An urban forage

Have you ever noticed how much food grows in our urban spaces? Here in Hobart I know where to find elderberry trees, blackberries, olives, apples, quinces and figs. As I’m slowly learning a little more about edible natives I’m discovering a whole new range of plants to scavenge for a free feed. The urban bounty isn’t restricted, however, to the plants that grow between the cracks. There’s also plenty of edible goodness going to waste in other people’s gardens. Who hasn’t seen a lemon tree laden with un-picked fruit and longed to clamber over the fence for a handful of fruit? After all, there’s no point letting it go to waste!

But as well as being illegal, trespass is plain bad manners. So when walking a new route home one day and stumbling across a heavily-laden little cumquat tree I resisted the urge to just help myself and summoned up the courage to knock on a stranger’s door. And you know what, permission to pick all I wanted was granted (though I did have to come by a couple of times before I caught someone at home). The next free Sunday I wandered on down and filled up my little bag then spent a few quiet hours preparing the fruit to preserve. Juicy little balls of sour in a sweet-spiced syrup: juice, honey, sugar, cinnamon, clove and brandy, stowed away for a Christmas treat and as gifts-in-kind to helpful friends.

Did you know cumquats are fiddly little things to peel? How my hands ached the next day! It turns out though that the peel is edible and I should have done my research first. Ah well, next time I’ll preserve them whole.

Of course, there’s a price to pay for picking with permission: a jar or two of your handiwork delivered to the grower to show your thanks. I hope she likes them! There’s also something quite nifty to gain: another link into creating community, building trust between neighbours and breaking down the walls we construct along property lines. We know each other’s names now, the cumquat grower and I. We’ve enlarged each other’s world, just that tiny bit more.

Kumquats1 Kumquats2

Tips for urban foraging:

  • Be certain you know what you’re collecting: stick to things you can readily ID. Take an expert with you when foraging for mushrooms (and if you know one in Hobart, please point them my way!).
  • Avoid collecting from plants along major roads; they’ll be covered in car exhaust crud.
  • Only collect from plants you’re certain haven’t been sprayed (particularly problematic for blackberrying).
  • For native plants leave enough to share with the wildlife; they need the food more than you.
  • Ask for permission before harvesting from private gardens if you’re crossing the property line (I’m less circumspect about collecting fruit from the other side of the fence, especially if it’s clearly being left to rot).
  • What goes around comes around: always pass on something made with the product to growers who donate.

What have you foraged from your neighbourhood?

One Comment on “An urban forage

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