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Friday, June 09, 2006

Guess what? Food grows on trees!

The Bargain Queen walks a LOT and loves it, but there's one thing she often sees that makes her cranky. While she's wandering around the suburbs, she likes to take a peak at what other people have done with their gardens. Mostly this is really enjoyable since people have such beautiful plants, but sometimes it seems like people don't think about what it is they're growing, so they let delicious food go to waste through neglect.

For example, a nearby house has a hedge of fig trees. When the figs are in season, they fall off the tree and rot on the ground. At the same time the fruit shop up the road sells near-identical produce for $2 apiece. In another backyard near The Bargain Queen's old house, there was a lilly pilly tree which produced a fantastic crop of fruit each year. Again, the fruit would be left to rot and fall from the tree, which apart from being wasteful also stains the surrounding concrete paths really badly. These aren't isolated examples - we've seen everything from olives to lemon grass to mangoes go to waste.

Why do people do this? Maybe the lilly pillies were just too difficult; they're a native Australian fruit that's only really delicious made into chutney or jam (jelly for American readers) and possibly only foodies know this. Likewise olives need some processing to be yummy... but what about figs? They're pretty fantastic straight from the tree, as are mangoes.

The Bargain Queen's going to assume that people just don't know what they're doing with these plants and offer a few pointers.

Firstly, if you have something in your garden that might be edible but you're not sure, it's not hard to find out what it is. If you know any keen gardeners, ask them; if not, take a cutting to your local garden store and ask them help you identify it. Alternatively, your local library will usually have a plant identification guide and these also often turn up in discount bookstores if you want your own copy. As a last resort, the internet can sometimes be useful too, although our experience suggests you need to know roughly what sort of plant it is and what it might be called to narrow the search down. If anyone can recommend a good plant identification web site, please do!

Secondly, some basic care will make the food your garden produces a lot tastier. That means watering, fertilising and taking care of any pests before they eat everything. (OK, The Bargain Queen neglects some of these things when she's busy too... but any effort is better than none.) Some plants also need to be pruned annually. Once you know what the plant is called, it's usually easy to find lots of information online about growing them. For example, a three-minute Google search turned up great information on growing figs, mangoes, herbs and fruit trees.

Thirdly, what to do with all that food? Many fruit trees will provide a large enough crop that you'll be sick of eating the produce long before it runs out. Funnily enough, or ancestors had exactly that problem and devised many solutions for preserving food. Fruit can be dried, frozen or made into jam/jelly or chutney. Many vegetables can also be dried, as can fresh herbs. Again, the internet is great for finding out how to do this - there are many comprehensive guides to making jam, drying fruits and vegetables and drying herbs, seeds and nuts.

Or if all of that sounds like too much work, give the excess away! When you're completely sick of oranges and can't stand to eat another one, your friends, neighbours and co-workers who don't have a tree full of them in their backyard are likely to be happy to take some off your hands. You could even give some to a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen and earn yourself some good karma.

Just please don't let food rot on the ground, it makes The Bargain Queen cranky!

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  • At 5:17 pm, Blogger La Rêveuse said…

    I agree, BQ, and love to preserve the goodness. Americans do know jam, BTW, and that and jelly are two distinct things. Jam is with fruit added, while jelly is made with just the juice (no pulp, seeds, etc.) I'm a jam girl myself--feel like it's just too much sugar with the plain jelly. At least with jam I can pretend it's healthy because I can see the fruit! (It's also less wasteful.)

    Can you send any figs our way in France? We have to wait until fall, here...

  • At 8:14 am, Blogger wordsonwater said…

    My figs aren't quite ripe yet, just cute little green teardrops on the enormous tree that I chopped back violently last year. I still have tubs and tubs of frozen chopped figs after giving away all that I could without advertising in the paper, plus lots of jam and preserves,(no jelly as I have no juicer and like the seeds). Still, just like tomatoes in August, the figs go begging every year. I even took them to work in a big elegant basket lined with leaves and artfully arranged, but alas, my coworkers wanted chocolate and I tisketed my basket right back home, mostly full. People have come too far from the garden. Since I am vegeterian, they constantly ask me what I eat anyway, like they can't accept the fact that humans can survive on what grows on shrubs and trees. I suggest you knock on doors and ask if they would like some help cleaning up the overflow. BTW, I know you can't send me a lilly pilly, but could you describe the taste for the uninitiated? Just the name alone seems quite tasty.

  • At 1:50 am, Blogger Tikimama said…

    Don't be cranky, be pro-active and ask the owners if you can come and pick their fruit! They'll be happy someone is taking away the rotting fruit, you can make fig jam (I used to have a fig tree, delicious!).

  • At 4:07 pm, Blogger The Bargain Queen said…

    Thanks for the info Mrs. B!

    Wordsonwater: Lily pillies aren't great raw. They're tart and have a lot of seeds, but taste a bit like a mangosteen. Of course, the seeds and lack of sweetness aren't a problem once they're made into jam; then they're really tasty!

    Tikimama: Great idea! I'll definitely talk to the owners next time I see fruit dropping on the ground. The worst that can happen is they'll think I'm strange (not an unusual occurrance :) and I might end up with free fruit out of it!

  • At 11:07 am, Blogger Style Graduate said…

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