Foraging, or How to Not Shop for Food

It has been a week of free food here at Chez Blueday. First, there was a frost, so I picked the last of the capsicum crop. Then, walnuts. There is a walnut tree on the verge at the end of my street. I have kept my beady eyes on this all autumn, and over a couple of weeks I have brought home walnuts in my pockets or shopping bags every time I have been out. I think I have them all now. It is only a small tree.. maybe I will surreptitiously ply it with compost to help it grow..

My mum and I went to City Park to see the baby monkeys. Launceston is in every way a Victorian relic - it even has wild animals in an enclosure in its City Park. After inspecting the tiny new baby monkeys clinging upside down to their mamas' bellies, I dragged my mum to the other end of the park to forage for feijoas under the big old feijoa tree there. I salute the city gardeners who planted a food tree in the park many years ago. I visit it every year for feijoas to dry and add to my morning muesli.

I wanted to make salsa with my capsicums, but didn't have enough tomatoes left, or so I thought - I asked for sauce tomatoes at all the local grocers, and was told I was too late. Oh no, what to do? Well, I went out to the garden and gleaned. It is amazing what you can find if you are desperate (desperate not to pay $8kg for tomatoes for salsa, that is) and I found sixteen cups of tomatoes still on the bushes, enough for two batches of salsa. Happy days.

My friend Katherine came and brought me zucchinis, more tomatoes, some chillies and some adorable little bantam eggs. Friends with gardens :) She was here for a purpose - we were going to help another friend put up a marquee for Agfest, which is, unsurprisingly, a local festival of all things agricultural. Then we were going to visit a wonderful food garden at a drug and alcohol rehab centre. More of that in a later post, but first - we needed to do a spot of foraging.

Katherine makes old-fashioned rosehip syrup for her family to give them a shot of Vitamin C and keep winter ills away. She had spied roadside hips, so of course we stopped to pick. Luckily I always have bags in the back of the car. The roadsides of Tasmania are rich in the old fashioned dog roses that make such wonderfully flavoured red hips. Fortuitously we also found a patch of sloe bushes, and picked some of those too, to make sloe gin. Or maybe I could use Katherine's recipe for Sloe and Cider Liquer. I couldn't find a recipe for that on-line, but I did discover another wonderfully alcoholic recipe for the left-over infused sloes after you strain them out of your gin - sliders. All of these sloe recipes take a year to mature, so I will be doing a review in autumn of 2018, just after picking next year's batch of sloes.

We had such a fun day of foraging. I wish you could have seen us - we were still wearing our neon high vis vests from putting up the marquee that morning, and I am sure we looked pretty silly, but hey, we didn't get run over, and we had a blast. We also found a roadside wild apple tree that we picked some apples from - not very many sadly, as we hadn't brought a ladder.. maybe next year..

But that's ok because this box of apples came from my friend's mother-in-law's next door neighbour's apple tree in Hobart. Did you get that relationship? Six degrees.. These things turn up at my house because I am careful to say yes to all offers of food, no matter how odd, inconvenient or arcane. I figure I can always find something to do with it later. And I always do. So far some of the apples have been stewed, but most have gone into the dehydrator. Some people dip their apple slices into lemon juice and spices before they dehydrate them, but I just slice them and whack them in. Sometimes they go a bit brown, but no-one here cares, we just gobble them up regardless. Apple chips. Yum.

And finally, the potatoes. I planted one bag of seed potatoes in spring. We have been eating them since January. I haven't bought any potatoes in four months, and this week I decided it was time to lift all the leftovers, because I want to do some winter planting in their bed. 14.6kg (that's 32lbs) of potatoes I dug up. That will last us at least another month. That's five months of potatoes for a $5 bag of seed potatoes. Now that is what I call a win. The vegetable kingdom just never ceases to astound me with its generosity. It is the original gift that keeps on giving. Along with bunnies and guinea pigs.

So tomorrow's list. Dry more apples. Dry feijoas. Make rosehip syrup. Buy gin. Ah, it's the forager's life for me..


Anonymous said…
Wow! Wow to all that food. Wow to your resourcefulness. Wow to finding such jems on the roadside.

I'd love to try your sloe gin (although I'm not a gin drinker) and your dried apples. I read about picking wild sloe and making sloe gin on The Frugal Queen blog years ago - had never heard of sloe before then.

Do you make salsa with green tomatoes? Do you know they were $16 a kilo here last month. No tomatoes here that week.

Happy late autumn foraging, Jo.
Linda said…
Love reading posts like this! I always love the idea of a veggie garden and have planted a few things a few times but always seem to busy to be systematic. Never heard of fejoas until we had our house in NZ and I loved them! Often gifted to us which was even better. Your potato crop is amazing.
Jo said…
Lucinda, you won't find sloes in Sydney, but if you come and visit in a year's time I will share my sloe gin with you:) Such a pity I couldn't forage any gin off the side of the road..

Yes, I throw the green tomatoes in the salsa. I had about half and half red and green, and the salsa still turned out red.

