The season for scrumping

Green Lifestyle magazine

Whether you get it from a tree hanging over a fence or growing in a park or urban laneway, public fruit tastes a whole lot sweeter than the store-bought alternative.


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Scrumping is the fine old tradition of harvesting public fruit. You know, the apples that hang over the fence in the back laneway and wink at you every time you go by. The way I see it, scrumping is a public service. You’re lessening the fruit fly load of your suburb, reducing your footprint by replacing store-bought fruit with the scrumped version, and possibly (if you are a successful scrumper) increasing gross national happiness by preserving and sharing the bounty.

As a committed scrumper, I’d recommend asking first, if there seems someone relevant to ask. It’s all in your pitch.

My experience with the line, “Good morning, do you mind if I pick some of the mandarins that are growing over your back fence and dropping in the laneway? We’re thinking of making marmalade. Can I bring you a jar?” has been pretty successful over the years.

If the fruit has dropped to the ground, however, the social rules of scrumping state that you do not need to ask – that fruit is, in fact, yours by right of scrump. So get out your little reusable bag, pick it up and go make something yummy.

The art of scrumping can also apply to feral fruit – the sort that grows on roadsides, in culverts, next to bridges and along creeklines, although I’d recommend against scrumping at any location that looks particularly industrial and may have contaminated soil. Once you learn to recognise the leaves and forms of apple trees, plum trees and fig trees, you’ll start to see them everywhere.

At this point, you would do well to start up a feral fruit map, which is best made in early spring when most fruit trees are flowering and easy to spot. From many years of circling a block trying to find the plum tree that I’m sure I saw flower six months ago, I must say that a personal feral fruit map is a very good thing, and is actually the primary reason to get a fandangled smartphone that lets you store GPS points.

Can’t find anything? Feeling scrumpless? How about some lesser-known beauties of the foraging scene. Morton Bay figs, for example. Yep, those little brown ones that are everywhere under big fig trees. Once you find some fresh looking ones, try gathering a bunch and making some jam... with added citrus peel, they make a tasty, super local jar of scrumpy goodness.