Friday, November 5, 2010

Will Work for Squash

I've never been one for wasting food. Growing up the eldest of 13 kids made eating everything on my plate a necessary survival skill and a lot of the ways I approach food to this day has much to do with my upbringing. How to preserve seasonal produce is one important thing I learned from my dad but he was also a savvy shopper with a keen eye for a bargain. We ate a lot of day old bread, learned to cut the blemishes off less than perfect produce, and made a lot of soup from chicken necks. Some of this I abandoned as soon as I moved out; I still have an aversion to store bought bread to this day. But other techniques I have kept or adapted for my own. I still make soup stock from bones, I always check the bargain bins at groceries stores and I take advantage of free food whenever possible (with the exception of dumpster diving- I draw the line at being a freegan!)It's not much of a stretch to see how easily I added gleaning to my tricks for eating well on the cheap, and lately I've become pretty proficient at bartering too. But even I had never considered getting paid in vegetables - at least not until I ran into Emma, one of the organizers of the Kawartha Ecological Growers. Just recently I happened upon Emma and her truckload of wonderful fresh from the farm produce while walking down an alley. She was delivering the weekly CSA order and in a hurry to unload so she could park the truck. I was full of curiousity and not in a rush to be anywhere so I jumped in and helped unloaded crates and baskets while peppering her with questions. I left with a new appreciation for the cooperative nature of their collective and some lovely potatoes and a squash!

The Russian is getting used to me dragging home bags of free produce and has even joined me on a pick or two. Since I began volunteering with Not Far From the Tree last year, gleaning has become a common past time when the weather is good. I can't help but look for potential pickings as I walk around town and I'm not the only one. At last count we'd picked almost 20, 000 lbs of fruit with Not Far From the Tree this year in just 5 neighbourhoods! Most of that would have ended up in compost or green bins or left to rot on the ground, Instead it fed volunteers like me, as well as hundreds of people who access community kitchens all over the city. I participated in picks of cherries, grapes, plums, apples and pears in various neighbourhoods around the city. Recently, in our last pick of the season we harvested a backyard pear tree that produced 248 lbs of sweet, picture perfect pears; my share ended up being 20 lbs! I did a few 'renegade' picks on my own this year as well- 55 lbs of sweet cherries back in June and 50 lbs of apples in the last week - both from trees that grow right on my street, a main thoroughfare that hundreds of people walk daily. I also rescued a boatload of abandoned tomatoes - all with permission from the homeowners of course!

This bounty of fruit can be overwhelming at times- at various points my kitchen has been overrun with fruit flies so thick they looked like smoke. They seemed to particularly appreciate grapes and must have invited a multitudes of friends and family- we had colonies that lingered for weeks! But from this abundance of fresh fruit I made jams, jellies, pickles and preserves, dried some and froze some for later. I've also begun to market some of my preserves under my Backyard Farms label and lately I've been swapping jars for farm fresh veggies and locally made bread and cheese. It's very satisfying to see the rows of preserves put away for colder weather, and smell the scent of apples permeating from the sunporch. It will be even more comforting in the dead of winter when we don't have to venture out in the cold to buy ridiculously overpriced produce flown in from god knows where!

Speaking of Not Far From the Tree, we'll be holding a FUNdraising party next Wednesday, November 10. Featuring edible treats concocted by Jamie Kennedy, Mark Cutrara and Carole Ferrari and an open bar featuring our signature Elderberry cocktail, this will be the shindig of the season and we'll be whooping it up at SHAMBA Space, 48 Yonge St, Toronto until they kick us out! Hope you can join us!


  1. I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to.

    God Bless You :-)


  2. Callie, A little tip to eradicate those annoying fruit flies that linger. Pour an inch of apple cider vinegar in a jar. Tightly wrap saran wrap on top and punch some tiny holes in the plastic wrap. The flies are drawn to the cider. They climb inside the jar, but won't be able to get out.


  3. Hi Old Geezer, thanks for joining! I'm very much looking forward to becoming the feminine version of Old Geezer (Old Bat?)

    Thanks for the tip Dawn- we had so many I think I would have needed a vat of vinegar! Speaking of which I recently found out that fruit flies are a big help in making vinegar- they carry the bacteria that converts wine to acetic acid- who knew?