Saturday, March 2, 2013

Gleaning in the Groves
Chinese Plums

We’re anticipating the arrival of winter fronts bringing several days of cold weather and maybe freezes, so much time this week went to preparing again for “weather”.    

Forecasters tell us 3 cold fronts are coming this first week of March, and it is a worry to all of us.

Talk around this small Florida town is all about harvesting everything possible to avert the loss of food crops.  It’s in this vein that a small group of friends and I drove out to an old homestead yesterday where we knew we’d be welcomed to glean oranges. 

The months of February and March bring the Florida citrus season to an end, so citrus was to be our focus.  To be sure, there are varieties that fruit well into May, but these are the stragglers and the new varieties, not the rule. 

By this time of year, our tangerines have dropped and gone to the deer and small mammals, and what’s left of the Valencia oranges must be picked now or forgotten.   

My country girlfriends and I loaded up our pick-ups with poles for pickin’ and  baskets for haulin’, and drove out to the woods and old groves where we’d find enough fruit yet to harvest. 

Seven of us ladies would be gleaning, and we were all dressed for the job.  Citrus trees, which look so beautiful when they blossom, are in reality quite aggressive trees covered in large thorns.  We’d need to protect ourselves from these daggers all day.    We donned hats to cover our hair, leather gloves for covering our hands, and long sleeved shirts, heavy “britches”, and a good pair of boots to protect the rest of our bodies.  You can be sure there were no rhinestone cowgirls in this group.

Old groves are interesting microcosms of life.   We expect we’ll see birds and snakes, deer and ‘coons, possums and armadillos, foxes, skunks and even the occasional rodent.   And since these groves were located near the creek, we might spot otters, gators, or even a spring bear.   Yes, a few of our “Annies” were packin’.*

We spread out sheets under the trees to catch the oranges we’d be “poling”, so the atmosphere had the feel of a spring picnic.  Pickin’ poles came out and each of us found our own orange tree and began to harvest oranges. 

I like to use what the saltwater fishermen call a boat hook when I pole oranges.  This stainless steel pole is lightweight and just long enough for me to reach the top of the orange tree.  I then wrap the barbed hook around an orange and give it a snapping pull to bring down the fruit. In no time flat, I’ve got myself an orange harvest.

The girls and I subscribe to the policy of “take a few, leave a few” when harvesting oranges, and we only take what we can share with friends and family, and our day in the old grove is not as long as those who work them professionally.   We make sure to leave fruit in the grasses for ground animals, and others are left in the trees for those animals which climb.  After all, critters have to eat too, don’t they?

The day is filled with opportunities to scout the surrounding woods for lone trees with fresher fruit and to hunt for individual specimens with unique varieties to offer.  This is how we came upon what’s called a “Chinese Plum” tree by folks in this area. 

The fruit of the Chinese Plum resembles a small apricot and tastes looks nothing like a plum, so who knows how it got its common name.    But, oh my gosh—they’re tasty!

The flavor of the Chinese Plum is somewhere between a peach and a papaya, so it tastes tropical yet familiar.  We girls eat these little fruits like they’re kernels of popcorn; picking like there’s no tomorrow, and filling our pockets so we’ll have plenty of reserves.  Very little of the Chinese Plum harvest made it back to our kitchens, so I’m afraid there will be no recipes of  Chinese Plum cobbler, pie or jam to share. 

But we had a memorable day outdoors doing what folks have always done together: gathering in friendly groups, working on joint projects, making the task at-hand enjoyable, and sharing in the combined harvest. 

I left the group a happier person than I arrived.  Funny how fresh air and sunshine can do that.  We’d spent the day exercising outdoors without expensive recreational equipment, and entertaining ourselves without the help of technology.  We socialized with one another without spending a single cent. 

I pulled in our lane later in the day with a truck bed filled with buckets full of oranges.  Some oranges would be incorporated into next week’s meals; some would be preserved; still others would be passed along to friends. 

But the true meaning of the day came into my consciousness as I glanced in my rearview mirror.   There, I viewed the reflection of a comfortable woman toting home the fruit she’d gathered off the land this day.  And if you looked closely, you could see the exotic juice of Chinese Plums she shared with friends had stained the chin on her face. 

This is a good way to live.

Stay warm, my friends!  The cold wind is upon us.

- Sanne Collins
   From the Ranch in Florida

**a few of our “Annies” were packin’- A few of the girls brought along their guns.  This was not to shoot any animals that we saw ( or for hunting), but to have ready in the off-chance we needed protection.  Protection from what?  Our main worry would be  aggressive snakes or a rabid mammal.  Neither are rampant, but if you come across either, someone needs to shoot to save a life--and you can’t shoot if you don’t have a gun.


What’s Been Keeping Me Busy Lately

Love Those Wide Open Spaces is a blog designed to follow my daily life as a freelance writer and rancher.  It’s a life full of constant change and a wide scope of interests.

Freelance writing, by its definition, requires the ability to write on a variety of subjects, to juggle many assignments during the times of plenty, and to fill the void when checks are slow.   That said, I’m always writing.

Much of my work is done for others such as corporations, websites, or articles penned under another’s name.  I’ve sold the rights to these works, so they can’t be shared. 

However, many of my projects are available under my own name and can be read right here on the web.    

 You can click on either the site or the story below to see them.

Check out what’s been keeping me busy lately!



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