Sep 26, 2017

Waste Not, Want Not...Making the Most of Orchard Fruit

Waste Not, Want Not Making the Most of Fruit in the Orchard
The black and white photo caught my eye because it featured two women standing next to a tall pyramid of canned food. Though I spotted the photo on the Internet*, it originally appeared in an early 1900s newspaper, and the caption said the mother and daughter team had canned hundreds of jars of fruit that year. The mother bragged, "We didn't waste a thing."

That photo was pretty awe-inspiring, and made me think about how previous generations prided themselves on their lack of waste, whereas all too often the current generation doesn't even realize how much it is wasting. Especially when it comes to food.

As a general rule, homesteaders are thrifty and resourceful, but amid the hot, seemingly-never-ending work of the harvest season, how often do we let food go to waste? On our homestead, my goal is to avoid food waste as much as possible, and to preserve as much of the harvest as I can for human consumption.

When we moved to our current homestead, there was already a small orchard in place. I quickly learned that while this was a true blessing, it could also be overwhelming. Today, I have a solid system in place to help me preserve the orchard's harvest each year.

Unripe Fruit 

The first batch of fruit homesteaders usually deal with is unripe. Maybe they've taken the time to thin their fruit trees (which typically results in larger single fruits); maybe the trees have naturally thinned themselves by dropping unripe fruit on the ground; or perhaps a storm has knocked young fruit off the trees.

If you're like me, you grew up being told unripe fruit was unfit to eat. My mother promised me tummy aches and digestive complaints if I broke this rule...but as it turns out, a lot of cultures eat unripe fruit. We can, too.

Preserved immature figs.
Unripe Figs: In the Greek and Turkish cultures, unripe figs are commonly eaten in a sugar syrup.

1. Cut off the stems of the figs and make a slit at the bottom of each fruit.

2. Place the fruit in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Cover and gently boil for 15 minutes. Remove the figs with a slotted spoon.

3. Wash the pot. Place the figs back in the pot and cover with water. Boil and strain them again. If the figs are soft but still keeping their shape, they are ready. If they aren't yet soft, boil and strain one more time.

4. Place the figs back in the pot and add water and granulated sugar to make a syrup. Traditionally, equal parts water and sugar are used, but you can make a lighter syrup, if you wish. Also add about 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice for every 1 1/2 lbs. of uncooked figs. If desired, add some strips of lemon peel, and about 6 whole cloves. Cover and bring to a boil, cooking until the liquid turns into a thin syrup. During this process, if some of the figs start to lose shape, remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside.

5. Cool the syrup and the figs. 6. Thoroughly wash some glass jars and fill them with the prepared figs, leaving about 1 inch headspace. Cover with the syrup. Place lids on the jars, refrigerate, and begin eating after a week's time.
Immature apple pectin.

Unripe Apples: Use immature apples to make your own pectin for jam-making or health. Click here for complete instructions. 

Immature Plums, Peaches, or Nectarines: Unripe plums are regularly eaten throughout Asia and the Middle East. How do they make them edible? By pickling them. In the Mediterranean, baby peaches, no bigger than olives, are also pickled and eaten. But peaches and nectarines don't need to be so small to make great pickles.

Basic Fruit Pickle Brine: Into a medium saucepan, pour 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons of kosher or canning salt, and 1 cup of water. Place over high heat and stir until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved and the liquid is clear. Cool completely, stirring once in a while. Place fruit in freshly washed glass jars, cover with brine, and refrigerate. Allow the pickles to sit a week or two before eating.






Other Unripe Fruits: Poaching makes unripe fruit more tender and enhances any sweetness while helping to remove bitterness. Poaching is best used on fruit that is fairly close to ripeness.

1. Cut the fruit in half and, if possible, remove the core or stone.

2. In a saucepan, add enough liquid to cover the fruit. You may use water, beer, wine, or a sugar syrup. If desired, add spices like cloves, cinnamon sticks, or ginger. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, bring the liquid to a simmer, and add the prepared fruit. Simmer until fruit is soft.

3. For particularly green fruit, allow the food to sit in the poaching liquid in the refrigerate overnight. In addition, fruit that is nearly ripe is salvageable by using it in baked goods. For example, chop not-quite-ripe peaches and add them to your favorite muffin or quick bread recipe.

Windfall applesauce.
Windfall Fruit 

When our fruit is ripe (or nearly so), but the wind or over-ripeness has made it fall to the ground, I don't leave it for the birds. (Letting fruit rot around trees encourages pests.) Every day, I look for windfall fruit; that way, very little of it ends up so mushy its only use is the compost pile. Don't be concerned if windfall fruit is bruised or has holes from birds or other critters.

To use windfall fruit, I cut away any bad parts and use the rest for pie, cobbler or crisp, jam, jelly, or (if you have apples or pears) applesauce or pearsauce. Sometimes I also put better quality windfall fruit into a bowl designated for food that should be eaten that same day.


