Foraging isn’t limited to summer, but there’s certainly an intoxicating magic to the abundance and diversity of plants you can find in the warmest and sunniest of seasons.
In her new book “The Fruit Forager’s Companion: Ferments, Main Dishes, Desserts, and More from Your Neighborhood and Beyond”, Sara Bir encourages us to think of foraging as something that happens every time we journey outside.
It’s about the wonder of noticing, the comfort of repetition, and the excitement of new discoveries.
Fruits are wonderful for beginner foragers because they tend to be easier to identify and not as intimidating to prepare as greens or roots.
And besides feral finds of the woods and meadows, there are also abandoned orchards and neighbourhood fruit trees bearing completely common fruits, like cherries and plums. Urban yards and parks are one of the best places to spot foragable fruit.
Whether you are seeking the familiar or the new-to-you, you still want to follow the same protocol. A foraging hobby requires little to no specialised equipment; just knowledge, respect, and a new and exciting awareness of space are what really matters.
Read on for Sara’s tips for foraging fruit this summer.
10 easy tips for foraging fruit this summer
Protect your body
Wear sunscreen, and if, you are in an area with lots of pesky bugs, insect repellant. I break these rules often because I’ll be out on a walk and unexpectedly run across, say, a bramble of black raspberries I hadn’t noticed, and I’ll snag my dress and get my legs all scratched up. Which is no big deal, but if you set out on an intentional forage, you might as well avoid sunburns and mosquito bites.
Learn what to look for when
This is something that’ll be particular to your area and it can take a few years to really get a knack for it.
Think of this time as a casual, ongoing scientific study where you observe a plant’s cycle through the seasons. Unusual weather patterns can prompt some fruits to appear early, late, or not at all.
Ideally, the best time to start foraging for the summer is in the spring! That’s when you can start scoping out blossoms. Return to those plants every now and then to see how they’re coming along. That way you’ll be on top of it once the fruit is ideally ripe.
A foraging class or workshop is worth a dozen foraging apps or field guides, because there’s nothing like getting information firsthand from an actual person.
If you can’t make it to a class but you have a knowledgeable friend, as them to join you on a foraging adventure. Though it’s peaceful to head out solo, it’s also fun to have company.
Another great way to become familiar with plants is to visit an arboretum or botanical garden. Usually they have at least one area with native plants, plus everything is handily labeled, and there may even be docent-led tours.
These help me remember where certain trees are, or identify promising plants I’m curious about. If I don’t have my phone with me, sometimes I’ll stick a leaf or sprig in my pocket to investigate once I’m home, with my computer and field guides at my disposal.
One note of caution: though posting photos of plants on social media can be useful for helping you identify them, remember it’s a tool, not the last word. I’ve seen well-intentioned but ill-informed commenters misidentify plants.
Think before you pick
Before harvesting anything, ask yourself: are you absolutely this fruit is what you think it is? Is it endangered? Do you have permission from the owner, if you are on private land? If it’s public land, is foraging allowed? Is there a chance the plant could have been exposed to herbicides or pesticides?
For more advice on how to forage sustainably, see our expert advice here.
Taste and taste again
Foraged fruits can vary a lot from plant to plant. The mulberries from one tree can be delightful, while the ones from another tree can underwhelm.
If you tried a fruit once and didn’t like it, give it a second or third chance. Also, tasting is a valuable tool for determining ripeness—you don’t always have to rely on colour and firmness.
Bring along the right containers
If you are heading out to brambles, know that berries do best in shallow, rigid containers. Sometimes plastic bags work fine, though—especially if that’s all you have.
I keep an old backpack stocked with sunscreen, insect repellant, empty plastic yogurt tubs and a plastic tarp. It’s ready to go when I am! If I’m out and about and run across something lovely but don’t have any bags or containers, I just fill my hat with fruit. It’s better than nothing!
Store your haul properly once you get home
I’ve had happy and productive foraging outings, only to forget to bring in my baskets from the car and realise it the next day, when it’s too late. Refrigerate, freeze or sort through whatever you picked so it will have optimal shelf life and not succumb to mould or mushiness.
This is what foraging is all about. I love it when a friend gives me a sample of something new they’ve discovered. If a property owner let you harvest on their property, by all means take them a sample of a recipe you tried out if you think they’d enjoy it.
Get out there!
Finding starts with looking. As rewarding as a foraging windfall can be, it’s the seeking that differentiates it from simply buying food at the grocery store.
Embrace the process, because meaningful results are not always edible.
The foraging mindset makes every minor journey outside your door into a new adventure, one that will have you considering your everyday surroundings in new and gratifying ways.
The Fruit Forager’s Companion: Ferments, Desserts, Main Dishes, and More from Your Neighborhood and Beyond by Sara Bir (Chelsea Green, £22.50) is available now.
For more on foraging – read our expert guide on how to be a sustainable forager here