Scavenger Crow

I am an insatiable scrounge. When I am out and about, my eyes are restless. They flit here and there, looking for Opportunities. I like to think it’s a carry-over from my woodsy foraging days. Always something out there, in the world. Waiting for me to discover it.

Trash day. Love it. I’m not ballsy or desperate enough to open random trash cans. But when I see some clue about possibly good contents, I have no qualms whatsoever. Broad daylight, kids in the stroller, me rummaging through someone’s trash.

Even as a purely recreational scrounge I have found some good shit down here. Suitcases and rugs galore, and other big stuff that doesn’t fit in the can itself. A few times someone purging for a move, bulging trash bags full of household goods next to the can. A feather down mattress pad, in pristine condition. Innumerable goodies really.

Back in Alaska, in small town life, I used to really dive. As in, grocery store dumpsters. As in, get in, down with the crates of eggs smashed on the bottom corner, cases of milk one day past date, box after box of perfectly ripe produce (did you know that they throw it away at peak ripeness? That’s the standard, because it’s supposed to last one week in your fridge at home…) and all the junk food you could ever hope to resist. I was always nervous at first, headlamp in the dark dumpster, someone watching for the cops. Always elated at the end as we packed hundreds of dollars worth of food into the car.

(I can’t resist giving you a link here to the very last post on my last-life blog, Subsist/Resist, with photos of the prototype for Dumpster Diver Barbie a friend and I made. Mattel spies be warned, I want the all the royalties!)

Here in one of the most dangerous cities in America, I have not summoned the courage to venture out after dark, to lurk behind darkened grocery stores. Seems a bad idea. Not to mention that here there are people with real need. I like to think they are exersizing full license on those laden dumpsters. I like to think, though I suspect I’m wrong, that there isn’t enough left for me.

What I have enjoyed here, in full light of day, without headlamps or black hats, is scavenging neighborhood fruit. I’ve scavenged lemons, grapefruit, kumquats, mandarinquats, satsumas, miniature pomegranates, and now…. mulberries! I’ve not gotten up the gumption to ask about trees I see through fences, dripping with fruit, that whole long list is street-side, or otherwise unclaimed. If I had the time to process tons of fruit, I could gather my wits to knock on some doors, and then I’d really be in ’em.

Most of those fruits I only harvested in small, tasting quantities. The mandarinquat days were glorious, but brief. It was a bush in an abandoned lot. I made many a deliciousness out of those little sour oranges. But then one day, I went to fill my bag and the lot had been razed to the ground. Construction started two days later. I almost cried.

The mulberries were a great tip-off from a friend. I had biked past the tree dozens of times, and just never noticed it. When I finally made it over last week to pick, it was a revelation. What a wonderful little berry! So, so sweet. Our hands were positively sticky with dark burgundy juices. No berry in Alaska makes your hands sticky. The mulberries taste dark, sweet, winey, like too much sun. The kids picked and ate off the (blessed) low branches for a full half an hour while a visiting friend and I cleaned the upper branches. We picked probably a gallon and a half. I was ecstatic! I put about half the load in the freezer (frozen on a tray, then into a bag, so that we could grab a handful at will), and jammed the other half.

Do you scavenge local fruits? If you are lucky enough to live in one of the areas covered by the awesome group Fallen Fruits, you can download one of their maps. They map all the fruits in or over public spaces. Unfortunately, although they’ve mapped several cities in California and Colorado, a couple of other random spots in the US, and quite a few in Europe, the rest of us have to slowly build our own local fruit maps.

Put the word out. Keep your eyes peeled. Get your crow on.

Then swallow your pride and grab a bucket.

9 thoughts on “Scavenger Crow

  1. I love how you describe this compulsion! In the summer time, I literally can’t drive straight sometimes because I’m always scanning the sides of the road for fruit. It turns into a crazy addiction and to be honest, by the end of the season, I’m exhausted and glad to not be scrambling for fruit anymore. I have a little internal map of every elderberry bush and all the old apple trees, and that’s saying something. I must admit, even though I admire Fallen Fruits, and other orgs of their ilk, I can’t help but to want everything to stay quiet because I’m greedy and have problems with sharing my found fruit.

