Where Wild Food Grows

This is a fine old Gravenstein apple tree on my father-in-law’s property which includes a falling down old apple orchard.  One year we pressed the Gravensteins and made fresh apple cider which I then canned (there was a lot!) and I entered our apple juice in the Harvest Fair of Sonoma County and it won first place.  I still have my ribbon because I haven’t often won first place in any kind of contest.  The juice was fantastic and I wouldn’t mind having a glass of it right now.

This old apple orchard is a place where nature show-cases the beautiful side of decay.  It’s quiet and peaceful with haunted whispering leaves.

There is nothing in this world like a broken old apple tree that is still blossoming in the spring and producing fruit in the fall.  How its branches must ache under the weight!  This particular tree here (which you can’t see in full) was grafted with more than one variety of apple and is nearly prostrate – to the point where I’m not sure there would even be a way for it to be reclaimed and healed – yet a few years ago it made one of the best fresh eating apples I’ve ever tasted.  I am sure it was a Golden Delicious – the way they’re SUPPOSED to be: crisp with a fine textured flesh and sweet without being insipid, full of the most wonderful classic apple taste.  I’m not sure what variety this is in the picture – it’s growing on half the tree.

An old trellis which used to have grapes growing over it.  I couldn’t find many of the grapes left but we’ve tasted them and they are wonderful – like tiny Red Flame grapes (which is what I suspect they are).  Now there’s some poison oak around it and blackberries too.  I don’t understand what those pipes attached to the structure are.  Maybe my father-in-law knows.  I’ll ask him.

You couldn’t pay me to go into this cellar unless someone goes in first and ushers the spiders to new locations.  It is covered in a thick blanket of dirt and dust and webs.  But it’s so cool!  The old man from whom my fil bought this property kept barrels of either cider or vinegar or wine in there.  It digs into the hillside.  It would be a great fruit and vegetable and canned goods cellar if it was cleaned out.

My camera wasn’t cooperating with me much here – this is a small Kalamata olive tree my fil planted for me.  It’s one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done.  Kalamatas are my very favorite olive of all time and olives grow well in Sonoma so I really wanted to have some of my own.  He planted two but the other one died – unless I just couldn’t find it.  This one is still quite small – I don’t think it’s getting enough water.  Olive trees are not necessarily big trees in the first place and they do thrive without much water once they mature.  This little one is proof of it – he may be diminutive but he’s completely healthy!  I mean – every leaf is disease free and lush.  Now all he needs is a pollinator.

Yes, I’m aware of the kind of work it takes to cure olives.  I’ve done some research on it and it’s exactly the kind of food making challenge I love with the possibility of great rewards.  My dad has a property in Sonoma County too and has a stand of olive trees that he presses olives from – they make a wonderful olive oil – I’m not sure exactly what kinds he has but some of them are eating olives too and he says I can pick and cure some this winter because it’s a good harvest year.

This is a mostly wild partially terraced garden area.  Before we moved to Oregon my fil let me run wild on his property, just like the apples, and gave me permission to build a garden here.  The big problem was irrigation (there’s well water and even a pump house but the property is mostly up-hill and planning irrigation systems isn’t my strong suit.  Planning garden spaces IS.  This whole sunny hillside directly behind his house would be perfect as a terraced garden in the Italian style.  I’m hoping he’ll let me run wild again and get back to work on taming parts of the property to grow food on for all of us.   There are lots of challenges to such a project: irrigation, root protection from moles and other underground beasts, deer, and soil.  Still – every time I’ve been on his property I see what it can be and a little of what it was.

But even if he prefers I don’t do any garden planning – he’s still generous with the fruits that grow wild there.  Right now I’m processing his Santa Rosa plums which he let me pick.  I got about 15 pounds of them and by the morning after I picked them I had to toss a couple of pounds for having gone bad – it happens fast with these plums!  I got two batches of plum liqueur going and one small batch of sweet and sour plum sauce for dipping egg rolls and pot stickers in and I am going to make either jam or jelly with the rest.  Santa Rosa plums are really juicy so it will probably be more challenging to make a jam from them but that’s what I really want to do.

