Eating damaged fruit
October 9, 2013 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I want to use more fruit and make it easier to process. I have composted a couple hundred pounds of fruit this summer. I hate the waste. We have a pear tree from which a certain squirrel eats half of each unripe fruit and throws the rest on the ground. Later in the season the fruit from the upper branches (30-40 feet) falls, impaling itself on twigs, or smashing on the ground, pulping a quarter of the fruit into the dirt. Some fruits have worms or slug damage after sitting on the ground. I pick what I can reach with a picker and if I am present when a ripe, un-bitten fruit falls and smashes, I eat that. But is there a better way?

I've been using unbroken fallen fruit, which still requires a lot of sitting around with a paring knife to remove bruised and wormy parts. Would it be safe (and tasty) to collect all of the fruit that falls, even if it has animal bite marks or the skin has been broken, and process it quickly? I'm thinking of rinsing in water, then boiling to make some kind of pear butter/mush, and sending it through a Foley food mill to remove skins, stems, and seeds. This would then be frozen or canned with additional ingredients. It would be much quicker than carefully examining each fruit. Would it taste terrible? Would it kill me?
posted by SandiBeech to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Here in New England and in Atlantic Canada, at the end of the apple-picking season people with orchards pick up all of the fruit that remains on the ground, much of which is at some stage of rotting, rinse it a little bit, then run it through a cider mill and make apple cider, bug juice and worm juice and all, and it still usually tastes pretty good. Then they frequently pour it into jugs labeled "pasteurized" without actually pasteurizing it and sell it by the road side. (When I was a little kid, I always wondered why apple cider fermented in the refrigerator so fast. But even the partially fermented stuff still tastes pretty good *hic*)

What you describe, given the boiling step, sounds somewhat safer, though I'm no food safety expert.
posted by XMLicious at 12:43 PM on October 9, 2013

If you're canning for long term storage so your stuff is really sterilized I can't imagine how this would be any less safe than factory produced food. There are USDA standards for allowable rat turd levels in factory produced food. A little, apparently, won't hurt us.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:52 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Why wait until it falls? If you actively pick it you will save much more of it and have enough at a time to do something yummy with it. Pick a bunch the first weekend and make some pies. Pick a bunch the following weekend and make some pear butter. Next weekend (man this is a lot of fruit) preserve some in jars.
posted by munchingzombie at 12:57 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd surround the tree with some lengths of netting suspended a couple of feet from the ground with wooden stakes. Wouldn't be too expensive, and would catch a lot of the fruit that would otherwise be damaged.

When I had a similarly oversized plum tree, I just waited until the fruit was falling fairly regularly, and then borrowed some scaffolding from a neighbour and picked the rest.

The lesson, of course, is to prune your fruit trees and not let them get that big... not that you get that choice when you've inherited the tree.
posted by pipeski at 12:57 PM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Anecdotally, I eat bruised, damaged, and nibbled fruit and veg all the time because I don't do anything to stop or discourage any type of critter from chowing down everything in on my garden -- I figure we're sharing the planet, so the least I can do is share my homegrown produce with them.

In those cases, I just lazily pit/de-seed the stuff and chuck it into a blender or saucepan and I've never suffered any ill effects. Most of the produce we eat is at least nominally affected by insects and animals, and the FDA Defect Levels Handbook will show you exactly how much, uh, defect is allowed into many foods we eat without a second thought. For example, the FDA will only reject fig paste that contains more than 13 insect heads per 100g, or tomato puree that contains 10 or more fly eggs and 1 or more maggots per 100g.

Bruised fruit is indeed generally safe to eat, but it's probably best to use it sooner than later to minimize the possibility of mold, yeast, or bacteria impinging on the goodness and flavor. For that reason, I probably wouldn't recommend eating damaged stuff off the ground if it's been there for more than a day or two, especially if you're going to chuck it in uncut and unexamined. What looks like a small ding or dent at a glance can sometimes have some very gross mold going on underneath (ask how I found out... :shiver:).

Some canning authorities specifically recommend against canning/preserving damaged produce because "an unsafe product may result," but it's never been clear to me if that's just erring on the safe side or a bona fide serious food safety issue, so I always just freeze damaged stuff in bags or jars rather than 'officially' canning it in a hot water bath for shelf stability.

