Stocking Up – a fall festival of food

Stocking up – A fall festival of food

Fall is always a special time of year for me.  Going back to when I was a small child and helping Mom, Dad, Gramma & Great-Gramma clean the garden and start preparing for winter, it was… precious. Time with loved ones. Gorgeous colours for the transition in nature.  Amazing food.

This year was a special one for me and my family. I took a full week off to pick and preserve fruit for the winter.  It worked really well. My wife and I just had our first child this spring, so it was a lot more challenging than picking & preserving in years past and it was also a lot more fulfilling.  But I’ll get to that later.

We got really lucky with the picks we signed up for. The first was a small acreage north of Edmonton, which listed needing 1 tree picked.  We got out there to find 3 eating apples. 2 crabs, and an Evans cherry all dripping with fruit. After speaking with the owner, we agreed to pick for two days, and pick as much as we could. The second day I’d already signed up for another apple pick, so that evening we got another full tree of eating apples and a handful of crabs.  All in all, there was nearly 500 lbs of apples & crabs, and almost 50 lbs of cherries.

One of the challenges I have with picking is deciding where to donate.  This year it was easy – the day after the pick we had an appointment near Whyte ave, so YESS got a nice surprise and a lot of fruit. It was neat because the chefs had just arrived and once I started bringing the food in, they immediately started planning what they would do with it. Very fun experience.

We had planned to juice a lot of the apples. I’ve been picking with OFRE for a few years now, so one of the friends in the organization has a T-frame jack press, that works really well.  I’d called him ahead of time, and we’d arranged to press it all in one go.

There was too much to do in an evening after he was done work, so we did it in two.  Mix of eating & crabs produces a very nice blended flavour.  If you ever have the chance, try to do some small batches of juice to see what different apples taste like. If you think all juice is the same… you haven’t been picking & preserving long enough.  =)

The following day was batch pasteurization day.  We have a lot of jars that have been handed down to us from family members who don’t use them anymore.  It’s very nice for us to have them all, and on a day like that day was… it was a necessity. 

100 L of apple juice, canned in 1 Day. Sweet (not sweetened, just very tasty as is.  Also – pun).

While I was busy with the juice, my wife and her Gramma were working on applesauce.  Remember, that new baby we had?  Well, we figured making our own applesauce would be a good plan.  So we had nearly 100lbs of that sauced too.  Much of it was frozen, as we were still running out of jars at this point (and a little sick of canning).  Applesauce is also great in baked goods – especially the chocolate chip walnut spice cookies I’m eating while writing this.  As an added bonus, my daughter really enjoys it now!  Huzzah!

This was a big part of the fulfilling part of the year.  Being with OFRE now for a few years, the whole family is involved.  It’s bringing us closer together.  We’re eating great food.  And we are spending time together in meaningful ways.

I hope my little one has great memories of this like I did, so that one day she can follow in my footsteps, like I do in my parents and grandparents, and great-grandparents.

By Jordan A. Wilson

Fruit season is coming to an end!

Wow, what a season it has been!

We can’t believe how many trees got picked, pounds of fruit were donated, and number of volunteers who joined OFRE in 2014. We look forward to releasing the numbers soon after the season officially closes.

If weather cooperates our last pick will be October 18th. Until then, we still have a few picks going on this weekend and into next week, so sign up if you want some lovely fall apples. They made the best cider and are the best for storage into the fall/winter.

Is OFRE still taking fruit grower registrations?  If you are a grower hoping to register your tree for us to come pick it, we are no longer taking new registrations for the 2014 season.

Happy thanksgiving and enjoy the lovely autumn weather we are having!

An introduction to cider making!

 IMG_1432As fall quickly approaches, heralded in by an early September snow fall, you may notice that the apple trees around the city are heavy with fruit. If you are familiar with OFRE’s mission and take part in it, you know there is more fruit available than you could possibly use. Even walking my dog around my neighbourhood in North Glenora I have seen at least a dozen trees still full.

While big juicy apples are perfect for eating or baking, many of the apples trees around Edmonton are crab apple trees. Crab apples are too sour to eat and too small to make pies with, but they are perfect for one thing, and that’s cider! Crisp tart cider, tossed it in the crock pot with some spices and you have one of my favourite winter drinks, mulled cider

If you ever thought making cider was hard, you’re wrong; it’s simple, fun and inexpensive.