Handling a Bumper Crop

If you have large amounts of ripe fruit, it pays to start preserving it right away. Set aside some for fresh eating, but then get right to work dehydrating, canning, or freezing the rest. Putting some fruit in freezer bags to turn into canned food later is a life saver. For this reason, I try to ensure the freezer has plenty of empty space before the orchard season begins. Most fruits freeze just fine whole; place them on a rimmed baking tray and pop them in the freezer. When they are hard, put them in freezer bags. But when I'm really pressed for time and I know I'm going to make jam with the fruit, I often just throw the fruit in a freezer bag and call it good.

Not sure how to preserve your fruit? The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a gold mine of information on how to can and freeze just about anything. And to learn how to dehydrate your fruit (or other foods), click here.

And, of course, it's always nice to share with friends and family. My husband's co-workers love the bags of apples my hubby brings them! You might even look into sharing your fruit with a local charity that feeds the hungry. Sadly, not all of them allow home grown food, and you'll want to be sure the organization has a good reputation for not letting produce spoil, too.

Waste Not, Want Not
Making fruit scrap syrup.


It used to be that when I cored or peeled any fruit, I just dumped those trimmings in the compost bin. There's nothing terrible about that. And there's nothing awful about feeding those trimmings to livestock, either. (Be careful feeding too much fruit peelings to chickens, however; it will make their eggs taste "off.") But I really try to use those peelings for human food, when I'm able.

One way to do that is to make fruit peel syrup. It's an easy process and makes a thin syrup perfect for pancakes, or even to use with savory dishes. (For example, peach syrup is a nice marinade for pork.) Here is complete information on how to do it.

You can also turn fruit skins, cores, and pits into jelly. Easiest of all is apple peel and core jelly, which requires no pectin and can be made low or no-sugar. See the recipe here. The process is very similar with other fruits, except you'll typically need to use pectin for them. For example, when I recently made pear jelly, I boiled the trimmings just like I do for apples, strained to make juice, but then followed the directions on a box of commercial pectin to make the jelly itself.

Peach Peeling and Pit Jelly

This recipe works for any fruit.

1. Place peach peels and pits in a large pot. Just barely cover with water. Simmer for 30 minutes. Allow the mixture to sit overnight.

2. Strain the mixture; compost the peels or feed them to your animals.

3. In a clean, large pot, mix together the resulting liquid and 1 box of powdered pectin. Bring to a full boil. Add 3 cups of granulated sugar. Stir and return to a full boil until the jelly reaches 221 degrees F.

4. Ladle into hot jelly jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Apple vinegar in the works.
Fruit Scrap Vinegar

I also sometimes make vinegar from fruit scraps. It's very easy and results in some really tasty vinegar. Homemade vinegar should not be used for preserving, because there's no accurate way for you to ensure it has the correct acidity to safely preserve food. But you can use it in salad dressing, as a marinade, or in cooking.

1. Warm 1 quart of filtered, non-chlorinated water. Stir in 1/4 cup of granulated sugar or honey, stirring until completely dissolved.

2. Wash some glass jars and fill them about half full with coarsely chopped fruit scraps (peels, cores, bits of fruit - but not rotten or bruised parts). Pour the sugar water over them, leaving about 1/4 inch headspace. Cover with cheesecloth held in place with a rubber band and allow to sit at room temperature. Stir once a day with a freshly washed spoon.

3. After about a week, the liquid will appear dark. Strain, composting the fruit scraps or feeding them to animals. Pour the liquid into freshly washed jars, cover with cheesecloth, and allow to ferment 2 or 3 more weeks, or until you like the flavor. (When tasting the vinegar, use a freshly washed spoon and don't double dip.)

4. To store, place a plastic lid on the jar and keep in a cool, dark location, like the refrigerator. Is it

Is it Safe to Use Fruit Pits and Seeds?

Most people believe apple seeds and fruit pits contain cyanide (or, depending upon who you're talking to, arsenic). But according to Rodale's Organic Life, the Guardian newspaper, and other sources, there's nothing to worry about when using pits or cores to create food for your loved ones. The truth is, apples, apricots, plums, pears, peaches, and cherries do contain amygdalin, which breaks down into hydrogen cyanide when chewed. (There's no natural arsenic in any fruit.) However, according to Nordic Food Lab and other expert sources, cyanide isn't heat-stable. So when you cook pits and cores to make syrup or jelly, their toxicity disappears. In other words, there's no need to worry about making anyone sick. Furthermore, according to experts, even enthusiastic fruit eaters would have a hard time ingesting enough seeds/pits that their body could not naturally detoxify the fruit's toxicity.


* I have literally spent hours trying to find this photo again so I could share it with you. No luck!

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