Picking Wild Apples: Fun with Foraging

Orchards in the Wild

Oodles of Apples!!! 75 pounds to be exact.

If you had asked me last year, or even last month, whether there were a lot of fruit trees in the area, I would have laughed and said, “No, not much grows around here”.  I would have been wrong. At the beginning of the summer, Mark and I were talking about foraging and using the resources around us. We decided that our mission, should we choose to accept it, was to explore the land a bit, look for edibles (herbs, fruit, veggies) and then do something with them. You know, living off the land type stuff! We are going all pioneer-ish on you. Well, all I have to say about that is: seek and you shall find!!! In the last month alone, we have stumbled upon more than 15 wild apple trees, countless crab apple trees, a few pear and plum trees, and at least 10 elderberry bushes – all while exploring and having fun! So, we have gotten busy picking wild apples and eating, canning, and baking with them too. We still have about 50 pounds of apples sitting in the kitchen ready for peeling too. Oy. Now, let me be honest. I have never been the canning type. More specifically, I have never even tried to be the canning type. I’m all for homesteading, preserving, storing, and being resourceful (I even have a cute little apron!), but I have just never gotten into canning. Until this week. See, here’s the thing. When you pick 75 pounds of wild apples, like we did, you have a choice. You can either pick them and let them sit in the bags and look pretty or you can make use of them. If you decide to use them, like we did, its time to get out the knife sharpener and start peeling, cutting, stewing, cooking, boiling, etc.  After a few hours of work, you end up with a lot of apple-y goodness! Here are some of the tasty treats you can make with your foraged fruits!

  • Apple Sauce *Peel and cut the apples into halves or quarters (depending on the size) put them in the crockpot overnight with a couple inches of water, in the morning when the apples are super mushy you can add some honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg to taste. I didn’t put mine in a blender or anything because I like it chunky, but if you prefer your apple sauce smooth and without chunks you can just throw it in the food processor and blend until it meets your demands :) Easy peasy!

Apples in the crockpot for apple sauce. You can see the big boxes of canning jars in the background :)

  • Stewed Apples *Peel, cut, and boil apples in a couple inches of water. Add a cup or two of sugar (if you’re using a huge pot like we did!) and a couple teaspoons of cinnamon. Boil gently until soft. We boiled for 25 minutes or so because wild apples tend to be a bit green and firm with less water content. Once the apples have softened, let them cool and then eat with custard, in a pie, or with baked oatmeal! Yum! If you want to can/preserve the stewed apples you can follow these directions. Or download this PDF, from the University of Tennessee which details all the ins and outs of canning and preserving.

    All stewed and canned up. We used waterbath canning method and it worked great.

  • Apple Crisp/Pie You can use fresh apples (peeled or peel-less) or you can use stewed apples. Mix the apples with a bit of sugar and cinnamon and a tablespoon of flour. Pour it into the whole wheat crust and then top the apples with some oats and butter mixed together. If you use stewed apples you will have to use more flour in the apple mixture to prevent too much liquid runoff.

    Whole wheat pastry bottom, apple filling, oat topping.

     

  • Spiced Apple Cake *Here is a super yummy recipe for apple cake. I subbed the all-purpose flour with whole wheat and the sugar was raw, but I left everything else the same.*
  • Zucchini Apple Bread *I used this recipe but I substituted the canola oil with 1/2 C. olive oil, and 1/2 C. coconut oil. I also used organic whole wheat flour instead of all purpose, and 3/4 C. raw honey instead of sugar. The end result was 2 moist and delicious loaves of bread. We gobbled them both down in a day!*
  • Raw Apple Juice *We just threw a few in the juicer with some carrots. A tiny bit tart, but tasty!*
  • Apple Butter (coming soon after I peel more apples…)
  • Dried Apples (nutritious snacks without much of a mess)

Here is what I suggest you do. Take a walk down your street- or better yet- go exploring in the woods. I bet you will be surprised at how many edibles you find. And if you dont find any apples or elderberries….dandelions are also edible. Yummy, right? Ha. Foraging is a great way to get out, have some fun as a family, and enjoy the amazing things God has created for us!

Making Elderberry Tincture

Finding Elderberries in the Mountains

Around this time last year, the girls and I were on a stroll and happened upon an elderberry bush. I was shocked. I never expected to find elderberries in the mountains of Colorado! I picked a ripe cluster of the berries and brought them home and did a bunch of research to make sure that I was right in my herb identification. I was! We went out later that week and harvested as many berries as we could find and made 2 large bottles of tincture from that one bush. We felt like such pioneers. Well, imagine my surprise when we found over 10 elderberry bushes this year on our foraging adventures! Thanks to Mark’s keen elderberry spotting.  We decided to make as much tincture as we could. Little did we know what that was going to entail. Before detailing our little venture into herbal remedies though, here are some important rules of elderberry use.

