The Fruit Forager’s Companion

Cover of The Fruit Forager's Companion by Sara Bir

The Fruit Forager’s Companion
Sara Bir
Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018

If you know where to look, there is fruit growing everywhere, even in most cities. Much of this fruit gets wasted as it ripens, falls, and rots; either it is too much for the owner of the land on which the tree grows, or the property in uninhabited. Within my own city of Toronto, the growing season offers a variety of good things to eat, hidden away, or sometimes in plain sight, on public property; berries, quince, rosehips, greens like lamb’s quarters, and coveted black walnuts where a wily forager appears in a public park some evening in October with a ladder and a hook, and clears off entire stands of the trees, not a single precious nut left behind, like the Grinch at Christmas.

Having grown up in a semi-rural area in Nova Scotia, I spent my childhood in the woods, picking berries, fiddleheads, and mushrooms (with the guidance of my Grandmother), and on the beaches digging clams. Let’s just say Sara Bir is a gal after my own heart and I was excited to have the opportunity to read and review her book.

Bir concentrates on fruit, leaving other wild foods such as mushrooms to people with more experience. Rule number one of foraging – don’t eat the poison stuff. Rule number two – ask first, especially if the fruit you want to take is on private property. Bir encourages readers to knock on doors and ask, most people are usually happy to have you take all that fruit away. Bir also encourages readers to be safety-minded; if you can’t reach it easily, you probably don’t need it that badly. She also provides a list of necessary tools such as containers and the all-important gloves, because nature is pointy.

The recipe section of the book is comprised of fruit-based creations, sorted alphabetically, with each fruit introduced with a lovely drawing and basic overview of the fruit, its uses, storage, and cooking tips.

Recipes range from the expected sweet offerings (pastries, cakes, scones) to preserves and pickles, with a few main course dishes such as pork tenderloin with rosemary roasted figs and onions or trout with gooseberry sauce working the savoury abilities of the fruit. A few entries, such as the one for juniper, have no recipes, and Bir goes into varietal detail for some specific fruits but not all.

Happy to see: a reference to Not Far From the Tree, an organization here in Toronto that teams up with homeowners, volunteers, and charities to harvest fruit on private property and share it. Sad to see: Bir joyfully mentions Japonica quince but dismisses them as too much work. They’re not! I foraged Japonicas from my local park for years before they were removed in an effort to control some wandering bamboo, and they made the best face-puckering jam.

Depending on your geographical region, not all of The Fruit Forager’s Companion will apply to you, but even if you have no local lemon trees, the recipes can still be used for purchased fruit. And while the recipes are great, the real treasure here is the information Bir provides for aspiring foragers.

Usability (based on a pdf file): very good. Recipes are straightforward and easy to follow. Directions are in paragraph format with no step numbers or line breaks. Fonts appear to be a good size but this may depend on the overall dimensions of the finished printed format. Measurements include metric (yay!).

With thanks to Chelsea Green Publishing and NetGalley, this book was reviewed from an Advance Reader Copy and may not include exactly the same content or format when published.

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