Foraging for passionfruit

Summer foraging in Sydney means scores of passionfruit.


There is this passionfruit vine that hangs over a tall fence in a pedestrian only walkway.

I’ve had my eye on it since I discovered its existence, shortly after I arrived in Sydney.

This particular passionfruit vine has long taunted me. I’d visit it only to find either a profusion of flowers or halfway formed fruit pushing out of labouring blooms (and often both).

But never any ripe fruit.


Around the end of December, summer here in the southern hemisphere, I finally timed it right. The vine was bursting, the fruit was coming ripe, and the cockatoos were lurking nearby.

When ripe, passionfruit will turn purple and fall off the vine. They might even roll onto a footpath. I collected a shirt-full of the purple-skinned fruit that day, and more the next time I visited.

They may fall from the tree with smooth skins, but will wrinkle after a few days on the counter. That’s how you know they’re ready to be halved and enjoyed.

The seeds are edible and give easily when you bite. Tangy and sweet, it’s a classic pavlova topping, but equally good chilled and eaten with a spoon.

Delicious. And sweetest when handpicked from the vine down the street.

Zero waste snack: roasted pumpkin seeds

roasted pumpkin seeds

Don’t toss your pumpkin seeds – when roasted they’re a delicious and easy Zero Waste snack.


On pumpkins: from sceptic to superfan

Growing up, I was not a fan of pumpkins. The only pumpkins I liked were Smashing, made into pie or used for halloween decor. Wedges of orange flesh, even dressed up with brown sugar was never something I’d voluntarily eat. Sorry Mom, file that one with your peanut butter and banana sandwiches in the She’s Not Having It folder.

I’m sure my mother is delighted to know that nowadays I am a big fan of all kinds of pumpkins. I’m not sure why it changed exactly. All of a sudden I started to like them, alongside the previously despised brassicas, beets, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini… you get the picture. Maybe it was something in the preparation, or simply a maturing of my taste buds. I don’t like Corn Pops cereal anymore, so there.

I should perhaps clarify: In Australia, they call anything a pumpkin that Canadians would call winter squash.

Whatever you call them, they are brilliant roasted, blended for soup or cubed into slow cooked curries. Kabocha and butternut are my favourites.

I now eat plenty of pumpkin, including the skins. I even eat the flowers when I can get my hands on them. But something I’ve never ever had a problem with are the seeds. My mom used to toast them after we’d scooped them out of our jack-o-lanterns. Tasty, crunchy snacks that also happen to be Zero Waste. But you don’t need to wait for Halloween to make these – you can roast the seeds of any pumpkin or squash to similar effect.

How to make roasted pumpkin seeds

It’s really too easy.

When you eat any pumpkin, scoop out the seeds, remove any large fleshy bits from the seeds with your fingers, toss them in a bit of oil of your choice and a sprinkle of salt and roast for 15 minutes in an oven on medium heat (180 C/ 350 F).

Sometimes I add smoked paprika or garam masala in addition to salt. These are nice on salads or just eaten warm out of the oven. Choose your own adventure.

At bulk wholefoods stores, you’ll see pumpkin seeds under the name pepitas. These are simply pumpkin seeds that are bred without shells, or shelled. If you cracked the seed husks in most pumpkins, you’d find a similar green seed. This is possible to do at home but let’s be honest, who wants to bother with all that. You certainly don’t need to for this recipe.

Here’s to happy snacking, without the wrapping. 

The wilderness downtown: food foraging in Sydney

Bowl of fallen fruit foraged

What do fruit trees have to do with happiness? Maybe everything.


The other weekend I – feeling blue – went looking for green.

Like most city dwellers, I spend too much time sitting in front of a computer. Being outdoors always lifts my mood, whether it’s going camping, diving into the waves, or biking around the ‘hood.

This time, I set out to bring some wilderness into my life by going foraging in the suburbs.

A (mul)berry good idea

Pardon me if – delighted as I am to live in a country where papayas, mangos, pineapples, and passionfruit grow natively – I miss my berries. They grow like weeds in BC. They are cheap, plentiful and often wild. Here they just seem harder to come by, more expensive, and typically in plastic punnets, which I’m not down with.

