Generally speaking, I’m not much of a baker. I have more of a craving for salt than a sweet tooth, and all the precise measurements involved in baking doesn’t really jive with my throw-everything-in-a-pot mentality. But having access to a bunch of great (and often free!) fruit here in the Northwest has encouraged me to experiment with pies and other baked goods this summer.
On my walk to work a few weeks ago, I noticed a tree full of plums less than a block away from my apartment. It didn’t look like anyone was taking advantage of all the fruit, since there was a bunch of half-rotten plums scattered on the ground underneath the tree. How sad, I thought, I need to bring them all home! The tricky thing was that the tree sat on the grassy strip separating a house + sidewalk from the paved road – private or public property? When I asked a reliable colleague in the produce department at work for his advice, he said technically the law was in my favor. So the next day I came armed with tupperware containers and knocked on the door of the plum house – I figured I would double check, especially since it looked like these folks had a chicken coop and probably fell under the hippie urban farm category. No one answered, and I went ahead and picked a reasonable amount of plums (hippies would want to share, right?).
Then I did what any reasonable person with a pile of fruit would do: make pie!
It turned out great – the combination of plums at different stages of ripeness made the pie more tart and interesting than your standard sugary recipe (though the varied crust color speaks to the many nuances of my circa-1964 oven).
And the possibilities for economical pie are endless – there’s actually a online map which locates public trees and plants that are free for the picking across the U.S. Here in Seattle, foraging is pretty popular, especially in the summer with all the berry bushes scattered across neighborhoods (and you can’t forget nettles in the springtime or mushrooms in the fall). The city has also helped fund an impressive project called the Beacon Food Forest, which is transforming part of a public park in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, less than 3 miles from downtown Seattle, into 7 acres of edible trees and plants for Seattleites of all backgrounds.
My second foraging experience of the summer was combing Discovery Park for blackberries last week. My friend Rachel and I hiked one of the main trails in the park (just a 20 minute bike ride from my apartment), stopping to pick berries at large patches along the way. Between the two of us, we amassed about 4lbs of berries – we also ran into someone who was collecting 12lbs to make blackberry wine! He piqued my interest in infusing vodka with blackberries, but for now I stuck to good ol’ baked goods. Back at home, I made a blackberry crumb pie, with a walnut and brown sugar topping, and blackberry scones…and still had some left to freeze.