn to the layering of industry, people, plants, “contamination” and the remediation of land. As a forager, the idea of contamination is real and is important — prudent knowledge of plants and potential contamination from the surrounding land is always top of mind for harvesting and health’s sake.

That said, I frequently wax poetic over this dichotomy in my mind… “I live in the city, my environment is contaminated, thus everything is toxic and I cannot eat it.” … Certainly lead, heavy metal contaminants are toxic to human health and foraging must be done prudently, but is bug juice and spicy Cheetos from the corner store more nourishing and less toxic than chicory on the same corner growing in an empty lot??

Without jumping to conclusions that the Chicory salad greens would be the better choice (factoring in all processes and toxicity of processed food), it’s a good conversation starter…