ever since i was a little kid i loved to find things, especially edible things in the nature. gowing out to gather walnuts in autumn from one of the many trees that were just growing outside the village on the egde of the black forest where i grew up. finding tiny little wild strawberries in the woods, eating blueberries strait from the bush or making apple sauce with apples from one of the many old abandones orchards all around, that was so much fun!
but since i wanted some more fun in life than the little black forest could provide i moved to the big city over ten years ago now. the passion for gathering fruit didn't stop, though. and it didn't have to, since even in a big city like berlin, you can find a surprising amount of edible or otherwise useful plants if you just walk through the world with open eyes and a little knowledge for what you have to look for.
in this instructable i want to give you some inspiration on going out there, even in a big city, and finding the unexpected in places you wouldn't think of. there are so many places, parks, green belts along rivers and canals, abandoned lots and city forests that can yield a lot of fruit and other things.
and especially for those of us living in the cities it is healthy and important to get outside and into "nature" (at least the nature a city can provide) and spend some time outside of buildings. gathering is a perfect opportunity to do just that. and especially now in the late summer and autumn, many things will be ripe and waiting to be enjoyed.
i included some recipes and ideas on what to do with the found stuff, i hope you like it and maybe it inspires you to go out yourself and find great things!
Step 1: A Few Words Before You Start / Equipment
first of all, when gathering fruit, mushrooms, herbs or other stuff it is important to only gather stuff that you only collect things that you can identify whithout a doubt. Eating the wrong kind of plants or mushrooms can lead to range of unpleasant things from an upset stomach to poisoning and serious illness.
try to damage plants as little as possible, it is much better to use a knife to cut parts of plants of or to cut mushrooms instead of yanking things out of the ground, because that can damage the roots of the plants and might lead to their (unnecessary) death. be kind!
another thing to keep in mind is that a city is not the most clean place and especially in parks, even though you might not see it, a dog might have peed somewhere. this is why it is very important to thoroughly wash everything you gather before you do something with it. things growing close to the ground need the most washig! also, don't pick or gather stuff directly besides big and busy roads as the exhaust fumes might have made their way into the plants.
the only things you really need for the urban gathering are a knife (i very much like my opinel knife, a french product that can be closed for security and is also great for camping) and some sort of containers to put your found treasures in: paper bags, baskets, simple fabric bags, plastic bags are not so good, but still ok.
protective gloves might come in handy sometimes when you are dealing with stingy or thorny plants.
a bike is defenitely the friend of the urban gatherer, but you could also walk....
Step 2: Nuts!
nuts are one of the things you can easily find even in cities, since nut-bearing trees or shrubs are often planted in parks and or back yards.
for example beech trees are a popular park tree and the produce the most delicous, triangular nuts. two of them sit in one little pod. they are super tasty and you might not even have had them before even though they grow all around you.
another nut that is often found is the walnut. walnut trees are easily recognisable by there rather big, bright green leaves and the green balls hanging on the tree that are the nuts still in there outer shell. inside the green shell, there is the normal hard, brown shell. the outer green shell desintegrates as the years passes and the nuts fall to the ground. as it desintegrates it turns brown and slimy and can easily stain hands and clothes (they can be used for dying and for making ink!), so be carefull when collecting the walnuts.
i love fresh walnuts from late in the summer or early autumn, when they are still white and have that wonderfull earthy smell....
often you can also find hazelnuts, which are grown as hedges in the city.
last weekend was again a very sucessfull one, on a day out with my boyfriend we found a chestnut tree in a park. the edible, sweet chestnuts are easily distinguished from their cousin, the inedible horse chestnut by the spiky outer shell that looks a bit like a sea urchin. those spikes can hurt, so be carefull when collecting chestnuts.
from all the stuff you can do with chestnuts, roasting them in a pan over a fire (or the oven if a fire in your city home is not an option...) until they are tender is still my favourite way to enjoy them.
Step 3: Elderberries
the elder is one of the most common shrubs in central europe and can be found in many other places as well.
it can easily be found in a lot of parks where it is grown as a decorative plant. in late spring it is abloom with panicles of tiny white flowers. the flowers can be made into elderflower syrup or elderflower wine or lemonade or dipped into batter and fried and then eaten with powdered sugar.
in late summer the flowers that haven't been used in spring will have turned into black berries. like other fruit they can be turned into jam, juice, jelly or fruit wine. they shoudn't be eaten raw though, since they contain small amounts of toxins that are destroyed by heat. the berries and their products are quite healthy, a warm elderberry juice with a dash of rum works wonders when you have a cold.
to collect the elderberries, it's best to cut the whole panicles of the shrub with a knife or garden scissors. the berries can often be too high up to reach them, but the branches are quite flexible, so you can bend them down carefully, cut of the berries and then let go.
apart from the berries all other parts of the plant are toxic, so please don't chew on the leaves!