IMG_0696 IMG_0601

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • a mix of different varieties of apples
  • an apple crusher
  • a press

The key to a good cider is the choice of apples. While any apple can make a good cider, a good mix of a variety is key. I prefer ciders heavy on the crap apples because I like a tart cider. I’ve made a cider with only sweeter apples and I found it flat and too sweet for my palate. Try making your own blends until you find what tastes best to you.

Next you’ll need a lot of apples, for every 15-20 kg of apples you can expect 10L of cider. If you consider that an average tree can have well over 100 kg, that’s not a lot of work.

To transform your apples into a delicious cider you’ll need an apple crusher and a press. You can either rent this equipment or make it yourself. There are several blogs that provide instructions on creating different DIY models. I prefer renting the equipment as I find you get more juice (and it’s a whole lot easier). While I’m sure there may be other places you can pick up the equipment, I usually head over Estate Brewing ( where owner Kevin Hogg has a few sets of crushers and barrel presses and will be happy to show you the ins and outs.

The actual crushing and pressing is pretty easy. The Cider Workshop ( is an excellent resource and can give you advice on how to press cider. Likewise there are numerous other blogs which give good advice.

Once you’re done pressing and before you call it a day, you will need to get rid of the pressed apples (called pumice) and store your cider. The pumice can be left out in clear garbage bags and it will be composted at the Edmonton Waste Management Facility. As for the cider, it will last a week in the fridge before it starts to ferment. If you want it keep it longer, you can simply freeze it or preserve it through canning. (

Cider pressing is easy and it gives you a healthy, locally sourced drink that you can enjoy throughout the winter.

Press Release – The Golden Shovel!

OFRE’s 5th year celebration – From modest beginnings to a strong future:  Micro-Orchard takes root in McCauley

Your cordially invited to the official planting of the Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton micro-orchard, September 13th, 2014, at the McCauley School grounds, 95th Street & 107A Avenue.

As part of the days festivities, Edmonton City Councillor, Scott McKeen, Megan Rogers from Forestry operations, Jane Molstad from community revitalization, and Mike Johnson, OFRE President will make announcements and take part in the golden shovel ceremony. The event will start at 9am with the planting of the first tree at 10am.

Other attending organizations include: Edmonton Bicycle Commuters (EBC), and Edmonton Permaculture Guild. There will be live music, it’s open to the public and people of all ages are welcome to attend. OFRE volunteers will be pressing cider with the pedal powered apple crusher, which is always fun to see in action!

This orchard is unique to Edmonton, the region, and Canada as it’s one of the first ever urban orchards on public land. It will be a place for Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton to teach, learn and grow. For Edmontonians, it will be a place, to develop a passion for local food, to harness long lost food preservation skills, and to contribute to a stronger, more food secure city.

The micro-Orchard will include plantings to showcase the types and varieties of fruit trees, shrubs, and bushes grown in the Edmonton Capital region. Fruit varieties to be planted include: apples, pears, cherries, saskatoons, raspberries, and more! 

No experience necessary, just bring your enthusiasm and a shovel. The event is open to the public and is FREE to attend!

Pick of the week – OFRE’s micro orchard!

Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton (OFRE - pronounced “offer’) is celebrating its 5th year as an organization. From its humble beginnings in 2009, OFRE has become a widely respected organization within the city and throughout Canada. In celebration of 5 years of rescuing fruit OFRE is creating a micro Orchard in Edmonton!

2014-07-04-Orchard Rendering with text (1)

(Click here for full size image)

With grant funding from the City of Edmonton, OFRE’s proposal for transforming a section of the McCauley School grounds is reaching fruition. Since 2012, OFRE has been planning and organizing this ground-breaking project in Edmonton. The area specifically located on 107A Avenue between 95th and 96th Street is to be transformed into a micro Orchard - a fruit bearing oasis!

The micro Orchard will include plantings to showcase the types and varieties of fruit trees, shrubs, and bushes that can grow in the Edmonton Capital region. Fruit varieties to be planted include: apples, pears, cherries, Saskatoons, raspberries and more!

As a green addition to McCauley, the micro Orchard will be used by OFRE to host educational workshops. People will be able to learn how to press apple cider, and care for their fruit bearing trees and bushes. We intend to educating the citizens of Edmonton, through the installation of the micro Orchard, and will empower people with the skills needed to grow, harvest, and preserve locally grown fruit in their own backyards.

OFRE’s micro Orchard is scheduled to break ground September 6th, 2014, with the help of Edmonton Permaculture Guild. It will take several weeks to complete with countless volunteer hours.

