You don't have to live in a rural area to forage successfully

Urban Foraging is a term coined by people who make use of wild and commercially planted fruits, nuts and greenery growing in their city or town. This week, I had a windfall of beautiful crabapples in the landscaping of my Mom’s apartment complex. They were huge, and there were so many that they had the poor little trees bent over. It was easy to get permission to harvest some, since this is an assisted living community and there are always staff on hand to help. When I explained what I was going to do with them, the only thing they asked of me was if I could possibly bring them some of the jelly, once I had it made for them to taste. I was more than happy to agree. I picked about three gallons of the fruit and you couldn’t even tell any was missing.

Here's 36, 4oz Mason jars with bands and lids. Enough for lots of jelly.

crabapples in apartment landscape

Free food is everywhere, however get permission and know the laws

If you know where to look, there is free, fresh food even in the biggest cities. Much of it, like these crabapples will simply go to waste. They ripen, fall to the ground and make a mess. By keeping a watchful eye when you see commercial landscaping, you can fill your pantry and clean up the area. A win-win situation. However, you must remember to ask and gain permission for anything you wish to harvest, no matter how abandoned it might appear. Many state and federal lands actually have foraging rules and each area is different. Some allow harvesting things like berries, nuts and greens for personal consumption and others prohibit even taking a leaf. So make sure you know the laws.

Urban Foraging makes use of otherwise abandoned fruits and vegetables

Urban Foraging also helps city dwellers with limited access to fresh foods. This situation is called food apartheid; unequal access to fresh foods in a given area. Those with the means, should consider planting food-bearing plants as a way to help balance this inequity. There are plenty of opportunities to turn bland landscaping into healthy produce. Churches, office buildings, schools and other public areas should consider food plants when they have the room. People will find you. There’s even an app for this. It is called Falling Fruit and people can list specific areas around the world where others can harvest fresh foods for free. This isn’t dumpster diving or freeganisim, it is just harvesting what would eventually go to waste. My crabapples would simply be squirrel food in a couple of weeks and I left enough that they will still have plenty.

mehu-liisa with crabapples

Making crabapple jelly with a mehu-liisa

There are many things you can do with crabapples and these were lovely. Instead of tiny, bitter fruits, these were at least an inch or more in diameter and had a tart, but sweet taste even right off the tree. I decided to make jelly as I still had my friend’s mehu-liisa. This juice extracting tool from Finland, that uses steam to release the juice from fruits and the resulting liquid is so clear and pure, there’s no need to strain it. I washed my crabapples and just cut them in half, leaving the stems and cores intact. I filled the top hopper part of the steamer and added water to the lower pan, put it on my stove and turned on the burner. Other than filling the lower pan when the water boiled away and emptying the juice container, it took care of itself. When done, I emptied the steamed fruit into another bucket to give to my neighbor for his chickens. (I give him interesting scraps and he gives me fresh, organic eggs.) If you make wine, juice or jelly, a mehu-liisa is definitely a tool to have. I ended up with just over a gallon of crabapple juice and I didn’t even use all of the crabapples...as I have another treat planned, one that is 100 proof!

This inexpensive set of tools makes home canning much easier.

Here's a mehu-liisa...a tool every home canner needs.

mehu-liisa with juice

Make crabapple jelly

Crabapples are full of natural pectin and you can just use 4 cups of juice and 4 cups of sugar. Cook until the temperature reaches 220 on a candy thermometer. However if you cook it too long, it will be a sticky, stringy candy. Use a commercial pectin like Sure-Jell if you aren’t confident. That takes 7 cups of juice and 9 cups of sugar. Do not alter the recipe. This is a specific combination and cutting back on sugar or doubling the recipe will not have good results. Add a half teaspoon of butter to keep the jelly from foaming. There are low sugar pectins if you need to use less sweetener. Add the pectin to your juice in a large, deep stockpot. This stuff will expand quite a bit so give it plenty of room to do so. I used a 2 gallon stockpot and that was almost too small. You’ll think you’ve used a much too-big stockpot, trust me, you haven’t. Cook until it comes to a full, rolling boil and add the sugar all at once. Stir and cook until it comes to a full, rolling boil again and time for 1 minute. Take off the heat and your jelly is done. Bottle up in clean, hot, sterile canning jars and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. This recipe made 12 half pints and I still have about half of the juice for another batch. These are for gifts, I’ll use pint jars for the second batch.

Regular Sure-Jell makes traditional, sugary jams and jellies.

This is low sugar, no sugar and sugar substitute pectin for those who need the less sweet option.

crabapple jelly

Make vodka liqueur with your crabapples

I saved some of the nicest, blemish-free crabapples for my next treat. I trimmed the blossom and stem ends and either halved or quartered them, depending on the size. These were put in a half-gallon jar and I poured a cup and a half of sugar on them. Then, I poured a bottle of vodka over the whole thing, capped it and shook until the sugar was dissolved. The vodka doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A decent, everyday brand-name will do. Mine was less than $10. You’re supposed to leave this container on its side in a dark area and give it a gentle turn, every day for two weeks. This keeps sediment to a minimum. After that, strain the fruit and sediment out with a mesh strainer. Then, restrain it again through fine cheesecloth. This liqueur can now be re-bottled into smaller gift bottles, or simply poured back into the original container. While it may be sweet and tasty, do use in moderation. This liqueur is just as potent as the original vodka, so enjoy with that in mind.

This large, mesh strainer is what I use when I make jelly. It also doubles as a great colander.

Here are some 6 oz. swing top bottles that are perfect for gifting your crabapple liqueur.

crabapple liqueur

Be on the lookout for free produce

There are free, edible treasures out there if you care to look. Many commercial landscapes have trees and plants that are food-producing. In most cases, the crop is left to rot and make a mess. My mom’s apartment complex is a prime example. There just wasn’t anyone who knew what to do with the fruit. Many plums, apples, cherries, pears and berries have cultivars that are favored by landscapers, so it is wise to take notice of your surroundings and be on the lookout for freebies. Urban foragers can enjoy harvested edibles just like their rural counterparts. There are many edibles that urban dwellers might make use of, many flowers, such as violets and dandelions are quite useful, healthy and tasty. Ground cherries are often found in vacant lots. Nut trees are common in many landscapes as well. Be aware that pollution is often present and your harvest should be washed thoroughly. You should also take care about harvesting anything where petrochemicals and heavy metals might be in the soil. Always remember that you must know the laws, gain permission and be absolutely positive in your identification.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commissions at no cost to you.