  2. We scavenge apples every autumn from an orchard at the side of a private airfield. The trees are all such a mixture because the airfield was used by the American forces (I’m in the UK) during the second world war and the servicemen would plant their apple seeds. Now, more than sixty years later we get rucksack after rucksack and made cider apple butter and eat more apple crumbles than any human really should.
    There are also always berries all over the countryside and we never go out without bags and containers. Chestnuts too. I need a source of wild garlic now. I’ve been longing for one but haven’t found any yet.

  3. We’ve got a mulberry tree and my advice is, if you run out of mulberries outside the fence, do gather your gumption and ask to go inside because those trees are prolific! I beg people to come help me eat em and still heaps fall to the ground and rot because there’s just too many!!

  4. Oh yes, I do! I do scavenge local fruit! (loving DD barbie too!). We are really lucky here, there are loads of offerings to be had..blackberries galore for the person willing to drive down dusty backroads or walk lesser travelled paths (or to even venture down along the railway lines where rarely a pedestrian is seen). Wild quince trees, mushrooms, blackberries..did I mention blackberries? Wild apple trees..it’s a fruit pickers paradise. A friend had a devastating experience recently..after arriving at the revered tree of public quince offerings it was discovered that some other foraging soul had stripped the tree bare! Not a construction crew in sight, this, my friend we are putting down to the elderly ladies who live in that area, out for a thrilling scrounge all of there own. Not a single fruit was left! Like your experience, absolutely devastating.

    My question is: Should one leave some behind for the next scrounger or is it ok to take it all?

    And yes I agree with Leigh..do ask! Sometimes they don’t even know what they have growing and will let the fruit fall to the ground and then run the lawnmower over them to ‘mulch’ them up *cringe*. Just return a jar of whatever you make with their fruit as a thankyou.

    1. When I picked those mulberries, like I said, we cleaned the tree. BUT mulberries apparently ripen progressively, there were tons of green, unripe berries left. For fruit that ripens all at once, it seems unfriendly to take them all, unless you were just certain no one else would pick them… Even still, in the wild I don’t ever pick all of something. What about the other critters?

  5. Hey, here in Oklahoma City, I have foraged persimmons and pecans. There are rumored to be sand plums somewhere but I’ve never come across them. My friend here takes his air pellet gun and often kills random wild geese in parks. I also have a friend in the country that has a large and productive pear tree. I am currently also foraging lamb’s quarters, which in mid-summer will be more than abundant. I’ve also dumpstered here quite often. In Illinois we had mulberries and an apple tree in the vacant lot across the street. I am working on my wild plant id skills so maybe there will be more soon.

  6. I definitely scavenge local fruit. Local greens, too. I throw garlic mustard, dandelions, grape leaves, mustard, you name it into my frying pan (typically with slightly-spicey sausage rounds, tomatoes, and maybe some mushrooms, if I’ve got them) to serve over pasta, or into my soup pot any old day.
    There’s a big patch of garlic mustard growing between my house and the office building where I’m working right now, and I’ve taken to harvesting big bunches of them (that steam down to about 2-3 cups, total) that I can blanch and freeze in silicone muffin tins.
    I rather love it.
    As for fruit… Choke cherries are plentiful (and frequently un-picked) around here, as are crab apples and, to a lesser extent, rose hips. Grapes, sour cherries, service berries, and sweet apples are slightly harder to come by, but they’re around. ;-) I got something like eight cups of apple butter last year, entirely from scavenged golden apples from a neighbourhood to the south of me, where my wife was working at the time. I know where to find a chestnut tree, but I have yet to hit it up for nuts (I think they’re ripe in September?). Maybe I’ll manage to get ahold of some this year. :-)

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