Friday, June 1, 2012

A Little Snack

There is nothing quite like the taste of a fresh berry right from the vine or a warm fig with the sticky sap still leaking out.  And luckily, I get to enjoy these pleasures throughout the year.  While we have not had a rousing success growing vegetables in our yard, there are plenty of fruits to enjoy: some planned and some not.
Last week we finished the first crop of strawberries from our yard.  The sunniest place we have is in the front garden but since this is the spot that everyone sees from the street we haven't turned it into a vegetable garden yet.  Plus, it is where all of my wife's sun-loving plants are.  But we do try to stick a few food plants in there.  And one is the strawberry plant.  There is a little sliver of dirt between the fence enclosing the patio and the main part of the garden and the sidewalk leading from the driveway to the front door.  It is a small spot so we don't get many at a time but during strawberry season there is usually enough to top our cereal. 
Across the front patio is a Serviceberry tree.  It was chosen since it is a native tree and offers plenty of food for the birds.  But the crop is large enough that we are able to grab a few bowls as well.  The berries are small but quite sweet.  Again, wonderful on cereal or ice cream or just straight to your mouth.  This year the tree has received a lot of attention for a Robin family.  They nested in the oak tree about 20 feet from the serviceberry and are often stopping by for a snack on their way home.
Serviceberry fruits ranging from quite ripe to green.

Pear fruit just starting to get color
When we bought the house there was a small "orchard" in the back.  We were never quite sure how it survived since the area only gets about 4-5 hours of direct sun, even during the summer.  There is a line of tall trees running down both sides of the yard.  But there they were.  Several apple tress, a few pears and even a peach if I remember correctly.  In our first fall in the house Hurricane Isabel stuck and took down many trees including most of the fruit trees.  We have been left with just one pear tree that had been poorly pruned for years and one apple tree that was tilted over in a subsequent thunderstorm. 

A bunch of early apples
The apple tree is a favorite of the local deer and now that it is leaning, they can get to most of it.  So we have had to try and cage it.  But after given our tithes to the deer and bugs, we are still left with plenty of apples and pears.  The pears need to be cooled before ripening so every fall we pick them, stick them in the refrigerator for several weeks and then slowly take them out to ripen.  It is hit-or-miss but when they turn out good they are very sweet and tasty.  Not like the large, firm things that past for fruit at the grocery store.  The apples are cooking apples, Grannie Smith, perhaps, so they usually go into deserts or a nice fall soup that we have. 

Just a start to figs; still a few months to wait
The previous owners also left us with a few fig trees.  These are wonderful.  About mid-summer the figs will ripen and we are out every morning grabbing the new ones before the birds or squirrels can get to them.  The figs we will fight for.  I had never really had figs before moving here and I don't think you can really understand figs unless you can pick them.  They don't keep long and I have never seen fresh figs in a market.  But I understand why they were the foods for the Greek and Roman gods.  The whole combination of the texture, the flavor and the warm, even if they have been inside all day, is heavenly. 
All of the fruit trees are late summer fruits so they have only proto-fruits right now.  But those proto-fruits hold the promise of a tasty summer. 
Ripening Mulberries

Green blackberries
One final relevant legacy of previous owners are the weedy mulberry trees and blackberry vines.  Both are a bit invasive and we try to keep them under control. But the fruits are nice when they come.  We had tried having a veggie garden in the back yard but the lack of direct sun always doomed our attempts.  But the blackberries have moved in and they are doing fine.  So we are quite content to let them have the beds (as long as they stop grabbing me while I mow).  They have just finished flowering and the berries are starting to take shape.  A few more weeks I hope.  And there are usually enough of these that we can use them for ice cream or even pancake syrup as well as a healthy snack.  The mulberries are ripe right now.  We had one weedy tree that was getting too big for where it decided to grow so we had it taken down this past winter.  But there is a smaller one further back that has fruit on it.  The birds are quicker to that one than we are so we usually just settle to grabbing a quick bite as we walk by. 

Hackberry Tree
And our final snack tree is a hackberry that is growing at the entrance to our pier.  Hackberries are very small fruits that are very sweet but with very little flesh.  They are the size of a BB and about 80% of their volume is the seed.  But you can pull it off the tree and scrape the flesh off the seed with your teeth and get quite a sugar rush.  Because of the big seeds they are only good for eating a few on the run.  They are also a favorite of the raccoons in the yard.  During hackberry season we seen raccoon scat that is very little beyond hackberry seeds. 
Well, writing this has made me hungry, see you at the blackberry bush.

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