The joys of foraging and making time to “put up”

It has been a joyously fruitful year here in Nebraska. Everybody I know who has an interest in such things has been puzzling over it. The trees are over-burdened with fruit why, exactly? Perhaps because of last year’s historic drought, which discouraged fruit production? Was it that beneficial for the fruit trees to just take a year off–which they did (at least mine did)? Or do we have so much fruit this year because we had a cool(er) rainy(ish) spring and summer, maybe the ideal situation for many fruit trees? Or . . . what? Is it this way in your neck of the woods, too, Gentle Reader?

Just yesterday the kids and I were re-reading the Bible story of Joseph, where he was put in charge of Egypt’s affairs for seven years of plenty, to prepare for seven years of drought. This sort of forethought and preparation appeals to me, especially after our one year of drought last year. During a fruitful year, it makes sense to put up lots, especially if people are offering you their excess fruit. You never know. Maybe next year will be a drought year again, or maybe the fruit trees will feel like a year off? Or maybe our income will dip and we’ll need to make do with what we’ve socked away from this fruitful year.

These Asian pears we've been eating as fast as we can stuff them into our ready mouths. The peaches we'll blanch, skin, cut into slices and freeze, for smoothies and to pile on top of ice cream.

These sweet little Asian pears we’ve been eating as fast as we can stuff them into our ready mouths. The peaches we’ll blanch, skin, cut into slices and freeze, for smoothies and to pile on top of ice cream. The little green apples will go into pies, or applesauce.

In any case . . . it’s a blessedly fruitful time in a very fruitful year, and the kiddos and I are putting in the extra time to pick up and put up more for the pantry. Last year, we put up very little in the way of fruit and not even much in the way of tomatoes and tomato products, and my shins are still smarting from my childrens’ kicks when we did the unthinkable and ran out of salsa (not really, as far as the kicks go, but we did run out) before Christmas, for shame!

I feel blessed that my husband supports my staying home, rather than getting a “real” (i.e. one that would provide a paycheck) job in town, because I can spend my spare time pleasantly occupied in this way. I can forage with the kids, canning or saucing or drying or freezing whatever we don’t eat right away, rather than sitting in a little office someplace, looking longingly out the window (I know myself) and counting the minutes until I could go home. (Thank you, honey.)

On the other hand, I know that my efforts to stuff the freezer full of chickens and peaches and pepper slices and pesto from our place (among other things, my, the freezer is full already) and also my willingness to do this extra work, also makes it possible for me to stay at home and practice the humble (yet valued) arts of gardening, child-raising, food preserving, animal husbandry, and so on.

If I had a “real” job, I don’t think I’d have much of a garden. Or an orchard. I’d never consider spending an afternoon picking up fruit; I don’t think I’d have the energy or the time. I wouldn’t have the time or energy to figure out how to make my own saurkraut or kimchi or kombucha or apple cider donuts! I’d buy my applesauce from the grocery store, and I’d toss the bags of frozen peaches into my cart during the winter with a clucking of my tongue, resenting the expense.

Not to disparage any person who prefers a day job. I just happen to love all the fuss and the mess and the unpredictability of this life I’ve been blessed with. There are (obviously) others who would find my day-to-day life intolerable, unbearable, grueling, possibly even dull.

My mom has a friend with a mature orchard. These pears came from him, and I plan to make pear leather out of them, once they are ripe.

My mom has a friend with a mature orchard, and more fruit than he can use. These pears came from him, and I plan to make pear leather out of them, once they are ripe.

Our young(ish) fruit trees have done very well this summer; my parents’ fruit trees are overloaded and are leaving my mother gasping for breath (all the pies she has had to make!) and yesterday a generous friend offered to let us pick out at his Grandpa’s place, where he discovered to his surprise that the mature fruit trees out there were loaded and even breaking under the load of the ripening peaches, pears, and apples.

I have a very hard time walking away from free fruit. I have such an eager hoarding gene just built into my pioneer woman code. Add that fact to the reality that with my husband’s self-employed status, we do tend to have “feast or famine” cycles in his income, where we do rely heavily on the freezer and the pantry, to feed our family. So the kids and I picked fruit for ourselves, and then we went back and picked fruit for my son’s family. I’ll make an apple pie next week and take it back to my friend, to thank him for calling us.