WHEN? September 6th & 7th

  • Ground breaking,
  • Dig pathways and level
  • Removal of sod
  • Install mulch pathways

              September 13th

  • Plant trees & shrubs
  • Install ground cover
  • Build shed
  • Install 1000 litre totes on site
  • Press and make cider (go on an OFRE pick and bring your own apples!)

Please sign up (see links below) to be a part of this amazing event. Involvement is greatly encouraged, and will be immensely appreciated!

The 5th year anniversary of Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton is a wonderful time to find the fruit hidden in our city!

Pick of the week – Guest post from Jacquie Lycka of Parkallen Home Kitchen

What access to local fruit means to me:

Being a Fruit Hero!

I am honoured to be have been asked to write a guest blog post for OFRE’s pick of the week. This will be my fourth growing season volunteering for OFRE and I have loved every summer more than the last.



As a self proclaimed local food advocate, having access to local fruit in my neighbourhood means a lot to me. It means that I know exactly where it came from, who grew it, and I can be rest assured that the fruit that my family and I are eating did not travel thousands of miles to end up on our plates. Taking home a large amount of free fruit doesn’t hurt either ;).

My journey with OFRE has been a fun filled one. My very first pick was with OFRE founder Amy, where we picked a massively overgrown raspberry bush. In the end, our hands were stained, our legs were scratched, and our bodies were entirely bug bitten, but we were exhilarated. I made an amazing white chocolate raspberry ice cream with the berries from that pick, which is now one of my favourite recipes. White chocolate rasp

The following summer, I did my first Evans cherry pick. Those tart, plump berries were turned into a fantastic sour cherry liqueur. sour cherry

I was inspired to partner with OFRE for a school project, where we picked apples for the MacEwan Food bank. I had a blast working with my classmates, climbing trees, rescuing apples and feeding hungry students.

Last summer, my husband and I ventured into apple juicing and Pommeau making. They made fantastic Christmas gifts and a great sipping cocktail throughout the long, cold winter we had. Pommeau

Throughout my last four summers with OFRE, I learned more about fruit trees than I thought possible. With this knowledge, I now have the ability to care for my own fruit bearing trees and bushes in our yard and to turn the fruit into delicious recipes.

I can hardly wait for this season’s local fruit to blush and ripen for the picking. My Parkallen Home Kitchen is waiting in anticipation for the creations that will result.

Pick of The Week-Mid-summer rhubarb-strawberry soup


Rheum rhaponticum, Rheum x hybridum, Rheum rhubarbarum, Rheum x cultorum (culinary rhubarb; there are many other rhubarbs that aren’t used as a food) is a close relative of sorrel and belongs to the buckwheat family. Technically a vegetable, rhubarb is often thought of as a fruit. Already a staple in Scandinavian, British and Eastern European diets, it became a necessary plant for early Prairie settlers, providing the first blast of freshness and vitamin C of the year until the other garden crops were ready. So while  rhubarb is often thought of as an early spring edible, it produces and produces throughout the summer. So much so that gardeners who jealously watch over their patch in May and June are happy to let anyone who wants cut stalks at will. In other words, rhubarb in July in need of rescuing with a good recipe, because by now, the novelty has worn off. Yet there’s still plenty of it to go around.

Cold rhubarb-strawberry soup is one of my favourite uses for mid-summer rhubarb (it’s great with early spring rhubarb too) because it’s a refreshing cold soup that I associate with the heat of late July and early August. It also uses up the mounds of mint that will soon flower and turn bitter. This particular vanilla- and cinnamon-scented soup is from Kitchen of Light: New Scandinavian Cooking with Andreas Viestad (Artisan, 2003), and makes great use of the fact that rhubarb, strawberries and mint all appear around the same time in the garden. When I’m being fancy or trying to impress, I serve the soup in martini glasses, garnished with a sprig of fresh mint as an appetizer.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Soup

     1  pound (500 g) rhubarb, stalks trimmed and cut pieces
1/2  cup (125 mL) sugar
2 1/2  cups (675 mL) water
1  cup (250 mL) dry white wine
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise in half
1 small cinnamon stick
12 to 16 strawberries, hulled and sliced
1  tablespoon (15 mL) chopped fresh mint
Sour cream for serving

In a stainless steel pot, combine the rhubarb, sugar, water, white wine, vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. (Copper, aluminum, or iron pots will be discoloured by the acidity of the soup and may affect the flavour.) Bring the soup to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes or until the rhubarb is soft.

Remove the cinnamon and vanilla bean. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pot with the back of a knife back. Discard the bean and the cinnamon stick.

