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The Fruit Forager’s Companion

Ferments, Desserts, Main Dishes, and More from Your Neighborhood and Beyond

By Sara Bir


Winner —  IACP 2019 Reference & Technical Cookbook Award

From apples and oranges to pawpaws and persimmons

“Sara Bir’s voice is quirky, informed, and fresh. The Fruit Forager’s Companion will push any soul who is interested in foraging into the curious world of fruits. . . . You want someone with passion and appetite to lead you on a foraging quest, and Sara has plenty of both.”—Deborah Madison, author of Vegetable Literacy and In My Kitchen

Half of the fruit that grows in yards and public spaces is never picked or eaten. Citrus trees are burdened with misshapen lemons, berries grow in tangled thickets on the roadside, and the crooked rows of abandoned orchards fill with fallen apples. At the same time, people yearn for an emotional connection that’s lacking in bland grocery store bananas and tasteless melons.

The Fruit Forager’s Companion is a how-to guide with nearly 100 recipes devoted to the secret, sweet bounty just outside our front doors and ripe for the taking, from familiar apples and oranges to lesser-known pawpaws and mayhaws. Sara Bir—a seasoned chef, gardener, and forager—primes readers on foraging basics, demonstrates gathering and preservation techniques, and presents a suite of recipes including habanero crabapple jelly, lime pickle, pawpaw lemon curd, and fermented cranberry relish.

Bir encourages readers to reconnect with nature and believes once the foraging mindset takes control, a new culinary world hiding in plain sight will reveal itself. Written in a witty and welcoming style, The Fruit Forager’s Companion is a must-have for seekers of both flavor and fun.

Reviews and Praise

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review—

"This charming and eminently useful guide from Paste magazine food editor and writer Bir deserves a spot on the bookshelf of any foraging foodie. Instead of serving up a simple list of fruits and vegetable with tips on canning, Bir weaves in personal anecdotes and trivia about, among other things, the advent of commercial pectin (patented in 1913) and the curious history of key limes (once pickled and served as snacks for schoolchildren). Bir offers solid takes on such standbys as lemon bars and sour cherry scones, but her ingenuity and the value of foraging comes to life with recipes like mulberry and peach cobbler with an almond topping, habanero crab apple jelly, and a pawpaw gelato. Bir also takes time to make sure foragers are clear on manners and ethics ('Forage legally and mindfully, on both public and private land'), as well as which poisonous plants and fruits to avoid (such as honeysuckle and pokeweed). Even if readers don’t have a lemon or apple tree in the backyard, they’re sure to find some useful advice, as Bir does an outstanding job of illustrating how to get the most out of simple, often neglected or discarded ingredients."

Foreword Reviews, Starred Review

"A Culinary Institute of America degree armed Sara Bir with cooking expertise, but it’s her clever writing and inquisitive, experimental mind that make The Fruit Forager’s Companion so exciting. This hybrid cookbook/plant guide/DIY manual entertains as much as it informs.

Bir eloquently discusses why foraging is a satisfyingly sustainable, meditative way of collecting food, and of reconnecting to neighbors and to the natural environment. She provides reassuring information for novice and experienced cooks alike, dispensing advice on foraging etiquette (Don’t be a 'scrumper'—someone who steals apples from orchards) and thoroughly breaking down methods of harvesting, storage, and preservation, from canning to fermentation.

Forty-one chapters on fruit species are packed with essays, photographs, recipes, and ideas for kitchen experimentation. There are also all-important tips on correctly identifying edible fruits and their poisonous look-alikes. While the book provides ample information on common fruits, the passages about unusual fruits, like sumac and loquats, are invaluable. Bir is well-versed in food history and foodways, leading to intriguing discussions of old- fashioned preservation methods and charming recipe ideas from 'wild cherry bounce' to pontack, which is a sort of elderberry Worcestershire sauce.

This compendium delivers a wealth of Bir’s sassy opinions and effervescent prose. Whether she is expounding on the importance of lifelong exploration, the dangers of monoculture agribusiness, or describing ground cherries ('I delight in their lacy little hulls, the berries like golden pearls in a filigree setting') and rose hips ('If rose hips were women, the ones you’d want would look like R. Crumb drew them'), her writing exudes personality, wit, and intelligence.

Bir is a learned, inventive guide whose sly humor and playful voice will win many over to become dedicated fruit scroungers and recipe explorers. Perusing this book will have you playing around with your food in no time, whether it’s mahonia or maypops, mayhaws or pawpaws." 