It feels good to be digging my hands into my first food preserving project in the new house.  The preserving season is officially OPEN.

6 thoughts on “Where Wild Food Grows

  1. NM

    What a gorgeous property. Hooray for you!
    And an apple orchard — mmmm. Cider, apple butter, apple sauce, dried apples, apple pie, maybe homemade pectin, oh my.
    Have gotten cauliflower, carrots, turnips and onions planted for the winter garden; all the seeds are last year’s, so we’ll see how they do. One of my next projects; hauling fruit out of the freezer to use up.
    Miss you.

  2. angelina Post author

    I miss you too!!! I love his property. It’s very wooly and wild right now but is really pretty and has so much potential. Max and Philip were playing airsoft target practice in the orchard (not at animals or bugs obviously) and Max caught a lizard. Philip got good pictures of it. Love how excited Max was about it and how cute he thought it was. I’m also glad its tail didn’t come off. I remember being traumatized in San Diego when I caught a lizard (a favorite past time) and it got away and left its tail in my hand. I thought I’d killed the poor thing. My brother, the naturalist, assured me that it was a self defense mechanism and they grow them back. I still felt bad.

    I wish I was planting up a winter garden right now! My first goal is to get some half barrels to fill with herbs. I really miss picking them fresh from the garden. If the seeds are only one year old – hopefully they’ll still have a good germination rate.

    It doesn’t look like this is a huge apple producing year for this orchard so I must set my apple project goals modestly. We’ll see what happens.

    Okay – off to clean house so I can make sauce!

  3. Fala Cedar

    That looks like a lot of fun! I’m not a gardener at all, but I love tumbledown orchards. I can imagine spending a lot of time there reading or daydreaming. Those apples look like the apples on the trees in my new super secret foraging place! They’re still pretty small; don’t think they’ll be ready for quite a while, but I can’t wait! I love apples. There are plum trees, too, not the Italian prunes like I have in my yard, but the golden yellow kind. I’m hoping they’re edible when ripe. I’m baking a blackberry crumble thing right now from my super secret foraging place!

  4. angelina Post author

    There’s nowhere comfy to read or daydream there right now – the tall grasses and weeds are full of burrs and the ground is full of holes and is prickly and dry – BUT – what would be really cool is to build a really comfy seat around the base of the Gravenstein apple tree! Then you’d have shade and a place to sit. I love tumbledown orchards too. I would love to see some of the trees renovated and a few of them removed but mostly it’s lovely as it is.

    I’m so excited that you found a secret foraging spot! Are the plums really small or medium or large? In McMinnville our neighbors had a big yellow plum tree that hung over our yard. The plums were big like Santa Rosa plums (which are typically bigger than Italian prune varieties) and they were really tasty eaten fresh. They didn’t make a very flavorful jam but they did make a great Asian dipping sauce for egg rolls. But fresh was the best. I hope you’ll keep me posted on your secret spot’s fruit progress.

  5. Fala Cedar

    The plums are looking pretty big, and there are a LOT of them! I think these trees were probably planted to help deal with drainage — my husband’s work is in the middle of a business park that’s built along a waterway, so there’s quite a bit of nature in between the buildings, and it’s a quiet, pretty place, especially on the weekends. Lots of cattails and thistles, cherry blossoms in the spring, etc. The apple trees look very healthy! This little thicket is away from traffic, in a hidden spot behind the building. There’s a patch of woods on the other side, too, where we’ve seen wild rabbits and lots of birds.

  6. angelina Post author

    Sounds heavenly! I’ll bet those plums are going to make great fresh eating – they sound exactly like the ones that hung over our yard. I really love fruit trees. I plant them wherever I live. I hate that I’m always leaving them behind and not getting to see them mature. At least my fil stays put so I can see things mature there even if I have to move again in the future.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>