It's time for apples, pears and pumpkins, our seasonal favorites! But how do we choose the most sustainable of these mass produced products? Although farm-grown and pick-your-own options are becoming much more available in certain areas, many people are still looking to the supermarket or other large scale operations for their supply. Unfortunately, produce for wide distribution is most often not grown using sustainable methods. Herbicides and pesticides used for disease and pest control damage the soil and linger in the fruit that we end of up eating, with often unknown effects.
As always, it's best to seek out your most local sources and find out what you can about their methods of production. It’s also fun to learn about other fall foods that might be less familiar and less available in the marketplace, but no less tasty or versatile in their uses. Others that you might not have considered growing for yourself are easier than you’d think, even in urban and suburban areas!
Meet the Pawpaw!
Have you heard of the pawpaw? It’s the largest edible fruit native to north America, resembling a tropical fruit in both appearance and taste. Shaped a bit like a mango, it’s custard like consistency is often said to resemble something between a mango and a banana in flavor. The pawpaw grows on a tree that’s native to the eastern United States and was a staple for indigenous people and early settlers. Thomas Jefferson grew them at Monticello and George Washington loved having them for dessert.
Our five -year- old pawpaw tree produced for the first time this year and we’re pretty excited about having them right in our own back yard! You can, however, easily find them in the woods or along a path in many parts of the country. Be aware that they bruise easily and don’t travel well. If you find some on a foraging hike, treat them very gently on the way home and plan to eat them right away because they go quickly. Their fragility is likely the reason few people know about them. Highly perishable foods don’t fit in well with our industrial food production and distribution model. So when you locate your pawpaws from a local farmer or find them in the wild, know that they are something special! Or if you decide to try growing your own, many mail order suppliers offer easy- to -grow and maintain pawpaw trees.
The Concord Grape: An Old Favorite
We also had an abundance of Concord grapes on our one vine, which being left to do its own thing did very well! I bought it at a garden center a few years ago and planted it but have essentially ignored it since. The lack of any fertilizer or pruning doesn’t seem to have held it back at all. It had, in fact, gone so far as to wind its way high up into the apple tree that stands close to it. Climbing an apple tree to pick grapes was a unique experience! Next year, I’ll pay a little more attention and try to keep it growing at least along the fence. If you have even a small space and some sort of structure to support it, I recommend a Concord grape vine for easy and fun fall fruit!
The Autumn Olive: Forage and Feast
A couple of foraging hikes over the weekend payed off with three quarts of autumn olives, or autumn berries. This delightful, tart fruit is a well kept secret that should be shared! It grows on the Eleagnus umbellata bush, a vigorous, medium to large invasive shrub that grows in the eastern US and as far west as Montana. They appear in disturbed areas and along edges of meadows and open areas.
The berry, high in vitamin C and the powerful nutrient, Lycopene, is distinguishable by the tiny silver flecks covering them. They grow in handful-sized clumps that are easy and quick to harvest. Unfortunately, a common method of fighting back the proliferation of this plant is the heavy use of herbicides, including glyphosate, or Round-Up. A more sustainable way of controlling them is to harvest, cook and eat the berries so that the seeds aren’t spread by the birds.
As always, a word of caution about foraging. Don’t eat ANYTHING that you can’t identify one hundred percent. Also, be mindful of locations where things might have been sprayed with weed killers. If those things are meant to kill plants think what they can do to you. Along a busy road is not a great place to forage either, as the plants growing there might have absorbed heavy metals from the exhaust fumes.
Autumn berries can be used for jams, jellies and preserves, just like the grapes. Paw paws are great for ice cream, or used like banana in pudding or a sweet bread.
Also, all of these fruits can also be used to make delicious, nutritious homemade fermented sodas from whey, a by-product of kefir. These delightful drinks are a life changer for you and your family. Imagine a sweet soda drink that builds your immune system, aids in digestion and fights disease!
We’ll be teaching a class on this at our Lady Farmer Slow Living Retreat, November 15th-17th! Check out our retreat page for all the details and come join us for a fantastic weekend of amazing workshops, presentations, food, fun and community!