Homesteading: Fruit Trees and Legacies | Civil Eats

Homesteading: Fruit Trees and Legacies


I’m sitting on the stoop of my house in the Santa Cruz Mountains. To the left is an old, crooked shed filled with still packed boxes of things I can’t even remember, much less miss or need. Behind me is the main house, a miniscule, 400 square foot version of what most call a home. For us, the 1950’s mountain décor of peeling peach colored walls, faux-wood linoleum floors and dwarf sized electric stove will do for now…as long as we remind ourselves of the vision that brought us here in the first place. To my right is a 100 square foot adobe, built in 1949 by the only other owner of this property, a single woman named Margaret who lived here for sixty years by herself, the first eight years in the very same adobe. The room is now our sleeping space, tiled and plastered and decorated to modern day, Spanish style taste while preserving the details of another time.

Margaret is a veritable legend up on this mountain. It has been said that she was still wielding a chainsaw at age 80. There is evidence of her legacy in every nook and cranny of the two acres of land, from the rusted out homemade food dehydrator to the antique plates hiding in the wisteria consumed garden shed. Every neighbor has shared with us stories of Margaret, which generally centered on her true homesteading. This hidden gem may look like an overgrown isolated jungle to others, but we couldn’t pass up the value of the sixty year old Japanese maple, an orchard full of heirloom apples, figs and plums or the hazelnut trees peppering the hillside. Fresh spring water and a year round abundance of Meyer lemons and Oro Blanco grapefruit seemed to even out the 25 minute commute to work and cold mountain toes.


Each season is different, and offers more and more to learn, produce, and discover. Our first harvest of tiny Italian prune plums, when we couldn’t bear to lose one to the ground, ended up canned in mason jars that still line our cupboards, peeking out like mauve alien eyeballs. This plum harvest, after a severe pruning, was smaller and less neurotic…a good lesson on naïve enthusiasm. Instead of purchased holiday gifts, our family and friends now receive a culmination of the year, all created from ingredients from the property. Last year it was Meyer lemon marmalade, various applesauces, candied citron and Limoncello. Projects for this holiday season consisted of Porcini oil, roasted Chestnuts in local honey, rosemary apple chutney, and a winter squash for all. We have slowly started to consistently identify wild mushroom patches, finding Chanterelles, Porcinis, oysters, and candy caps. Chickens, ducks, an outdoor bar, composting toilet, Pinot Noir vines, brick oven, pomegranates, and a goat or two lay on the horizon for our evolving home-space.

Now, here for more than a year, we are realizing that Margaret’s lifestyle has seeped into everything we do. The land, nurtured with her careful, strong hands, produces bounty that we appreciatively maintain and preserve. The customs of drying, canning, pickling, and saving that a Depression era woman never questioned is now what we strive to do as well- and what we all need to examine if we are hoping to rebuild our flawed food system. This generational full circle feels right, and I hope to remember to always listen to the Redwoods, to take the time to watch the hummingbirds, and to feel the warm air shift as Margaret surely did everyday, during a time when email, deadlines, and our current lightning pace was unfathomable.

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Amber Turpin is a freelance food and travel writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A long time Good Food advocate, she has owned, operated and helped launch several food businesses. She is a regular contributor to Civil Eats, various Edible magazines, and the San Jose Mercury News. Read more >

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  1. Mary Hernon
    Very nice.

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