This is my mother’s time-honored method for thanking others for good turns: bake them a pie . . . or a couple loaves of bread . . . or a batch of hot donuts! When I was a kid, we had all sorts of folks showing up at our door with gifts for my Mom (Including a huge catfish, still gasping for breath, but that’s another story) and she would always be sure to give them something back.

We'll make applesauce out of the apples that have worms or bruises, and we'll sock away the perfect ones in the basement refrigerator, for fall and winter snacking.

We’ll make applesauce out of the apples that have worms or bruises, and we’ll sock away the perfect ones in the basement refrigerator, for fall and winter snacking.

Yesterday when I went to pick at my friend’s house, I took Amalia and Malachi and three buckets only. I knew that if I took 16 buckets, that I would not be able to stop until I filled every one. My friend insisted that I take all I want, but I wanted to be sure to take only what the kids and I could realistically put up in a few days. And he had offered the fruit to others, too, so I was not going to clean it all up . . . much as I wanted to.

But, oh, the temptation! Not only were there scads of apples–on the trees and on the ground–but some really beautiful peaches, that looked as if they had just begun to fall.

So we filled (what restraint!) our three buckets, and then (after our friend let me know that there was still some fruit left, after the other folks had come, picked, and gone) we went back with three buckets more, and a large black trash bag, into which I loaded with bruised windfalls, for my chickens. You should have seen their little dizzy-with-joy faces when I dumped a load of bruised and half-rotten peaches and apples in their yard!

Does this sort of foraging appeal to you? Do you have time to put up some applesauce or some frozen peaches or some canned pears this fall? If so, look around your neighborhood and note where there are trees that are burdened with fruit, that nobody seems to be caring for. You’ll see the rotting fruit underneath the tree. Consider asking the owner if you can clean it up for them. You may end up with bushels and bushels of free fruit, and even some windfalls to feed to your chickens . . . or your homestead hog . . . or your compost pile. And you might make a new friend, in the process.

Foraging is a time-honored practice, and a habit that fits in nicely to an effort to eat more local foods. You really should try it–it’s great fun!

My dad has an excess of "Squnkalopes" from his garden, one of which he gave to me.

My dad has an excess of “Squnkalopes*” from his garden, one of which he gave to me.


By the way, I shared this post with The Prairie Homestead (check out their Homestead Barn Hop today!) and it joins many other posts about fall-related goodness!

*Squnkalope: Squash + Pumpkin + Cantalope = ??

20 thoughts on “The joys of foraging and making time to “put up”

  1. Linda Hampton

    Your life reminds me of something I use to read in books. A real rarity these days. And although I’m sure it has it’s ups and downs (what in life doesn’t), it’s sure nice to see you have made a beautiful life for yourself and your family.

  2. Alana (@RamblinGarden)

    Last year, in upstate New York, we had a historic early spring and then a late freeze just when everything was blooming, and several crops (including apples, one of our mainstays in our area) suffered terribly. This year, most all of the crops did well except a lot of people had problems with peppers – didn’t get warm enough. We’ve gotten away from canning and freezing except on a very small scale and I admire your hard work and your work ethic. If I had friends with abundant fruit trees who invited us to pick what had fallen – at one time we would have been right there. Now? I’m not sure. I’m so happy you have these opportunities, though. I am getting a little worried about the manifestations of an early fall – including some having frost last week – and wondering if the weather is about to send us on another roller-coaster ride through the unknown.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      The subject of the weather, no matter what the year, always seems to be a fascinating one, Alana! Last year was a really strange one last year because of its hot and dry summer, and this year has been strange because of its cool and rainy summer! Always there’s entertainment outside!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I greet fall (for the most part) with a heavy heart, too, Anita-Clare. Summertime and the growing season is just never long enough for me! Confession: I’m already planning next year’s garden 😉

  3. Dawn

    Love the “squnkalope”! We had “squmpkins” growing in the flower bed by our front door one year from a pumpkin that had wintered over there. They were all different shapes, sizes, and colors. We didn’t dare eat them, but they made for some nice fall decor!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I’m pretty sure your squmpkins were perfectly safe to eat, but if they would have been WORTH eating is another matter entirely . . .!!

  4. Abbi

    We love to forage as well. And we gratefully say yes when someone offers to let us pick at their place. I love putting stuff up for the winter and I also feel so very thankful for being able to be a stay at home mom who works on projects like these rather than being stuck in an office.

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