Add half of the strawberries to the soup and set aside to cool. Pour the soup into deep bowls, garnish with the mint, the remaining strawberries and the sour cream (about 2 teaspoons /10 mL per bowl). Serve at room temperature or chilled. Serves 4.

Jennifer Cockrall-King (author of food and the city)


Pick of the Week – Pretty Flies, Bad Apples

My work life is in entomology (bug stuff). Specifically, integrated pest management.

My personal life aims for sustainable, healthy, local living. So, when I found one of my favourite local foods being ravaged by an insect pest, I was all over it!

The sprawling crabapple tree in my former backyard produced so many healthy, mid-size, tasty crabs. I ate them raw, made applesauce, baked them, and still had barely touched the tree.

“Boy, a lot of fruit must go to waste in Edmonton,” I thought (and said). My boss told me about OFRE, and I haven’t looked back! That was 2011. The first pick I attended as a volunteer, the apple trees had apple maggot. What looked like large, normal apples on the tree were actually slimy and decayed, with tunnels inside. At the time, the organizers seemed to feel this was an anomaly, not the norm. “What is this dastardly bug ruining local apples?” I had to know.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 1.23.20 PM

I learned that Rhagoletis pomonella is relatively new to Edmonton.  It was first recorded here about 10 years ago. It evolved as a new species from hawthorne maggot flies only a few hundred years ago in North America, after the introduction of apple trees. Now it has spread all over the continent.

The flies lay eggs on apples. The maggots (baby flies) eat tunnels and grow inside the fruit and then drop out to pupate in the soil under the tree. Next summer, they emerge as flies.

“Hmm. Neat. Thank goodness it’s not very common,” I thought upon learning all this.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 1.23.31 PM

The next summer, I eagerly waited again for my yummy crabapples to be ready. I prefer them greener and crunchy, so I picked them fairly early and processed them right away: canning them, making apple butter etc… But the ones I left longer started looking ominously dimply. They had apple maggot!! Now my relationship with this fly was personal!

More and more apples were coming up maggoty. I started wondering what could be done. On my own time, as well as in my work with the City of Edmonton, I’ve been doing some research and observing maggoty apples. These are a few of the things I’ve learned:

1) Apple Maggot Flies are Pretty! With a very distinctive black wing pattern and iridescent red/blue eyes, I find these guys pretty endearing (just me?). This is a struggle shared by many entomologists: Dislike the pest’s action/admire the pest!

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 1.23.47 PM

2) Maggots Don’t Wait Until the Apples Hit the Ground. In all the literature, it says the maggots go into the ground from apples that have fallen down. But I have definitely had maggots raining on me while sleeping under my apple tree. So if you want to reduce the flies for the following year, you can’t wait until the apples fall to dispose of them.

3) Getting Rid of Apple Maggot is Not Easy. The biggest challenge of getting rid of these flies is that even if you do everything right as a tree owner (pick all apples and send to landfill, put out sticky traps, cover the ground under the tree from June through July etc), if a neighbour (in a 1km radius) doesn’t do their part, their flies may still find your apples and re-infect your tree.

Orchard owners can just spray all of their trees, eliminating the pest. But spraying is not feasible for a homeowner as effective sprays are not available for private use. As well, timing is very important, and repeated spraying is needed. So one has to rely on the participation of all his neighbours to “cure” a tree.

4) You can Save Some of Your Apples. Some orchards and individuals place a nylon or plastic bag around each apple when they are small. The fruit grows inside the bag, untouched by flies, and therefore, maggot-free! This is not something I am willing to do. So I tried what I have named “Maggot Exclusion Sleeves”. Basically, I made socks for entire branches by glue-gunning white garden netting into tube shapes. So, I enclosed all the apples on several branches, and had 100% success at protecting the enclosed ones from apple maggot! Online, you can also get giant nets meant to cover the entire tree! More expensive, but hey, your apples are protected.

5) There are Natural Biocontrols in Edmonton. I reared a bunch of flies from apple maggots and found that from some of the pupae came parasitoid wasps! This is exciting, as it shows that there are insects here that are helping reduce fly numbers. One of the downsides of using the recommended yellow sticky traps is that the wasps feed on flowers as adults and so are also attracted and stick to them.

Can we get rid of apple maggot in Edmonton? Sheesh. I dunno. It’s daunting. But, it would save so many delicious, local apples if we could.

The more that people know about the value of their apples, and understand how apple maggot works, the better chance there is they will act to eliminate these pretty but pesky flies. So through OFRE and the City lab I hope to work on public outreach and education.

Do you have apple maggot?