Could you use a net around the top of your pear tree to protect it from animal nomming, or a tarp at the base to catch the falling fruit?
posted by divined by radio at 1:03 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I use bruised and got-a-mushy-spot-on-it fruit to make jam on a regular basis - in fact, making jam is how I salvage the fruit that starts going bad before I've had a chance to eat it. Behold, here, my quick-and-dirty use-up-the-fruit jam formula.

You will need:

The fruit that you're going to use
a big pot
a candy thermometer
lemon juice or spices (optional)
canning jars (if you want shelf-storage) or other containers (if you just wanna keep it in the freezer or fridge)

First, cut all the bruised/holey/mushy/otherwise inedible parts off the fruit, and cut the rest into small chunks. Discard any seeds and stems. Peel if you want.

Measure how much fruit you've got left. Pour the fruit and half as much sugar into a big pot (i.e., if you have 3 cups of fruit, you'd need one and a half cups of sugar). Add a little lemon juice or spices to taste if you like.

Set that on the stove and bring to a boil. Mush up or puree the fruit if you want for texture's sake; then put back on the stove, drop in the candy thermometer, and let boil until the mixture reaches 220 degrees. (The trick I learned is that if your mixture reaches 220 degrees, it will definitely jell into jam.)

If you're going to just keep it in the fridge, pour into jars, rest the lid on top while it cools on the counter, then close the lid and put it in the fridge. Same with the freezer.

if you're going to try canning it so it's shelf-stable - use the boiling water bath canning method, and process for about 5 minutes for half-pint jars or ten minutes for pint jars.

I've made all sorts of weird combinations of flavors here - peach/plum/raspberry jam, raspberry/currant jam, gooseberry/peach/apricot jam - which I devised simply because "okay, here's the fruit that's closest to going bad today."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:04 PM on October 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Pears might actually be easier to work with than a lot of fruit. Unlike many things that only ripen correctly on the tree, pears should be picked before they're totally ripe. How to pick and ripen homegrown pears. You may be able to protect against some squirrel activity with an earlier harvest.
posted by aimedwander at 1:06 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

My mom uses those pears and quinces and apples just as you propose - trims, cooks them down, and then makes purees. When she had a convection oven she would turn some of those into fruit leather, which was really tasty.
posted by ldthomps at 1:19 PM on October 9, 2013

Best answer: When food is produced at an industrial level, the bruised/mushy/starting to rot stuff gets tossed in with the rest, in my experience. I spent the better part of a decade working at a vineyard/winery, and helped run the presses. Things were harvested mechanically, then dumped into the press. I can't recall if we rinsed them as part of the process, though I suspect not, but they definitely weren't picked over or anything. I make grape juice (and jelly, and lots of non-grape jams) at home basically the same way, and it's always been fine. I've made apple jelly using exactly the process you describe, actually, only replacing the food mill with a sieve.

Go for it. It'll be delicious, and you'll be fine.
posted by MeghanC at 1:27 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pears should be picked before they are ripe and then allowed to ripen in storage. This is true of most pears, but the details can vary depending on the type, so some research is needed.

The other side of the equation is to use pruning, fertilization, and pest control (preferably organic) so that you end up with plenty if large, tasty, usable fruit without the worms, etc.

I don't hesitate to use most fruit that had fallen on the relatively clean ground. If the fruit seems dubious to you, you can use heat (e.g. making sauce, pasteurizing juice) or fermentation (pear cider) to make it safer.
posted by ssg at 2:24 PM on October 9, 2013

Also, consider a tall fruit picking ladder (borrow one if you can) to reach fruit high up in the tree.
posted by ssg at 2:25 PM on October 9, 2013

I'm not sure about your area, but near me the Food Banks have gleaning programs where they will send people out to pick your fruit tree of what you aren't going to use, including all the high up stuff to help feed those in need. Maybe look into that?
posted by cecic at 3:49 PM on October 9, 2013

Back when my dad was a bit more nimble (and had fewer of us hollering at him not to do reckless things up ladders), he had an agreement with a couple of his neighbors that when their fruit trees started to get full of ripe fruit, Dad would come by with his long extension ladder, pick everything that was ripe enough to go, and keep some pre-agreed proportion of it for himself and leave some for the tree's owners.

I forget what the ratio was, but it gave a bonus for being the one climbing up the ladder; 1/3 to the owners and 2/3 to Dad, maybe? 1/4 to 3/4? Whatever it was, all parties involved felt they were getting a good deal.
posted by Lexica at 7:00 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

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