Every summer along Atlanta’s city streets, apples — smaller and splotchier than commercial varieties, but just as flavorful — hang from trees like ornaments. Most of them eventually fall to the ground to rot.
Craig Durkin and Aubrey Daniels took notice of this excess a little over a decade ago when the gift of a cider press prompted them to throw a party. As cash-strapped college students, they lacked the funds to buy enough apples to press for their guests. So they scoured the neighborhoods for apple trees, knocking on doors to ask for permission to pick the fruit. Inevitably the answer was yes.
Their party, Ciderfest, became an annual event. Friends pitched in to harvest not only apples, but all kinds of urban-dwelling edibles. They experimented with unfamiliar discoveries, turning flying dragon fruit into citrusy drinks and custardy pawpaws into tropical-flavored ice cream. They also began donating their overabundance to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and food pantries.
Eventually they formed a nonprofit called Concrete Jungle, which today thrives with more than 1,000 volunteers. They’ve partnered with Georgia Tech to place sensors in trees to detect ripening and offer maps to locate them. They’ve shared their knowledge with other prospective foragers in cooking classes, and now in a one-of-a-kind community cookbook.
“Concrete Jungle: A Foraged Fruit Cookbook” features 42 recipes — some from well-known chefs and tastemakers —highlighting 14 different types of fruits, edible flowers and nuts that may be growing, literally, in our backyards. Among the beautiful photographs that tell their story are simple instructions for creating such innovations as Sour Plum Pops from Neil Ringer of King of Pops, Kudzu Hangover Tea from volunteer Kelly Ridenhour, and a vibrant minty Pomegranate Salsa, courtesy of chef Peter Dale of The National in Athens, that I recently made to dress up grilled lamb chops.
While $35 may seem steep for a modest-sized paperback, I’m finding lots of inspiration here. And considering that all proceeds go toward feeding the hungry while keeping healthy food from going to waste on city sidewalks, I’d say that’s quite a value.
Purchase “Concrete Jungle: A Foraged Cookbook” online at shop.concrete-jungle.org, and look for it soon in select stores.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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