So I paid close attention when, on a walk down Bondi Road, I noticed a branchy archway over the sidewalk created by a large tree dotted with oblong black berries. These I recognized as mulberries, thanks to a gardening bee at the Randwick Community Garden. They are similar to blackberries in shape and colour, though perhaps not as lusciously delicious (few things are). They would do. They were in season.

Mulberries

It turns out mulberries are fairly common across Sydney and most Aussies have fond childhood memories of gorging on them, fingers stained red from the juices.

They are a generous tree that needs little maintenance. One can even eat the leaves, or feed them to pet silkworms. One crop, many types of yield.

Hidden in plain sight

Curious after my discovery, I googled and found a few foraging apps with local info. I set out on bike in my own neighbourhood and brought a small container with me in case I struck black gold.

Fallen mulberries
Ripe enough to fall off the tree

I found the mulberries I was looking for. Heaps of them. I harvested fruit so ripe it was literally blowing off the tree in the breeze. I was accompanied in my foraging at different intervals by a young magpie and a small dog. I hear pigs love fallen mulberries too.

Dog eating mulberries on ground
Dogs like mulberries too. So do magpies and pigs (not pictured).
stained fingers
Juicy.

Other perennial edibles I spotted: lemons, oranges, peaches, figs, passionfruit, rosemary, lemongrass, papayas, loquat, bananas, olives, mangoes and coffee berries. Not all in season, mind you, nor where they could reasonably be considered fair game. But foraging is less about pulling in a full harvest than it is about the sheer delight of discovery.

When life grows you lemons.
When life grows you lemons.
Passionfruit flower
Passionfruit flower. Not in season yet.
Citrus tree full of fruit.
Citrus everywhere.
Ripe loquats on tree
Not much flesh on these loquats (mostly seed). But who knew they even existed?
lemongrass seeds
Of course I want to grow my own lemongrass!

Humans: landscape architects

Finding food crops in the city is a reminder that humans can create and maintain beneficial landscapes, not just destroy them. That we can plan for the long term. A much needed counterpoint to the notion that we’re inherently bad for the earth, and related, that our elimination from the face of the earth would somehow be the best way resolve things.

Underlying this humans as cancer mindset is the bedtime story about the untouched wilderness, part of western mythmaking around European ‘discovery’ of supposed wilderness.  Charles C Mann expands on this topic masterfully in his book 1491.

The reality is that all cultures shape lands, some much more successfully than others over the long term. So it is not a question of if, but how we do so that matters.

The longest running systems of land management work with rather than against natural systems. With continued population growth in cities like Sydney, I’m particularly interested in exploring permaculture in the urban environment for the purpose of developing hyper-local food sources.

Lemon blossoms
Flowering citrus

Abundant, edible landscapes.

My foraging adventure cheered me up because it was a reminder that there is abundance everywhere. I thought of the people who planted those trees years ago and created a legacy of good. It reminded me of the many fruit-bearing trees in my parents and grandparents’ yards. It made me grateful. It made me want to do more to create permaculture landscapes.

Perhaps permaculture’s real appeal is optimism.

Avocado tree sprouted from seed
One day, many years from now, this avocado tree may bear fruit (berries, technically).

Thoughts I’m left with after a day spent foraging:

  • Rough edges are beautiful and useful // a great garden will be a bit wild. Some plants will go to flower and seed, which will feed the bees and lay groundwork for the next crop. The wildest areas provided the most.
  • Reimagine perfection // The way our culture values perfection in physical form is dissociated from function. What if the sterile hedge was made of rosemary, the tree in the front yard full of lemons, or the garden was bright with edible flowers? Who is making these landscaping decisions? How can I be more involved?
  • Think multi-generational // I’ve been teased for sprouting avocado seeds and planting them since it could take seven years for one to bear fruit. On one hand, it’s hard to know what continent I’ll be on in seven years, and on the other, in some societies, seven generations is the length of the planning cycle. This gives meaning to my baby avocado tree and fuels my passion for restorative land management. In years to come, someone will enjoy the avocado tree I planted. While I hope it’s me, it doesn’t have to be for the exercise to be a success.
  • Loss of landscape is loss of culture // Older homes are being demolished at a rapid pace here in Sydney. It’s not that I’m so tied to the architecture (honestly, much of it isn’t terribly well fit for the climate), but that the trees and the culture will be destroyed by ever-increasing houseprints. We might forget that lemons, loquats, mulberries and mangoes all grow here. Foraging has you reflecting on the ground under your feet.