Linda, aren't feijoas a pop of flavour? I was introduced to them by a kiwi friend, and always keep my eyes out for their beautiful red flowers at Christmas time so I know where the feijoas will be lurking in autumn :) I wish I was more systematic in the garden, but it is extraordinary what grows with the little attention my vegies receive from me. I find that weeding until the vegies are bigger than the weeds works well. After that the weeds can do their best but they won't win :)
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

What an outstanding harvest. Top work and very well done. I'm very impressed with your haul.

Are the dried feijoas sweet tasting? A week or two back I scored a huge load of freebie medlars which are slowly bletting not too far from where I sit and will probably turn them into medlar wine which is very tasty.


Jo said…
Chris, you have to peel the feijoas, otherwise they are too bitter, and I slice then quarter them for putting into the muesli. They give an enormous pop of flavour. Not sweet so much as.. surprising. In a good way. You either like them or you don't. We like them :)

Ooh, I have never bletted a medlar. Would love to know how that experiment turns out. Rosy and I bought a sweet persimmon to try the other day. We liked it a lot, so I am plotting where I might plant a persimmon tree..
GretchenJoanna said…
That does sound like fun! I immediately thought, Oh, if Jo lived close, if my pineapple guava makes fruit from all its blossoms...

It is a joy to have a friend who likes to take one's overflow, so I know you make your friends and neighbors happy when you fill your larder this way.
heather said…
Hi Jo-
You'll love this: I was intrigued by your and Chris's exchange about feijoas, so I Googled them, only to find, to my great surprise, that I already have two feijoa bushes growing in my yard! Of course I had noticed the showy blossoms and had tried the fruit, but it seemed inedible, so I had assumed the bushes were meant to be ornamental only. I have concluded that I must have been tasting them before they were ripe, and I also failed to peel them. Bleah. But this fall, I'll let them ripen completely and have another try. I'll have to contrive a way to catch them before they disappear into the scratchy undergrowth. Maybe a sheet spread on the bushes underneath, if I can get it together enough to time it right... But hopefully I will have dried feijoa in my oatmeal next winter too!

I completely agree that actually picking, cooking and eating the harvest of the garden is a lot harder than growing it. But I have a palpable sense of letting the garden, this particular place, nurture me when I eat food it has offered up to me- it's hard to describe but very special, and worth the work. It may sound kooky, but at the risk of anthropomorphizing, I think the plants appreciate being valued and useful, in the same way I do. And I agree, it's a much more fun way to eat.
--Heather in CA
Jo said…
Gretchen Joanna, ha, I had to google pineapple guava, and now I know it is another name for feijoa! I hope you get lots!

Heather, that is absolutely hilarious! Do you know them as pineapple guavas as well? I do love the flowers - here in Oz they come out at Christmas time, and they are the perfect red and green Christmas posy.

Feijoas are inedible when picked. Wait for them to drop, then store them on the kitchen bench for another week, until they are slightly soft when you press their skins. Then you can either cut them in half and scoop them out with a teaspoon (well recommended by me) or peel, slice and dry them (also good). How wonderful for you to have 'new' food trees in your yard!

And I like your thoughts about the plants that you nurture nurturing you specially - I always talk to my plants and thank them for their hard work (before I rip them out and eat them...)

GretchenJoanna said…
I was just now reading Heather's comment and when she mentioned the beautiful flowers, it began to dawn on me that I had heard that name feijoa somewhere - !
Jo said…
GJ, oh, my goodness, aren't we all learning new things this week :) xx
Hazel said…
Yay to free food! I also never say no and end up with all sorts of odd things but we eat them all :)

Lots of sloes here in the UK but sadly no Feijoa. I'm looking for a medlar tree at the moment as I had one in my old house and I miss it. Most British people have never heard of medlars let alone tried them but I like them. I also like the idea of eating such an antique fruit- they were popular in medieval and Tudor times here.

I made Slider a few years ago (with fairly potent homemade cider) and it was ok. Still got a lot left though. Schlerry was better (infuse gin-soaked sloes in sherry). My favourite use for the soaked sloes though is to stone (tedious) and chop them and mix them into melted dark chocolate... sloe gin truffles! Put them in petit four cases and give as gifts (with a bottle of sloe gin if you're feeling generous).
Judy said…
That is so great Jo. All that wonderful local produce for free :-)

A tip for the apple picking - cut a round apple sized hole in the side of a 2 litre plastic bottle (like a fizzy drink bottle, or I used an oil bottle which was a bit tougher). Cut a small notch at the bottom of the hole. Then take the lid off, turn it upside down and tape it on to a broom handle or stick. You now have an apple picker to reach the high up ones without a ladder! Scoop the apples in to the hole and gently pull down.
Jo said…
Hazel, shlerry now on my list of things to do with sloes. Thank you! If you look at the Fernglade Farm blog on my sidebar, Chris has a photo of many medlars 'bletting' on the kitchen bench. I have never eaten a medlar, but I saw some on a tree recently.. good luck in your quest. I am sure someone has a tree somewhere and don't want to eat the medlars.

Judy, that is a brilliant tip re apple picking. I will keep that in mind for next apple season..
Alison said…
Hi Jo,
Have you heard of the Grow Free movement? You can find them on facebook or here is a news article you might enjoy if you don't know about it

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