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I spent a year living in rural Pennsylvania, and while I was there I had a huge garden and a small orchard. I froze fruit, made applesauce, harvested garlic, learned to make pesto from different greens to deal with the chard that ran wild in my garden, picked berries, foraged for chives in the spring…I was just learning, so I didn’t do anything stupid like pick mushrooms, but one of my favorite parts of living in the country was how much the land gave you if you looked.  Even an idiot like me could materially reduce their grocery bill just by paying attention.

Then I moved to Boston, where opportunities for gleaning were much thinner on the ground, and I was too busy to take advantage anyway.  Apart from a memorable trip to pick blackberries, my time in the big city flew by in a blur of grad school and Trader Joe’s frozen meals.

Last autumn, I was too overwhelmed by the move to think about apple picking.  But even though my attempts at gardening only yielded about five strawberries, it turns out Original Cambridge is full of free fruit, and apples are just the beginning (or, seasonally speaking, somewhere toward the end).  Earlier this month, I wrote about plum picking at the Orchard Tea Rooms. Things have picked up speed since then, and here is a brief list:

– applesauce with apples purloined from Grantchester, used in a variety of baked goods and distributed to friends and coworkers
– a second round of apples for applesauce, apple butter, apple helppies, apple juice, and any other apple product you can recommend because
– plum freezer jam, again with purloined plums
– elderberry syrup from elderberries in the Mill Road Cemetery
– elderberry muffins
– frozen elderberries
– blackberries frozen for baked goods later in the year

Last weekend I got completely carried away with the elderberries.  I strolled through the Mill Road Cemetery until I literally couldn’t carry any more, encountering two adorable small children near the Cambridge Blue, both of whom wanted to help me pick fruit.  Because I wasn’t eager to be the creepy adult peddling fruit to six year olds, I said no thank you and told them it would stain their fingers – which they took as a challenge.  One of the little girls, with pale skin, frekcles, purple leggings, a purple skirt, and pink crocs, held a single elderberry between four fingers and sang “look! I didn’t stain my fingers! I’m going to eat this one!”

I must have managed to strike the appropriate air of adult authority, because I gave her my best Disapproving Look and said “I would really prefer if you asked your mum first.” And she said “aw man!” but let the berry fall, and I moved on.  At this point I was lugging around a giant pot literally overflowing with berries, so I slogged home and started de-stemming them.  Five hours and no breaks later, I had about three pints of elderberry syrup, a purple-stained countertop, and four or five cups of elderberries for muffins (check!), freezing (check!) and leaving in the fridge too long and letting them get mouldy, thereby wasting all my hard work (check!).  I’m including two pictures, including one blurry one with my face in it – for context.  We are talking serious elderberry action. The pot was so big that I had trouble getting everything into the photo.

It was epic.