Step 4: Apples and Other Fruit
sorry, no pictures of the apple trees, since we found them on a day where we had a little camera free adventure. but even inexperienced persons might recognize an apple tree (with fruit) when they see it, since it, well, has apples, a fruit that is quite famous all around the world.
it might surprise you but even in bigger cities fruit bearing trees can be found. not only apples, but also pears, differnt kinds plums or cherries might be just around the corner.
i don't know why, but in quite a lot of berlin streets, cherry trees are planted along the sidewalks (probably because of the nice flowers in spring).
these apples we found when we went for a walk where the berlin wall used to be...
the biggest problem with picking fruit that grow on trees it that the are too high up to reach them. there might be some lying on the ground, but sometimes you don't wanna pick stuff that has been lying on the ground for a while (even in a park) in a bigger city, dog poop being just one of the reasons... and also most often the fruit that fall to the ground while a lot more are still up in the tree are worm infested and so not really good for consumption, either. or maybe you like that extra kick of protein....
so shake that tree and collect the fruits that freshly fell down.
on the same trip that brought us the chestnuts and many, many more beech nuts we were lucky enough to find a tree full of qunices on top of it all! yeah!
the quince is a relative of the apple, but is not edible raw, especially because it is hard as a rock. but when prepared the right way they are super delicous!
so we already turned our found quinces into quince jelly and the rest it being turned into quince cheese just this moment!
Step 5: Apple and Elderberry Jelly
so now that all that nice fruit has been successfully gathered, what to do?
make a nice apple and elderberry jelly!
wash the apples and then cut them into chunks, the cores don't have to be removed. beware of the wormholes, though, or you might end up in the delta quadrant. even the apples that are still hanging in the tree might be already worm infested, but don't throw away the whole apple, just cut out the wormy bits.
put the apple chunks in a big pot. put the pot on the stove on medium heat, at a bit of water (depending on the amount of apples, about 300 - 500 ml) an put a lid on.
rub the elderberries from their stems, the not completely ripe ones will not be easy to remove, don't use them. wash the berries and drain them, then add to the apples and let everything boil on low to medium heat (with the lid on), stirring occasionally until everything is very soft and falling apart. let the fruit cool down.
Step 6: Finishing the Jelly
now we have to dejuice the cooked fruit. if you are lucky enough to have a steam juice extractor, you can skip the first part and just dump the fruit in the extractor and continue to make the jelly with the obtained juice.
i don't, so here is how to do it whithout: put a clean (!) kitchen towel over a sieve over a bowl or pot and put some of the cookes fruit inside, fruit juice will start to drip out of the botton. you can speed that up by taking the four corners of the towels and then wring against the lump of mashed fruit. it will press more juice and also some of the pulp out. i like to do it that way for two reasons: it goes faster and yields more jelly in the end, only the jelly won't be clear afterwards because of the fruit pulp. i don't mind, and the fruit pulp tastes just as good so why let it go to waster? if you want clear jelly, knot a bigger cloth or towel to the legs of an upturned chair, put all the friut in at once at let gravity do the work.
no matter how you did it, discard the rest of the fruit and measure the amount of juice obtained. transfer the juice into a big enough pot, add the right amount of gelling sugar (sugar with added pektin to make the gelly "hard"), see the packaging. since apples contain a good amount of pektin themselves, you can put a bit less of the gellng sugar than the packaging says. we have different kinds of gelling sugar, i prefer the one with the highest pektin to sugar ration since the jelly or jam made with it won't be as sweet.
bring the juice and sugar mixture to boil an on low heat boil for about 4 minutes while stirring constantly.
thoroughly clean enough glasses with matching lids with lots of hot / boiling water.
pour the jelly still boiling hot into the glasses, filling them as full as possible. screw the lids on imidiately. this is best done with two persons.
Step 7: Seabuckthorn
seabuckthorn is a shrub most often found at the coast (hence the name seabuckthorn) or also in heathland in europe and central asia.
but since it's quite pretty to look at with it's thin, silvery leaves and bright orange berries you might find it growing in parks or other green areas. because of it's unique look, it can't be mistaken with other plants.
gathering the berries is not the most fun, since the shrub is quite thorny (as can be guessed from it's name) and the berries are easily squished when trying to pick them. on top of it all, they contain a lot of acid, and after some time picking the acid juices of the squished berries made my hand hurt a bit. but it's worth the effort!
the berries are very healthy, they contain about 15 times as much vitamin c than oranges, among other things. but they are not good for eating raw, better do something nice with them!
