Alas, we're without a fruit harvest here at the suburban homestead. From the outset, the on-property fruit situation has been less than optimal. So last summer, we transplanted and transported cross-country native Missouri red raspberry shoots from my parents' backyard to ours. Remarkably, despite persistent trampling from Bud Man, the Golden Retriever, the shoots have survived into their second season, but we won't see fruit until next summer or the following. At our previous property, we had ever-bearing strawberries, whereas, the variety planted in our current backyard by previous owners blooms just once per season. That means each year, I get one chance, and one chance only, to overcome the voracious grackles. And crafty critters that they are, the blackbirds waited for me to go on a business trip and took advantage of the lull in gardening activity. When we moved into our house just over a year ago, we also became the owners of a terminally ill apple tree, the only fruit tree on the property. Too far gone with fire blight to be saved, the tree was removed in April.
Last August, I managed to make one small batch of apple jelly from the tree's decrepit harvest but the fruit was very dry. I had to add far more water and pectin than the recipe normally requires. Predictably, we ran out of home-made jelly in March so I made a desperation batch from store-bought Granny Smith apples. That jelly (at right) tastes better than I thought it would and is far more gratifying than the commercial versions.
My mother and grandmothers trained me well in this regard. Our household has had a ready supply of home-made jams and jellies for as long as I can remember. If not of my own making, then from Mom, who has been supplying family members with home-made jellies and jams for years. And she took up the routine where my grandmothers left off. In rural Weston, Missouri, my parents have planted and nurtured a variety of fruit trees (cherries, apples, crab apples, pears) plus grapevines and red raspberry bushes. Mom supplements those supplies with wild plums and berries, harvested from locations that will remain undisclosed here. Like wild mushroom hunters, who return to secret spots each season, I protect wild fruit caches. Not that anyone's likely to nab the fruit before me; Mom and I are convinced that most people don't know what to do with fruit on trees and vines. In March, I wrote a poem that touched on waning wild crafting: Stealth Jelly.
In my near-endless quest for pie, jam and jelly perfection and with fruitless property, I am now foraging through northern Colorado suburbia, seeking sustenance in the rural-urban interface. Some years produce better harvests than others. Here, this season seems to be a particularly good one for fruit. In late July, I posted of my success with the neighbor's cherry trees. Last week I spotted crab apple trees near the edge of a neighborhood park. No, I'm not saying which one. This morning I picked some of the crab apples, so jelly making is on the agenda this week. And next week may be the week for wild plum jelly and barbecue sauce.
My first home purchase was an 1882 farmhouse north of Longmont, Colorado, that was in serious need of renovation. On the property were aging apple, peach and wild plum trees. That was when I first learned how good wild plum jelly is. With encroaching developments, finding lasting sources of wild plums is challenging. In yet another nearby undisclosed location, I have found an outcropping of wild plum trees loaded with fruit. This morning while out mountain biking, I checked their status; the plums are gorgeous frosty crimson but not quite ripe.
Bear scat has been spotted throughout our rural Boulder County neighborhood. In late summer and early fall, black bears wander down from higher altitudes in search of berries and other food, in preparation for hibernation. It's pretty easy to spot bear poop. As you can see in this picture I snapped today, ursine scat looks quite different from that of dogs, coyotes, owls, deer, horses and cattle, the other likely suspects around here. This pile seems to be full of pits of some sort. Maybe the owner munched cherries.
I guess I'm not the only creature interested in the fruit trees, after all. I believe the presence of numerous fruit trees in our neighborhood, our fruit desert excepted, are part of why the bears are roaming nearby streets and fields at night. So when I pick those wild plums, I'll be sure to leave plenty for the bears.