Street Gleaning (Recipe) | Civil Eats

Street Gleaning (Recipe)

With summer here, and the influx of both wild and planted harvestables gaining momentum, I am taking pause to compare season’s past with now.  Aside from what we’ve chosen for our garden, my typical food foraging generally takes place on my own property, harvesting native wild blackberries, volunteer plums, and miner’s lettuce and wild arugula for supple spring salads.  We’re also fortunate to have access to some prime mushroom hunting, and usually pull in a few pounds of porcini and chanterelles each year.

But this year is weird. A chilly, wet, and extra long spring delayed the growth of our starts.  Much of the seeds we purchased ended up being bunk, a huge disappointment especially since we appreciate the back-story of the heirloom company so much.  And we are still smack in the middle of constructing our home, taking away each spare moment that would otherwise be spent keeping up a farm.

And then there is work, the means to the end for all those visions and dreams of a future away from the office.  Which brings me to the main difference of this year from last.  I am not home enough to spend time harvesting my own space.  Instead, my day-to-day reality is in town, driving from workplace A to workplace B to sometimes workplace C.  Last year, I had more leisure to wander around the property, picking this and that and creating interesting dishes, salt mixes, teas, and jams from the loot.  Now, the part of my brain that is inspired by those lucky edible finds lurks behind a drearier headspace of computer screens, files, and phone calls.  But there still remains a glimmer of culinary motivation that blooms on those asphalt and brick laden drives.  Sometimes on the urban trail lies a gift, just waiting to be plucked, prepared, and appreciated.

This concept is nothing new, and in recent years the idea of gleaning excess produce has taken shape in organized efforts throughout the country.   In urban environments, gleaning projects are popping up as well, specifically in Portland, San Francisco’s Urban Gleaning Program in conjunction to the Department of Public Works, and the widely renowned Forage Oakland, spearheaded by Asiya Wadud, that is now seen as a model of true success in solving issues within our current wasteful food system.

My small city’s climate actually offers an abundance of produce, dripping from heavy branches and vines over gates and fences.  I’ve spied grapefruit, Meyer lemons, mulberries, plums, dandelion greens, and even Buddha’s hand citrus in one special front yard.  Along our coastline, people enthusiastically harvest muscles and seaweed.  But one of my favorites, that few seem to revere, is the loquat.  The pale yellow clusters of fuzzy orbs, juxtaposed against the tropical dark green leaves, always catch my eye.  Loquat trees are everywhere, once identified they seem to pop up on every route.  Many parts of the plant are edible, including the leaves that are often dried and brewed as a tea in several Asian cultures.  Some health benefit claims include blood sugar control and insulin production, the release of anti-oxidants, acts as a repertory expectorant, aids in digestion, decreases skin inflammation, and that the loquat has anti-viral properties.

But I love the fruit.  It’s a subtle, delicate sweetness, a firm texture coating large, glassy black seeds that feel like marbles on the tongue.  If I don’t simply enjoy them freshly picked out of my own hand, my second preference is to pickle them with a couple of cloves.  The brining and preserving turns them into something I can only describe as olive-like.  Here is a recipe for your next city harvest.

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Pickled Loquats

6 Lbs. loquats
3 cups sugar
3 cups water
3 cups cider vinegar
Several whole cloves

Combine sugar, water, and vinegar in a large pot.  Tie the cloves loosely in cheesecloth and add.  Boil 10 minutes then remove spice bundle.  Alternately, you can simply drop 2 or 3 whole cloves into each jar along with the fruit for a more assertive spiced pickle.  Meanwhile, wash the loquats, removing the stem and blossom ends and seeds; do not peel them.  Pack into hot sterilized jars, filling ½-inch from rim with the hot syrup.  Seal and process in water bath 15 minutes.

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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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