Foraging for fruit is not going to save the world, but it’s an act that can help make us better people. It enriches lives, gets us out of doors, and ignites our curiosity. It connects us with subtle shifts in the seasons and brings us closer to the people and animals who share wild and settled spaces with us… – Sara Bir, author of The Fruit Forager’s Companion
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Simply delightful. That’s how I would describe Sara Bir’s depictions in The Fruit Forager’s Companion of her walks to hunt for fruit in her neighborhood. After moving away to the West Coast and vowing never to return to her hometown in southeast Ohio, Bir writes about how she gained a new appreciation for her hometown after she moved back there with her husband and young daughter and began exploring the town with a new perspective. By going on walks, she began to notice fruit-laden trees and bushes, learned how to identify and forage from them, and to create delicious concoctions from her foraged treasures.
I’ve heard of more and more people growing food forests in their backyards or communities. This book made me realize it may not be necessary to plant all different types of fruit trees and bushes in your own yard. If you’re willing to get outdoors, pay attention, and be patient, Bir explains how easy it can be to find fruit in the world around you.
She invites readers to learn to look for fruit and explains what to do when they find it. The book includes Bir’s thoughts about respecting the areas in which you forage as well as the people who own land on which you want to pick fruit, safety precautions, a list of recommended tools, and a checklist for foraging.
There is also a section about how to use the book once you return to your kitchen with your newly harvested handfuls or bucketfuls of fruit. This includes information about preserving fruit – pros and cons of freezing, canning, fermentation, and dehydrating as well as which method works best for different types of fruit. Bir also includes a list of cooking tools and utensils, advice about containers to use for storing your culinary creations, and a really helpful section comparing different sweeteners (e.g., granulated sugar, organic sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, sorghum molasses, and agave nectar) and fats (e.g., butter, coconut oil, olive oil, etc.) and explaining which work best with different fruits.
Part II of the book “The Fruits and How to Use Them” is the bulk of the book. This section covers 40+ fruits including many lesser-known fruits such as aronia/chokeberries, currants, gooseberries, ground cherries, hackberries, juniper, loquats, rose hips, serviceberries, and spicebush.
For each fruit, Bir includes a bit of history about the fruit, information about its geographic availability, harvesting and storage tips, and generally one to three recipes. The book includes many recipes unlike any I’ve seen before. A few examples include hackberry milk, loquat ambrosia, mayhaw juice and jelly, pawpaw gelato, persimmon pudding, pomegranate molasses, sumac-ade, autumn olive fruit leather, gooseberry fool, and roasted maple blueberries. All in all, I’d recommend this book to anyone – from novice fruit foragers to seasoned jam makers and creative chefs to anyone who wants to learn about the history of different fruits.
Janie Hynson is a beginning homesteader in North Carolina. She works in public health and sustainable agriculture and is interested in how health can be improved through homesteading.