We went for wild plums in the cold, misty morning, gathering them with fingers freezing and lethargic, my feet squishing in icy, wet boots. It was worth enduring the thorny thicket, the musky scent of catnip tall around us, to come home with 20 lbs or so of plums, without making a dent in the patch.
The wild plum season wasn’t good last year, but this year the plums are going off. Elevation estimate 6,000 feet, North Denver/Front Range adjacent. I have a good friend to lead me to such bounty.
In the midst of the thorny plum thicket there were apple trees too, many different varieties so loaded with perfect, plump apples that the branches near touched the ground, the fruits of a long-forgotten orchard overrun by the urban jungle. There were plenty on the ground ready for eating, no need to bother the tree just yet, my friend insisted.
And then … can you say pears? Consider yourself lucky to find a tree dropping its fruit. There’s no need to let the pears rot on the ground either. Even the ones with bruises and holes can be quickly cleaned with a knife and dropped into a simple, equal parts sugar-and-water syrup, then refrigerated or counter-fermented, she taught me. We ate days-old zingy pears with a spoon, and poured slightly fermented pear liquid into sparkling seltzer and drank our pear sodas like queens.
Later, back at home, I made a baked fruit crumble with mixed plums—not just the wild ones, but also some cultivated, powder-blue Italian plums her friend John invited us to harvest. “Pick the hell out of them,” he said, so we climbed deep into the weedy thicket to get at the difficult-to-reach plums, leaving the easily gathered ones to other hands. They hung plump and perfect under the dark green foliage, plentiful as grapes, their otherworldly color making me feel like I was foraging in a cartoon world of endless wonder.
The mixed fruit crumble used both types of plums, along with spoonfuls of zingy pears. I whizzed up a quick topping in the food processor, cutting butter with flour, brown sugar, and oats.
(My grandma’s apple crisp recipe, upon which all of my crisps and crumbles are based, says to bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. We tried this in the toaster oven, however, and ended up having to add 20 minutes or so, bump the heat to 400, and broil at the end to brown it. Maybe the actual oven would be easier next time, heh.)
In addition to the crumble and my own giant batch of zingy pears, I have a semi-spicy, Japanese-chile-infused plum sauce in the works, apple slices drying, and a daily diet of super-ripe tiny plums bursting with sweet wonder juice. A heaven of fruit and flavors, gleaned from once lovingly tended, now wild spaces.
Much of the inspiration and information underlying this piece comes from my good friend, the talented forager and cook Wendy Petty, blogger at Zester Daily, and Hunger & Thirst, where she is known as “Butter” or my moniker “B” for short. She is based on the outskirts of metro Denver and is an excellent resource for Denver and Boulder-area foraging enthusiasts in Colorado.
This piece was helpful to me in learning the differences between crisps, crumbles, cobblers, and buckles: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/18/crumble-cobbler_n_3455487.html
Gregg Davis took the bottom photo of me processing the Italian plums. They were more of a striking powder-blue on the tree, but alas, my iPhone shots did not come out.