Step 8: Seabuckthorn-liqueur
as the raw seabucktorn-berries are (as mentioned) not very nice when eaten raw, and i already made preserves out of the apples and elderberries, i made liqueur from the seabuckthorn.
making liqueur from basically any kind of fruit is quite easy and rewarding and a good way to have a fruity winter.
basically you just add whole or smashed fruit along with sugar and, if desired, some herb or spices to some spirit that doesn't have a lot of taste on it's own (like vodka, korn or maybe even gin) and let it macerate for some time.
so for the seabuckthorn-liqueur you need a bottle (size depending on the amount of berries found), the berries, spirit (i used vodka), brown sugar and vanilla bean.
clean the berries of all leaves and branches, then crush them thoroughly with a fork or the bottom of a cup. put the berries and all the juices in the bottle, a funnel might be of help at this point...
slice the vanilla bean open and put it in the bottle as well.
add about one third to half the weight in sugar as you put berries - guessing works just as well. but keep in mind that the berries are very sour, so if unsure rather put more sugar than less.
fill the bottle with vodka (about as many milliliters of vodka as the weight of the berries in gramms, eg 200 g berries, 200 ml vodka), close the bottle and shake until all the sugar has dissolved.
put the bottle on the windowsill (where some rays of sun might touch it eventually) and let it macerate for some weeks (1-2 months). there will be different layers forming (a clear orange one at the bottom and a more murky orange one on top), don't worry this is perefctly normal.
after the wating is over, filter the liqueur and transfer to a clean bottle and enjoy!
Step 9: Berries
the berry most often found in cities is the blackberry. it often grows wild (on overgrows other plants on the way) in a huge thorny heep along roads, on abandoned lots, along paths and in more unkempt parks. depending on the amount of sun in summer, the berries will be ripe in late summer or autumn (the ones i found where all not ripe yet...).
in the city forests of berlin, i also found blueberries and raspberries, but they are less common in urban areas.
Step 10: Hops
while most people know hops only as one of the chief ingredients in beer, it is also quite a beautiful plant that (at least here in berlin) grows "wild" in a lot of parks. it often overgrows other plants since it needs something that it can climb up on.
the hops flowers can be dried and used as a herbal tea that has calming effects and is good for the bladder and the digestive system.
or if you're into brewing your own beer, why not pick your own hops?
and of course, you can do what my mom did:
when she came visiting me, she was amazed how much hops was just growing everywhere and she really liked the flowers, so she took some of them home and put them in her dehydrator to make them last while keeping the nice green color and then she used them to decorate her home.
Step 11: Rose Hips
rose hips are the fruits of roses, not the garden roses but the rose bushes.
since they are pretty to look at, they are grown in lots of places and also grow on their own even in bigger cities. this makes them a good target for the urban gatherer, especially since they anounce their presence quite well with their bright ruby red color that shines through the green and brown of the late summer or autumn foliage.
since the rose hip gets better as the year advances, you can even pick them when it is already winter time and the temperatures are below zero. they get sweeter the longer the sit on the bush.
when picking them, be carefull, since every rose has it's thorns....
the rose hips can be eaten raw or used to make jam, fruit wine or dried and used to make a fruity tea. but for all of these uses, it is important to get rid of the seeds (and the little hairs on them) in some way or another, since the little hairs make the skin itch when touched and should not be eaten.
rose hips freeze well, so if you don't have time to make something with them when you find them, just put them in the freezer and wait until you do.
Step 12: Rose Hip & Red Onion Chutney
the rose hip make a very tasty jam, but i already made jelly from the elderberries, so chutney it is.
first the rose hips have to be prepared: cut of the black ends, cut them in two and then scrape out the seeds and as much of the tiny hairs as possible, this works best with the tip of a butter knife or the end of a teaspoon. this is no fun and takes quite long, but don't let that keep you from preparing the chutney, it will be worth the work in the end.
to get rid of most of the rest of the hairs, put the cleaned rose hips in a sieve and wash thoroughly under running water.
then cut around the same weight as the rose hips of red onion into thin strips, chop some ginger and garlic finely.
put all in a pot, add a bit of water and a handfull of raisins, half the weight of the rose hips in brown sugar and some vinegar (amount is up to you, depending on how sour you want the chutney to be), don't add to much in the beginning, you can always put more later. in an open pot over medium to low heat let it simmer for about one hour to 90 minutes, until everything is very soft. add some spices (ground cloves, cinammon, alspice, coriander and maybe mustard seeds), season with a little salt and fill hot into clean glasses (see jelly-making).
Step 13: Nettles
growing like a weed in many places make nettles an easy to find plant. don't let the stinging part keep you from this amazing plant of many uses...
in the spring, you can pick the young nettles (using protective gloves to not get stung by the plant) and use them like spinach or even like salad. although when the nettles aren't cookes or boiled, the stingy hairs of the leaves have to be made ineffective by one of several existing methods.
if it isn't spring, picking nettles can still be worthwhile: a "brew" of nettles (nettles put in cold water an left to sit for a day or two) is beneficial to other plants, it helps them against some pests, makes them stronger and fertilizes them. especially potted plants (that are often found in city homes of urban gatherers) are happy about this treatment!
as with many other leafy plants, you can also dry the leaves and make herbal tea, it is good for the bladder and the metabolism.