You can direct any apple maggot questions to:

I would also like to rear as many maggots as possible, to get a better idea of how much parasitism is going on. If you have maggots in your apples and are willing to share them, please contact me at

Happy fruit season!

Sarah McPike

Credits: All photos from

Pick of the week – Looking back

IMG_1439When I look back to 2009 when I was at a friends for a potluck event and the idea was suggested of starting a fruit rescue volunteer group, which eventually grew into OFRE, I feel grateful to have been part of it all since the beginning.

OFRE has led me to so many places, many of them I never foresaw in my future such as a fruit pick volunteer, fruit captain, executive director, president of OFRE board, representative for Slow Food Canada at Terra Madre, canning instructor with Metro education and City of Edmonton Arts, presenter at PKN13, and Avenue Magazine’s top 40 under 40! All of these and more I can credit to my involvement with Operation Fruit Rescue over the years. Sometimes when you say yes to something and jump in, you never know where it might take you, I guess!

Terra Madre 2012

Canning class

Canning class

Show What You Grow

Show What You Grow

In the beginning, I was excited at the prospects of getting access to locally grown raspberries and apples. I was living in an apartment at the time, so growing my own food was still beyond reach for me. I had no idea what kinds of fruit people would be calling to ask us to rescue such as plums, pears, and even apricots! The first year taking phone calls and answering emails for OFRE I thought for sure, some homeowners were pulling my leg when they would tell me they had plums and pears to share.

This is my 5th year being involved in OFRE and I still find incredible joy in climbing trees to get fresh fruit right from the tree, slashing down giant rhubarb bushes, telling new volunteers about OFRE and fruits they will find, and making delicious preserves to enjoy well after the season is over. Now, being a mother to a beautiful little girl, I can’t wait to take her on some summer fruit picks over the next couple of years to show her how to pick apples right off the tree and give her a taste of a berry or two!





Pick of the week – What do you mean by ‘rescue’ fruit?

In the last few weeks as I make my rounds in Edmonton I have been queried as to what it means to ‘rescue’ fruit. Rescue in this context isn’t the rescue of Jimmy because he’s fallen down the well and Lassie tells someone they need to bring a ladder! As miraculous a dog as Lassie was other than the use of a ladder there is very little similarity!



There is no danger or distress…not really…yet fruit is still rescued nontheless!

The true story

The true story

To the average inhabitant of Edmonton and area the individual awareness of fruit bearing trees and bushes is likely limited. You travel your routes to and from your regular destinations giving only passing attention to what may be visible in the front yards of the homes along the way. Those with these fruit bearing trees and bushes may have a different awareness: they’re a nuisance or they’re a fabulous homegrown resource!

Wherever your personal awareness of the abundance of fruit bearing trees and shrubs falls the fact is Edmonton has a fabulous growing season for many of the usual suspects: apples, rhubarb, crabapples, sour cherries, and saskatoons. If you know what to look for there are also nanking cherries, pin cherries, highbush cranberries, and seabuckthorn berries, for instance.

Highbush cranberry

Highbush cranberry

Late fall apples

Late fall apples

Mini yellow flesh crabapples

mini yellow flesh crabapples

Fruit trees look fabulous when in bloom, they can produce beautiful fruit, keeping the garden colour scheme going into fall. Once fall arrives the fruit begins to fall and its time to clean up the mess. Where the rescue of fruit comes into the mix is in the harvest (and distribution): rescue the fruit before it goes to waste!

My favourite example of fruit going to waste…an experience I will likely never forget was on a pick last year. One of the most abundant apple trees in this backyard had no edible fruit left on it! None! All of the apples had in fact begun fermenting on the tree!?! It was an intoxicating and nauseating blend. Made infinitely more surreal in smelling apple cider vinegar coming from a tree?? Mind boggling! Sarah and I either wanted some fresh hot fries or to run away with our noses plugged.



In attempting to mitigate the natural cycle of unharvested fruit going to the compost bin, rescuing fruit happens! It really does. By individuals who are willing to lend their hands, ladders, buckets and bags, etc. all to harvest as much unused fruit as possible. It is a rewarding hands-on experience! A great family outing and a learning experience for children who may never experience a farm.

The fruit rescued by Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton, fruit pick volunteers give a significant portion from each harvest directly to any one of the many local organizations who feed those in need. How awesome is that?!? Fruit that has a great chance of going to waste gets delivered into the hands and mouths of those in need.

Consider this: how much more enjoyable would eating fruit grown in your collective backyard be…and an easement on your grocery budget…if you helped rescue fruit too?? I can tell you…its delicious…absolutely delicious!


Kim Schaeble