Safety Rules of Elderberry Harvesting and Use

  1. You can ingest the flowers of the elderberry bush- some people put them in champagne for a light springy flavor. Here is what the elder flowers look like

    Elderflowers

  2. Do not ingest unripe berries. They contain a mild cyanide which can cause nausea and vomiting etc.

    Unripe elderberries

  3. When using ripe elderberries, use them when they are purple and the stem has turned reddish/pink.

    Ripe elderberries

The Health Benefits of Elderberry

When I was a kid, my aunt used to make elderberry tincture and send it to us so I was somewhat familiar with it. I knew it was good for fighting off the flu or common cold because the second I complained of a stuffy nose or headache, out came the elderberry tincture. What I didn’t realize is that it can also improve heart health, lower cholesterol, lessen asthma, help with diabetes, and improve vision. It is also helpful in reducing inflammation in the bladder and urinary tract. Elderberry juice was used as a treatment in Panama during a flu epidemic in 1995 and in Israel, at Hadassah’s Oncology Lab, it was determined that the anthocyanins in elderberry enhance immune function greatly. In fact, it does such a great job that they are now treating AIDS and Cancer patients with elderberry!!! So that’s the scientific side of things. On to the making of the tincture. Be prepared to get dirty and have some fun!

My awesome hubby getting the berries at the top of the bush and his mum holding on to his ankles, “just in case”

Making Elderberry Tincture and Syrup

1.) Harvesting We spent about 30 minutes picking the ripe berries, and filled an entire reusable grocery bag. Hooray! You can also buy dry berries from herb stores like this one.
2.) Separating Guess how long it took us to separate those berries? Oh….about 5 hours.
Yep, talk about labor intensive! Oh well, its a labor of love, right? Anyway, to take the berries off of the umbrels, you simply have to use your finger tips and lightly pluck the berries off making sure to not take any stem along. If the berries are super ripe you can use a fork or wide tooth comb and run it downward along the stem. Some people freeze the berries while still on the umbrel and separate afterwards, but I havent tried that method yet.

Berries: separated and rinsed

3.) Recipe and Process There are a few different ideas on how to properly make tincture. Some people use only berries and alcohol. We decided to add a few extra ingredients. One thing is certain though- you have to use alcohol that is 80 proof or higher in order to extract the medicinal properties and preserve the berries. We used 90 proof rum for some of the jars and 90 proof whiskey for others. Some people say that vodka is the only proper alcohol to use when making tincture. But, I like to live on the edge so we didn’t use vodka. Anyway, here are the steps we took.

  • Separate and wash the berries
  • Mash them lightly
  • We added raw honey to the berries (about 1/4 cup of honey per 1 cup of elderberries) just because we wanted to make it a bit more palatable.

    Filling the Jars

  • Fill each jar about halfway with the berry/honey mixture
  • Add alcohol to the berries until the jar is nearly full (ends up being about a 50-50 mix).
  •  (Optional) Add a couple of cinnamon sticks, 3 or 4 cloves, 1 tablespoon dried echinacea, and 2 teaspoons dried lavender to each jar. We added these things because we had them on hand, and because they all have specific medicinal qualities that are also helpful in fighting illness and boosting the immune system.

    The finished product.

  • Seal the jar and shake the mixture until well combined.
  • Store in a dark dry place
  • Shake lightly every couple of days
  • The tincture will be ready after 2-3 weeks.

Suggested Use: You will want to strain the tincture before consuming it. You can do so 1 serving at a time or strain the entire content into a new jar and discard of the berries entirely. A daily serving (1 tablespoon) of tincture is great for keeping your immune system up and running. You can take it 3 times per day when you feel the first signs of flu or cold coming on. For kids, I would suggest making elderberry syrup since its more palatable and  kids love it!

Healthy Treats for Kids

My girls think these are pretty fantastic

I’m always looking for healthy summer treats for my girls. I am one of those health conscious moms. You know, the kind who doesn’t let her kids have the lollipop that is so kindly offered to them by the teller at the bank or the old lady at the coffee shop. I try not to go overboard, but since becoming a mom and knowing that I was given the responsibility of caring for the health and growth of my girls I feel its vital to start them off on the right foot.

That being said- here is one of my go to recipes when it comes to healthy treats for kids.  Its easy. Its healthy. Its a winner.

In a blender pour in:

  • 6-8oz Coconut Yogurt (any flavor works)
  • 1 Cup fresh fruit- we love berries.
  • 1/4 Cup Coconut Milk

Blend until smooth and creamy
Pour into popsicle molds
Freeze
Eat

These treats are so easy and delicious. They are full of vitamins, healthy fats, and probiotics.

My girls think they are pretty good and so do I.

Crab Apple Jam

Crab apples are just so darn cute aren’t they? So red. So tiny. So crabby. All bunched up on the tree together like a group of girls headed to the restroom. You know its true. 


