Years ago I was at a barter and a friend bartered me some dried strawberry tree fruits. They were delicious, sort of chewy with a lot of body and a nice fruit flavor (not really like strawberry, but tasty!). Riding along the Burke Gilman Trail between the U-District and Fremont a few days ago, I saw the strawberry trees on the east side of the trail are starting to get bright red fruit – time for a harvest. I missed the harvest last year so I am determined to get it this year.
Strawberry trees (scientific name Arbutus unedo) grow fruits that are round and bumpy, and bright red when ripe. They are also rather seedy, like strawberries. The trees are native to the Mediterranean and western Europe, including the cloudy temperate climates of Ireland and the UK, so I imagine that our non-native similar climate treats them well.
I was also pleased to find out that strawberry trees are in my favorite plant family, which is, of course, Ericaceae. Other tasty foods in the Ericaceae family are cranberry, blueberry, huckleberry, and salal.
All over Seattle, unattended apple and plum trees are dropping fruit (and have been for a few weeks). Your neighbors may have trees you can pick, if you aren’t lucky enough to have a fruit tree of your own. Ask! Offer to leave them a box of picked fruit, and throw all the rotten fruit in their compost. Picking their unwanted fruit is a great way to make friends with your neighbors.
Most trees bear far more fruit than one household can eat, so give extras to neighbors, friends, and family. Can or freeze applesauce and plum compote, which are excellent uses of Seattle’s plentiful tree fruit. You can also give the extras to local food banks, just like City Fruit does, as long as they are freshly picked and will keep for at least a few days. You can borrow an apple cider press (try West Seattle Tool Library, NE Seattle Tool Library, or PNA Tool Library), or go to a local harvest fair that offers a press for you to use (and feed the leftover apple pulp to your or your neighbor’s backyard chickens).
My recipe for applesauce is easy: cut a bunch of apples into small pieces or slices (1-2 inches), put them in a pot with a little water, and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it’s the consistency you want. Add cinnamon and/or sugar to taste. Plum compote is basically the same. It is particularly tasty with lots of cardamom, in my opinion! Both applesauce and plum compote store well in the freezer.