I know it isn’t possible for us all to have orchards and a yard full of fruit plants, but our current system — buoyed by cheap fossil fuels — provides a superabundance of cheap food. While we’re not harvesting our own fruit yet, we use a source of cheap, nutritious fruit that we can put up for the winter that is available to most of us: “last chance” fruits at the grocery store or farmers market. Most stores and many market sellers have leftover fruits that are just past their peak of ripeness and won’t sell for full price. If you’re able to preserve them immediately, you can get plenty of fruit for next to nothing.
When and Where to Buy
Most grocery stores throw out tons of wasted produce. If you ask a manager, he or she will likely be able to get you fruit before it goes bad but after it hit its peak of appearance. You’ll want to ask about their distribution schedules, as some days will be better than others. Our local grocer has a special section set aside for peaked fruit. On Saturday we picked up 8 lb of strawberries for $8, and by Sunday they were dehydrated for winter oatmeal and made into jam (but that won’t last long).
If you are able to go to a farmer’s market, try to get there for the last half hour. Ask vendors what they need to get rid of and bargain hard. I once got 12 lb of peaches for $4; I brought them home, canned them immediately, and enjoyed them all winter.
Also, many neighborhoods have fruit trees that go uncollected. Keep an eye out for apple, pear, plums, or other fruits in your area that might be free for the taking (once you’ve asked the owner’s permission of course).
What to Do with Your Surplus
The first thing is to set aside time to deal with this fruit immediately. It is usually more worth your time to do a bigger batch all at once. Be sure to remove anything that is clearly spoiled. Strawberries, for example, may have one bad berry buried in the bottom (apologies for the alliteration).
Dehydration is a top choice because it works for such a wide variety of fruits (bananas, apples, strawberries, grapes, apricots, mango, and so on). Furthermore, it doesn’t require electricity or other infrastructure for long-term storage (unlike freezing). A dehydrator is a good investment, or stay tuned for a solar dehydrator I plan to build in the near future; plans and instructions will be posted here.
Canning is another good option as it creates a variety of shelf-stable dishes, from savory sauces to jams, jellies, compotes, full-fruit syrup, and others. The downside is that it requires more skill and equipment to safely preserve foods. This is a good investment, though, as it is more flexible than dehydration. For now, visit the USDA website on home canning for safe practices.
You can ferment fruit because it is high in sugar. Cider, wine, perry, and others could be made by juicing the fruits and following a more complex process than canning that usually requires even more skill and equipment. The results, though, can be bubbly!
Freezing is an option, but should be avoided except when you get a good deal and can’t take care of the bounty right away (do remove any pieces that are too far gone, first, though). The problem with freezing is the constant need for electricity, much of which is generated by fossil fuels. Any disruption in the network can cause you to have a smelly mess instead of a treat.