Step 14: Mushrooms
even mushrooms can be gathered in the city!
most often, you will have to go into some kind of forest to find them, but most bigger cities have a city forest or big parks where you might be successfull. all these mushrooms where found inside the city limits of berlin. and i also found edible mushrooms in parks and once in a cemetery in the city center.
if you keep your eyes open (and to the ground) you might find some in places you'd not suspect. once you found a spot, come back and maybe you'll find more, mushrooms can grow quite fast so a week later there could already be more.
but again a warning: you should only gather mushrooms of any kind if you know what you are doing. eating the wrong mushroom can not only lead to an upset stomach but can be deadly. and some of the more common deadly toxins from mushrooms will only show effect some days after eating the mushrooms, at which time the might have already destroyed your liver and you are beyond help.
if you have neve gathered mushrooms before, ask a friend that has experience to come with you and teach you.
also, if you don't have a good sense of direction, try not to get lost (even in a city forest that can happen - a smartphone with gps does help)!
so let's get gathering!
mushrooms fall basically into three groups: the ones that have gills under the cap, the ones that have pores and all the others (for the sake of easieness). most of the toxic and very toxic ones are found in the gills group, they can also often very easily be mistaken with other types of gilled mushrooms. the ones with pores, also called boletes are almost all edible (and lots of them very tasty) or at least non toxic, so for beginners and more experienced mushroom hunters alike, they make a good target.
one of the most commonly found boletes is the bay bolete (in german it is called Marone), that is the kind i found when i went looking for mushrooms the other day. it mainly grows near pinale trees. it has a brown cap, yellow pores and a light brown stem with white spots. when the flesh or the pores are bruised, they turn blue, this is weird at first but doesn't affect the taste in any kind. they often hide under fallen leaves or dead wood, so watch closely or you might miss them.
when you find a mushroom, don't rip it out of the ground or you will damage the underground part (the mycelium). cut it with a knife. the best way to transport them is in a woven basket, a cotton tote will do as well but never put them in a plastic bag.
some of the bolete mushrooms are edible in principle but are very bitter and could spoil any meal. if you are not sure about a bolete you found, break a little part off and touch it with your tongue, if it is bitter, you'll taste it right away. never eat raw mushrooms though, most kinds will upset the stomach.
Step 15: Clean & Prepare the Mushrooms to Make...
let's turn these mushrooms into a nice meal!
first they have to be cleanen. since the pores soak up water it's best not to wash them, but rather scrape dirt of them with knife or rub them with a cloth.
even mushrooms that don't like like it at first might have some worm infestation, that's why is always a good idea to cut them into chunks. if there are some worms, don't throw the whole mushroom away, just cut out the infested parts, the rest is perfectly fine.
i usually remove the pores of boletus mushrooms because they will make the dish made from them quite slimy, others don't do it. another reason to remove the porous layer apart from the slime is that often there are little flies and worms in that part (rather than in the cap) and so you get rid of them. it is very easy to remove the porous layer, it will "peel" of whitout problem from the rest of the mushroom.
if you would dry the mushrooms the sliminess would'nt be a problem later when using the dried mushrooms for cooking.
Step 16: Fillet of Pork With a Bay Bolete Ragout
for two persons you'll need a small pork fillet (about 250 g), some bacon or speck, juniper berries, some red wine, about 150 ml of cream and about 300 g cleaned bay boletes, cut into chunks.
preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius.
season the fillet with salt, pepper and some rosemary. heat a bit of butter and olive oil in a pan and seal the fillet from all sides. put the fillet in the preheated oven. the fillet will need about 30 minutes in the oven.
in the meantime cut the bacon or speck into dice, crush some juniper berries and transfer to the pan you fried the fillet in. fry the bacon for some minutes, then add the boletes. after some more minutes of frying deglaze with about one glass of wine. turn down the heat, add the cream and if you have, a heaped teaspoon of lingonberry jam. let the ragout simmer for ten to 15 minutes, if it gets too thick add some water. season with salt and pepper.
when the fillet is ready (still pink but not bloody) take it out of the oven and wrap in aluminium foil for five minutes.
cut the fillets into medallions and serve withe the ragout and some rice and salad.
Step 17: Now Go Out and Find Some Things Yourself!
i hope this instructable put you in the mood of going out there yourself and finding out what your city can offer you! and soon you might just have an equally well stacked shelf of homemade preserves and other goodies just like me.