Freezer full of berries, head full of dreams.

Humans can and must restore the landscape. Planting food forests is one way to do this. One tree planted now could provide food, shelter, habitat, and building materials for generations.

Some guidelines for foraging in urban areas

  • If you’re not sure what it is, don’t eat it.
  • Foraging is about gleaning what would otherwise go to waste on public lands, not trespassing or taking from community garden plots. Go for overhanging or fallen fruit only.
  • Don’t strip everything – leave some for others, or the birds.
  • Do something nice for the area, like picking up a few pieces of trash.
  • If you’re in a position to, consider planting a fruiting tree.
  • If foraging isn’t your thing, join a swap group to trade surpluses in your area.
  • Check out fallingfruit.orgwww.ripenear.meCropSwapSydney  or www.facebook.com/groups/swapyourcrop

Forgotten, but not lost: a bread pudding recipe

sourdough loaf

A half a round of artisan sourdough bread sat forgotten in the small fridge at work. Stored in a paper bag and left for too long, it had lost both moisture and appeal.

Stale? Very.

I don’t know whose it was, but I took it home with me anyway to save it from the bin.

A breadful waste

It’s often our default to toss food that’s past its prime. Our food prices are artificially low and it’s so easy to just buy more. With Australians wasting $8 billion of perfectly good food each year, and bread being a staple for most, it’s not a leap to imagine we’re binning a lot of perfectly good bread.

We’re long way from where we’ve come.

Humans can and did live on bread alone (the slow fermenting variety). In fact, the daily loaf was so critical to the meagre diet of the French peasantry, it was soaring wheat prices that catalyzed the French Revolution. I feel certain the French of the time would disapprove our bread wasting ways.

How do you do, pain perdu?

The French, as it happens, know a few tricks for using stale bread. One of which is pain perdu, or bread pudding – just the bread soaked in a mixture of milk and eggs and cooked. This is precisely what I did with the stale bread I found.

painperdu2

Here’s my ‘forgotten, but not lost’ bread pudding recipe:

Ingredients //

  • half a loaf of stale bread, chopped into rough chunks
  • 4 eggs (ish)
  • milk, maybe a half cup
  • 1 Tbsp sugar, rice malt syrup or other sweetener (optional)
  • sprinkle cinnamon
  • sprinkle nutmeg
  • pinch salt
  • dash vanilla

Instructions // Mix everything together to soak for an hour. Bake in a 200 degree celsius oven for 30 minutes or until it starts to puff up and the inside is cooked.

Pro tip // This could easily go savoury if you omit the sweets and change the spice profile.

How I made it low waste:

  • I used food destined for the bin.
  • I seasoned with spices I’ve refilled in bulk.
  • I flavoured with vanilla I made myself.
  • I composted the egg shells.
  • I recycled the milk container.
  • I baked it in a stainless steel pan I bought secondhand for $2 at the op shop.
  • I composted the paper bag the loaf came in (if it hadn’t been a bit greasy I would have recycled it).
  • Importantly, I ate all of it.

7 tips for getting the most out of the bread you buy

  1. Buy proper sourdough. It keeps longer, freezes well, and is one of the more nutritious types.
  2. Buy your loaf unpackaged from a local bakeshop. Bring a cloth bag to carry it back home.
  3. Or try making your own sourdough bread from culture.
  4. Don’t store bread in the fridge where it’ll lose moisture.
  5. Do consider freezing half the loaf if you don’t think you’ll eat it all before it goes stale. Slice first so you can toast from frozen.
  6. If the bread’s a bit stale, make bread pudding (scroll up), or croutons, or breadcrumbs.
  7. All else fails, feed it to chickens or compost.