After more then 30 years, my sons still remember discovering a yard full of windfall Gravenstein apples. The elderly lady who answered the door was happy to have us pick them up and haul them away. All she asked was that we fill a small container of sound ones for her. It was an adventure. We were hunter-gatherers, foraging for the tribe. We were pioneers, preparing for the coming winter. An element of danger was added by the numerous wasps that had also discovered the bountiful fruit. We filled bags and boxes with apples, some grocery-store perfect, some bruised and half-rotted. The car was heavy with the scent of apples for days afterward.

When we got our treasure home, we spent hours washing, sorting, peeling, and cutting out the bad spots. We canned sliced apples for pie, applesauce, apple butter, and apple-cinnamon jelly. It was hard work, but the jars sparkled like jewels on the pantry shelf.

What a treat, in the short, gray days of winter, to open a jar of condensed sunshine. The scent of apples brought back those warm days of early fall with all their happy memories. There’s nothing to equal the taste of food you gather and prepare yourself.

It has always been amazing to me, to see how much free food goes to waste, even in the city. Many people who have fruit trees are unwilling or unable to harvest the crop, and will gladly share. Vacant lots often are overgrown with blackberries. If you can’t find free fruit, consider u-pick farms or fruit stands. Kids really enjoy being a part of providing food for the family. Gathering, canning, baking cookies, making bread or vegetable soup – these are “grown-up” tasks that are more fun than work, and let children feel important. And homemade jams and jellies make great Christmas gifts.