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A Lesson, a Ritual, Gifts

By Judith Hausman, Urban Farm Contributing Editor

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Canned fruit

Photo by Judith Hausman

I canned my foraged "parking lot" pears in rum with plums and ground cherries.

It’s a rainy, rainy day, and a rain we sorely need here in the Hudson Valley. Despite the rain, I had to go get the quince today, or else I’d have been too late for them.

About three years ago, I discovered the little orchard that my friend’s dad had planted and since have been given permission to raid it for quince every fall. The bumpy, beautiful fruit is rock-hard and wormy but with patience and trimming, I make deep-rose membrillo (quince paste), the traditional Hispanic accompaniment to cheese. I’ve managed a knock-out quince tarte Tatin, too, by first gently cooking the fruits in butter and red wine.

Anyway, rain or not, it was time. It’s my own private tradition to honor the bounty that these neglected trees still produce in good faith, even if no one cares for them or eats their lovely fruit.

Except there were no quince.

Instead, I got another humbling lesson in seasonality. Some years, there are quince, and some years in the cycle of the trees, it’s so dry the quince don’t make it. The small orchard, bounded with stone walls and a suburban elementary school, was quiet, breezy and wet, but the trees had no fruit at all.

I still got to perform my ritual, though. The orchard also contains two kinds of apple trees, and I was able to pick about a half-bushel of the matte, tan, web-skinned variety. Even with judicious trimming, there will be enough of the dry, tart flesh to make smooth, brown apple butter without sugar. And I gathered several branches of elderberry clusters from young bushes growing under the trees. They make a great combination with apples. Rather than humble pie, I’ll spread humble apple-elderberry butter on my toast and give it for gifts along with a wooden spreader and a batch of homemade muffins. Next year, there will (probably) be quince again.

In contrast to these trees, the parking lot pear tree I pilfer yearly has been drooping with small, green-yellow pears. They can be hard and a little wormy, but I had the patience to let them ripen to sweeter softness on the tree a little longer this year. I have already put up two jars of quartered pears in brandy, star anise and ginger and three more jars of sliced pears, layered with prune plums and ground cherries, in rum, cinnamon and sage leaves. I’m going to try a batch with vanilla bean and rosemary, too.

I filled clean jars with the cut fruit and the seasonings, sprinkled each layer generously with sugar, carefully poured in the booze, and then closed the jars. This has got to be the easiest way there is to capture the local fruit harvest and, boy, oh boy, will those jars make impressive gifts.

I may package the pears with a pear candle or a funky, vintage serving spoon. The rumtopf (rum-soaked fruit) partners well with a small lemon pound cake or lemon shortbread cookies and a few tiny aperitif glasses. Of course, good vanilla ice cream is the reliable and luxurious default accompaniment for any “drunken” fruit, not just my favorites: the foraged bagsful from forgotten trees.

Read more of The Hungry Locavore »

Give us your opinion on A Lesson, a Ritual, Gifts.
Submit Comment »
I do this too!
Galadriel, Lothlorien, ME
Posted: 2/25/2015 12:02:22 AM
And your last line is also quite yummy.
Clyde2, Big Apple, NY
Posted: 10/16/2010 12:47:24 PM
You can gift yourself, David! Drunken fruit couldn't be easier to assemble.
Judy, South Salem, NY
Posted: 10/15/2010 9:39:59 AM
Man you are making me hungry after describing all the way you will preseve your foraging harvest. Is there any way I can be a gift receiving friend. :)
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 10/15/2010 5:53:37 AM

About the Blogger

Judith Hausman

Judith Hausman
As a long-time freelance food writer, Judith Hausman has written about every aspect of food, but local producers and artisanal traditions remain closest to her heart. Eating close to home takes this seasonal eater through a journey of delights and dilemmas, one tiny deck garden, farmers’ market discovery and easy-as-pie recipe at a time. She writes from a still-bucolic but ever-more-suburban town in the New York City 'burbs.

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