We have a number of crab apple trees around our apartment complex and my husband has been saying for weeks now, “we should do something with those crab apples.” I liked the idea. I really did. But to be honest I was thinking, “Ok. If you want to stand out in the hot sun while wrangling 2 kids, pick a bushel of teeny tiny tart apples, peel and core them, and then make something edible out of them – be my guest. I have other things to do.”
That’s where my mother in law comes in. She is visiting from Australia and, let me tell you, this lady knows how to ‘git ‘er done’! She takes ideas and makes them reality. Well, Mark knows this and he must have mentioned his crab apple idea to her as soon as her plane landed because guess what we were doing the day after she arrived? Yep, picking tart and tiny apples out in the hot sun while wrangling 2 young children. Operation crab apple jam was underway.  It turned out to be a lot of fun actually and the girls had a blast.
The truth is that it wasnt that hard! In fact, it was so easy I might just do it again!! Tomorrow even!

So, here is where I explain the process to you and you have the option whether to go out and do it yourself, or just enjoy the story. Pictures make it even better!

  • We picked the reddest, ripest apples we could find and put them into bags
  • We brought our loot inside and threw the load of tiny apples in the sink to rinse them
  • We cut out all the bad spots and the stems, and sliced them in half.  (No peeling needed! Yay!)
  • We threw them all into a big pot and set it to boil for a few hours. Maybe 3?
  • Once the apples were soft and mushy, we strained out the juice and set it aside.
  • Then we pushed all the pulp through a colander so we could get some of the apple goodness without any seeds or skin. You dont have to do this part, but I like some fiber in my jam.
  • We then added 1 cup of sugar for every cup of juice/pulp. Our first batch ended up being about 11 cups of each. Oh and I added about a tablespoon of cinnamon too, because, apple cinnamon jam? I mean, hello!
  • We then boiled the apple/sugar mixture on the stove (stirring until the sugar melted and every 30 minutes to make sure it wasnt burning etc) until “setting point”. This is when you drop a spoon of the apple mixture into an ice cold glass of water and it instantly becomes a gel.
  • Once it was at setting point we poured it into our prepped jars. Basically we cleaned jars with boiling water and then poured the jam into them. Really tough stuff, huh?
  • Then we left it to set.

A couple hours later I pulled out a loaf of fresh bread and we slathered that goodness on top.

It is amazing. We have about 10 jars of jam and the only expense was the sweat from our brows and the sugar we used. It is chock full of vitamin C, tastes amazing, and its great for gifts too. That is, if I want to part with any of it.

So, take it from me. Its worth the effort and is actually a lot of fun. Maybe you wont need your mother in law to get your rear in gear- thats what this post is for.

 

 

Garlic as a Natural Antibiotic: A Germ’s Worst Nightmare.

What do Italian food, crunchy mamas, and natural antibiotics have in common?

*hint* take a peek up at the title up there.

I’ll even give you a picture. Yes. It’s garlic.

At least you cant get bad breath from just looking at it, right?

 

In all its potent glory.

I could list all the benefits of garlic right now, but let’s just suffice to say – its basically a miracle herb. You should definitely use garlic as a natural antibiotic. I’m talking the 007 of herbal remedies here folks. No, its not ideal for a make-out session, but if you can get past the…um…vibrant fragrance its great for almost everything else.

About 3 months ago I was bathing my youngest daughter when I noticed some peeling and cracking on her big toe. I figured it was from being dry. Living in a desert can do that to ya. But it gradually got worse, to the point that her foot was actually peeling, cracked, and bleeding. Since I didnt want to take an unnecessary trip to the doctor, I decided to do some research and figure out how to treat it on my own. You will find that this is a common theme in the Sharman household.
After a lot of researching, googling images, and comparing notes I figured out what it was. Athlete’s foot! I know, right? Seriously? I didnt think babies could get that stuff.

Regardless, I figured that since athletes foot is a fungal issue, it was time to pull out the big guns.
Here is what I did to help, and ultimately cure, Norah of her foot fungus.
Every morning and evening I slathered on a layer of GOOT. What is goot? Goot is a homemade mixture of coconut oil, garlic, olive oil, and essential oil. Its goot stuff!

I cant remember where I first saw the idea for this smelly yet amazing salve, but as soon as I read the ingredients I was sold. I’ll post the recipe for you below.

  • 1/3 C Unrefined Coconut Oil (I like the organic extra virgin stuff)
  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil
  • 8 Cloves of Garlic
  • A couple drops of essential oil like lavender

Throw it all in a food processor or a blender…just something to make it nice and smooth. Then slather it on. You can heat and strain it to make sure there are no garlicky lumps, but I didnt. I also used this salve on the bottom of the girls feet at night when they were fighting a flu/cold too and on their neck and chest for a respiratory issue as well. It helped a lot.

I’m telling you- this stuff will evict any germs who have tried to make their home in you or your little ones. Its easy to make and a little bit goes a long way. Garlic helps treat bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. It is chock full of antioxidants and boosts the immune system. It also tastes good on fresh bread.