Thursday, April 5, 2012

Free Harvest

My dad jokes that I’m a thief.  I’m not one... at least not on purpose.  There was that one time that our snowbird neighbor was two month’s later than usual returning to her house across the street and I helped myself to the oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit littering the ground.  OK! Some from the trees too! But I really don’t consider that true stealing being she wasn’t here to enjoy them herself. Our other neighbor east of us said our citrus owning neighbor was planning to sell the house. I didn’t have her Massachusetts number to call to ask permission and the thought of all that delicious citrus being devoured by squirrels and worms drove me crazy. I just couldn’t see them go to waste!  Maybe that makes me a thief but we offered to pay her for the fruit when, to our surprise, she returned at the end of the citrus season.  She said not to worry about it. So I don’t plan to fret about it either.  

It’s amazing how many people aren’t interested in the fruit and nuts on their property.  Because of this Mike and I have several spots in our neighborhood where we harvest the free food from their trees, Yes Dad WITH Permission! About a mile from our home there is a rental house loaded with papaya trees.  A husband and a wife two streets over never use their loquats and are quite happy when we take buckets of them away, protecting their driveway from the mess rotting fruit makes.  Another neighbor happily lets me do the same with her mulberries.

But empty lots are the best.  As a kid I used to harvest and relish the juicy blackberries that grew wild in our neighborhood.  The tradition continues now with my own family.  This summer I’d like to try my hand at homemade blackberry brandy.  By my dad’s shop there are two wild mangos that grow near the railroad tracks (stringy eaten fresh but great in smoothies) and at certain times of the year you can even glean some guava too (though the close resemblance of stinky feet odor isn’t my personal favorite).  

I’m always on the look out for free food sources as I travel the neighborhood.  Just the other day the girls and I scored an empty lot loaded with lemons.  We asked the neighbors next door if they knew who owned the tree so we could ask for permission. He said that he’d lived there 15 years and had no idea.  He helped himself but couldn’t reach the lemons at the top and told us we were welcome to them if I wanted.  My eyes lit up like a kid finding a box of free candy.  

I ran through the wooded lot and tossed the beach blanket I keep in the car over the poison ivy and thorn bushes, trudged through the brush, and had Mike give me a boost on top of some electrical meter box thing. Standing on my tip-toes I hugged a branch till it fell toward the ground and started picking. All the while Jenna and Naomi were in the van strapped in their car seats.  Through the open doors Jenna was demanding at louder and louder decimals, “Mama! Just what do you think you are doing?” “Answer me right now!!! One, TWO, THREE!!!!!” Too caught up in my moment of free, free, and more free food bliss to respond to my 3 year old going on thirty, I quickly picked a basket full of lemony goodness.  Oh the glories of free findings!!!

When I got home I scoped out my free harvest for the week, 12 lemons, 4 papaya, and a large mixing bowl full of loquats.  Food doesn’t get any fresher than this.  And what better way to stretch a budget than by not having to spend a penny. Now if only I could find some coconut or date palms without any interested owners!  :)

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