Monday, April 15, 2013

A foraging trip down back roads

Looking sleepy, Trillian Fischler (pictured with her mother, Amber Boas) is ready for a car-seat siesta

April 15, 2013

On a recent Sunday, my daughter Amber and her family spent the day with us.  By mid-afternoon, Trillian, our 16-month-old grandchild, was ready for a nap but even though she was obviously tired, she was unwilling to stop playing long enough to lie down. 

“Let’s take her for a drive,” Amber suggested and I readily agreed.  When my children were little, I often reverted to the car-ride solution, especially with Amber who tended to be a fussy sleeper. 

After installing the car seat and strapping Trillian in place, we set out for a leisurely drive.  Less than a mile down the road, Trillian nodded off, which enabled Amber and me to have some rare alone time together.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked but when I received no definite proposal, I made the decision myself. 

“Let’s explore,” I said, knowing a relaxing meander around back roads is something Amber and I both enjoy.  “Let’s drive around and see what we can find.  I know the first place we can stop.”

A few minutes later, we pulled off the two-lane onto a grassy strip in an older residential neighborhood where homes sit on a few acres and peeling wood fences delineate property lines. 

“A few months ago I discovered a kumquat tree here that nobody picks,” I said pointing to the bushy citrus plant straddling the fence line of an unused pasture.

Amber’s eyes lit up when she saw the fruit-covered shrub.  In addition to sharing my love for lazy meandering down untraveled roads, Amber inherited my propensity for foraging free food, flowers and herbs.  I stayed in the car with my sleeping grandbaby, while Amber jumped out and proceeded to fill her pockets with the ripest kumquats she could reach.

Bright orange kumquats ready to pick 
Kumquats are members of the citrus family, small fruits with a sweet edible skin and very tart flesh.  While Amber likes to eat only the skin, discarding the rest, I prefer to pop the entire morsel into my mouth savoring the contrast between sweet and sour sensations. 

The thing about kumquat trees is that they are prolific bearers over an extensive period.  With most varieties of backyard citrus, it’s possible to eat or juice all the fruit they produce.  However, unless you’re a commercial grower planning to sell your crop or convert it all to kumquat marmalade, there’s bound to be waste and lots of it. 

Rather than see good food fall to the ground and rot, I like to stop by occasionally and pick a few handfuls.  If the fruit is growing in someone’s yard, I always ask for permission before picking, but if it’s growing by the roadside and seems neglected, I consider it free for the taking.

A few minutes later, after filling her pockets, Amber got back into the car and we ventured on, nibbling away at our foraged find. 

“Where to now?” she asked after checking to be sure that Trillian was still asleep. 

“I know a place in Clermont,” I said, “where we can pick some Surinam cherries.  I passed it the other day and the bushes were covered with ripe fruit.”

Even though they are edible, most people use Surinam cherry bushes as ornamental hedges.  In South Florida, they are a common landscaping plant but in the central part of the state, they are rare.  The few plants I have found have been located in older sections of town, planted at a time when homeowners wanted to surround their yards with as many edibles as possible. 

Surinam cherries are red like more many other cherries but they have their own unique taste

We were heading for the downtown region, but although Clermont was only about 10 miles away, I chose a convoluted route that enabled us to drive along several rural roads flanked by stands of pink phlox and other wildflowers. 

“They’re so pretty,” I said as we rambled by.  “I’d like to have a field of phlox growing on our property some day.”

By the time we reached the Surinam cherry bushes, Trillian was beginning to make wake-up sounds, so only Amber had time to pick a few of the ripest fruit hanging from the shrubs closest to the road.  Even though her cherry cache was small, it whet our appetite for more foraging adventures.

“Let’s do this again soon,” I suggested as I turned the car toward home.  “I can come by your house in Winter Garden one morning when Trillian is ready for her first nap and we can poke around back roads there to see what we can find.”

Amber nodded in agreement as we set off on the only route since we began that took us on main thoroughfares. 

From start to finish, we were gone about 90 minutes.  Although our outing was brief, our accomplishments were many.  My daughter and I spent precious alone time together.  We shared pretty country views and tasty foraged foods.  More important, we talked - conversations uninterrupted by demanding little voices. 

And what about Trillian who slept through the cherry picking, kumquat gathering, scenic vistas and interesting discussions?  We returned home with one smiley, refreshed baby ready to run and play again after her car seat siesta.  Sometime it takes the fussy qualms of an overtired toddler for parents – and grandparents - to reclaim feelings of calm and connectivity.  

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