“Sara Bir’s voice is quirky, informed, and fresh. The Fruit Forager’s Companion will push any soul who is interested in foraging into the curious world of fruits, which are every bit as interesting as the vegetable members of the plant world. I just hope that she refrains from lifting my quince should she ever walk down our lane—I adore them, too! Which is to say that you want someone with passion and appetite to lead you on a foraging quest, and Sara Bir has plenty of both.”—Deborah Madison, author of Vegetable Literacy and In My Kitchen

“Lyrically written and eminently useful, The Fruit Forager’s Companion is a welcome addition to the library of anyone interested in either preserving their own fruit harvest or seeking out new, exciting flavors that are literally growing on trees—often next door!”—Hank Shaw, wild foods expert; author of the James Beard Award-winning website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

“For fruit lovers the whole world is a culinary theme park; this book is your permanent admission pass. Let Sara Bir guide you to the untamed flavors of wild, feral, and neglected fruits—from back alleys and brushy waysides to city hedges and deep woods. After you find some brand new delicacy right in your own neighborhood, follow one of Sara’s luscious recipes, and invite Mom over for dinner.”—Samuel Thayer, author of Incredible Wild Edibles and The Forager’s Harvest

“Once you notice the wild fruit growing all around you, the world becomes a landscape of culinary abundance, and Sara Bir’s The Fruit Forager’s Companion is a thoughtful guide to appreciating those foraged and gleaned fruits. Filled with Bir’s distinctive humor, the book, like stumbling upon a patch of black raspberries, is also fun! Bir’s respect for ingredients—those berries, apples, and pawpaws you’ve worked hard to pick—ensures the recipes accentuate each fruit’s unique flavor. With Bir’s guidance, your fruit-forward concoctions will be as transformative as the moment you discovered all those wild fruits were edible in the first place.”—Andrew Moore, author of Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit

“Among reassuringly familiar fruit like neighborhood apples, lemons, and plums, chef-turned-forager Sara Bir also offers curious novice foragers more adventurous fare: invasive autumn olives and barberries, native chokeberries, Oregon grapes, pawpaws, and spicebush. The pages of The Fruit Forager’s Companion help you to identify, collect, and use the fruits of your forages. The author’s eloquent introduction tells you why you should.”—Marie Viljoen, author of Forage, Harvest, Feast

“With The Fruit Forager’s Companion, Sara Bir provides not only a guide to foraging, but a manifesto for conscious living and a challenge to seek out the unknown. With creative recipes, thoughtful writing, and a wealth of expertise, she encourages us to explore in the kitchen as well as outside, inspiring the reader to create a better connection to where they live and to celebrate the local bounties that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.”—Anna Brones, author of Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break; founder and publisher, Comestible

The Fruit Forager’s Companion will be beloved by all those who travel through life scanning trees and shrubs for neighborhood fruit. Sara Bir has created something that is half foraging memoir and half cookbook, and it is utterly delightful in its totality.”—Marisa McClellan, author of Naturally Sweet Food in Jars

“Lyrical and practical, introspective and funny, The Fruit Forager’s Companion inspires us to put on comfy shoes and head out into the local landscape with curiosity, confidence, and joy. Sara Bir knows that sweet, ripe treasures await us, from crab apples and blackberries to pawpaws, wild grapes, figs, and quince. This book offers fascinating entries on more than forty fruits and a hundred recipes for chutneys, soups, cordials, fools, and more. Bir’s knowledge, wit, and enthusiasm guide us outdoors for fruit foraging expeditions, and back home again to transform the seasonal fruits we’ve gathered into good things to eat and share.”—Nancie McDermott, author of Fruit and Southern Pies

“Sara Bir’s common sense approach to foraging, along with an impish humor, make for a delightful, nourishing, very practical, and very human read. The Fruit Forager’s Companion is a book about love, community, and the abundance nature offers to us all if we have the eyes to see and the heart to hear, all revealed through the simple, graceful acts of picking, preparing, and sharing wild fruits with our loved ones and community.”—Robin Harford, founder of the website Eatweeds

“The response to the lament ‘I’m hungry’ should not be, ‘Look in the fridge and see what you can find,’ but, ‘Take a walk and see what’s there.’ Sara Bir’s book provides a road map to wild and abandoned plants laden with food. As you read and explore with Bir you will be rewarded with the joy of discovery and often a satiated appetite. Perhaps you will even find a dead-ripe mulberry and have an ecstatic taste experience.”—Tom Burford, pomologist, historian, and author of Apples of North America

 “Once, we were foragers. Sara Bir says we can be again. She reveals the wealth of fruit waiting to be picked in wild and not-so-wild places, and she shows how foraging benefits the mind and body even if the forager returns empty-handed. The Fruit Forager’s Companion is more than just a guide to finding, gathering, preserving, and cooking. It is a meditation on modern life and how to find meaning in Nature’s larder.”—Mike Shanahan, author of Gods, Wasps and Stranglers

“Foraging for fruit is all about noticing and making your move when things become ripe. In The Fruit Forager’s Companion, Sara Bir moves from city sidewalks to deep woods with a botanist’s eye and a chef’s skill. She boils, reduces, ferments, dips into history, and seasons with memoir; she gets in there and shouts wild flavors out with heat, sweet, salt, and vinegar. Let Bir’s inventive recipes and sheer derring-do pull you into the woods and make you a forager: a sampler of the best things in life, most of them free.”—Julie Zickefoose, author of Baby Birds, The Bluebird Effect, and Letters from Eden