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!

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.

 

 

Foraging for Herbs in the City

We took our girls on a walk tonight. They have both been feeling poorly so I figured that spending some time in the wooded area near our apartment complex would be a nice way to get some fresh air, enjoy the outdoors, and teach them about foraging for herbs and edible plants.

My favorite part about taking walks now, is that both my girls have begun to inspect the plants that we pass as we walk along the pathway, and often ask “what is this, mom?” or “can we eat this one?”. Eva does it with genuine curiosity and a growing understanding of the herbin world, and Norah just copies her sissy :)

We each had a girl on our shoulders as we walked down the steeper part of the path. It felt like a real adventure. I grabbed a cattail for each of the girls to hold and we were talking about what cattails were for, how they grew, and how soft they were. We harvested some Amaranth for later use and I was looking for other edibles when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something familier. Here, take a look. Do you know what it is??

I’m not sure if it was from my days of gallavanting through the wilderness as a child, or maybe I read about it in one of my many “edible plants” books, but this plant rang a bell.  I stooped down to rub the leaves together and immediately the strong minty aroma wafted up towards me. Oh, so minty fresh.

Mentha Arvensis, is commonly known as wild mint or field mint is hard to miss. Not only does it have lovely purple flowers, but even from a few feet away, the minty smell draws your attention. One of the most popular uses for mint is to make a nice soothing tea. Which is what I plan do with with my findings. Iced or hot, its a healthy refreshing beverage.

Wild mint is also valued for its antiseptic qualities and for helping to relieve digestion issues. Here is a list of some of its other uses:

  • Holds anaesthetic, antispasmodic properties and has agents that counteract inflammation. 
  • Promotes or assists the flow of menstrual fluid
  • Promotes secretion of milk (thats for you breastfeeding mamas!)
  • Helps relieve fever and thirst
  • Can relieve pain from toothaches or arthritis
  • Dried leaves can be eaten for chest pains and heart ailments
  • Its a natural insect and rodent repellent. 
We were out in the “garden” for maybe 40 minutes. It wasnt long.  In those 40 minutes we found at least 4 edible plants, saw 3 bees, listened to numerous crickets, and watched 2 birds chasing each other through the air. And we spent time as a family, enjoying creation!
Foraging can happen in the middle of the urban sprawl, and its fun! Give it a go, why don’t ya?