Salvaging composty fruit

Mmmm, composty fruit. 😉 Once a week for a couple of months this summer, I joined LifeCycles to sort fruit. I felt über-rich with my weekly haul of composty fruit! I know, “composty” and “fruit” don’t sound especially appetizing together, but let me tell you about it and I think you’ll agree the end products are delightful. Maybe you’ll be inspired to try this in your neighbourhood? 😀

At LifeCycles, volunteers pick deliciously ripe fruit from backyard fruit trees throughout the city. Tree stewards/homeowners keep some of the harvest and the rest is distributed to food banks and other community groups. That, by the way, is flat-out awesome: back in the day when my family was reliant on (and grateful for) food bank donations, we sure as heck didn’t have fresh fruit!

Harvests are sorted into three grades:

  • “A” are the beautiful fruit that we’re proud to share with food banks and community groups;
  • “B” are the bruised fruit that will last a few more days before community groups can process them into sauce, cider, and so on;
  • “C” are the composty ones, the wormy and broken ones that won’t last another day.

Although genuinely moldy fruit still goes directly to the worms, anything that we can salvage from the C grade by trimming off the bad bits and processing today goes home with the sorters (like a C+ grade). Some of us make jams and chutneys or freeze the fruit for smoothies; I’ve been separating mine into juice for homebrewing and pomace (pressed pulp) for baking.

I saved the most beautiful little pears from the latest C+ batch for a photo. Each one has a cut, a deep bruise, or a worm hole on the other side that‘s easy enough to cut away but would rot tomorrow, so they came home with me for immediate processing.

First tip: food-safe bins for the win! I carted home the first batches of composty fruit in cardboard boxes, and to my total chagrin, forgot that the rattle and rumble of cycling would squish the soft fruit. Not surprisingly, the boxes were soaked through and made an aromatic mess …plus, I wasted good juice! I dug around until I found two small food-safe bins that fit nicely in my bicycle trailer and that I can expect to use for decades. Those bins dramatically improved the whole experience. Conveniently, they also have lids and handles.

Second tip: cut, freeze, and thaw before pressing. Because I go to work right after volunteering, I only have a couple of hours in the evening to process the fruit. My goal that day is to cut away the bruises, worms, weird bits, stems and seeds. As I’m doing that, I chop the fruit into mid-sized pieces and pack it into one of the bins. The small bowl of rotten bits goes into the worm bin on the balcony, and the lovely bin of fruit pieces goes into my freezer for a couple of days. The big win here is that freezing and thawing the fruit leaves it so much softer and easier to press!

Third tip: blend, then press. Did you know that some entrepreneurs travel from orchard to orchard with mobile fruit crushers and presses? That sounds like a super-fun job! You and your community could do something similar, buying sturdy tools and taking turns using them, or setting up a community fruit mill.

I’m not in a position yet to participate in that kind of network, plus it’s COVID year and we have to consider social bubbles, so I did the next best thing and bought a torchietto from Consiglio’s Kitchenware. This is a sturdy little tabletop fruit and vegetable press. It fits in my cupboard between presses and will clearly last longer than I will. Between that and my old mini food processor, pressing fruit is easy – and really quite pleasant.

I know, I forgot to take a photo of the torchietto in action, and borrowed that shiny photo from Consiglio’s website.

The process is easy enough to describe, though:

  1. Thoroughly grind (or blend) the thawed fruit.
  2. Transfer it into the torchietto basket, lined with butter muslin. If you haven’t used this before, it has a tighter weave than cheesecloth and is excellent for keeping pulp contained.
  3. Tighten the press; pour out the accumulated juice; then wander away for a little while. Return and repeat. Wandering away invites the magic juice fairies to do some of the work for you, I’m sure of it.
  4. Repeat that tightening step until no more juice can be extracted.
  5. Loosen the press; remove the basket, and remove the muslin-wrapped brick of pomace. When you unwrap it, you should have a fairly solid, dry, block of fruit pulp. Use your experience from each unwrapping to learn how far you can press the next basketful of fruit.
  6. Repeat those steps until all of your fruit has been pressed.

Fourth tip: freeze the pomace in muffin trays. It didn’t take long for me to start looking for recipes to use up this pomace. Agricultural uses include mixing it into animal feed or into lovely compost piles, so those are options …but it’s food, right? Of course I want to find a way to enjoy all of that fibre and vitamins. Between juice-pressing-day and baking-day, I needed a way to store this. I decided to use silicone muffin trays to mold the pomace into manageable sizes, freeze those solid, peel them out of the muffin trays and stack them in a container in the freezer. Voila! Ready for baking day.

The juice is being brewed, one mini batch at a time. It’s my first year of homebrewing, so I’m all about experimenting. I’ve followed some classic recipes, and have made up some variations of my own, trying to find the right balance between juice, honey, and water (and wild or cultured yeasts) to end up with about 5-6% alcohol and a fairly dry beverage.

The pomace has been made into bread and muffins, and as usual I’m keeping my ears open for other ideas. If you have suggestions, I would love to hear them!

My favourite bread recipe so far is adapted from Juice Pulp Bread by Florida School of Holistic Living. I like to double the batch, and have adjusted the ingredients slightly.

Pomace Bread
based on Juice Pulp Bread by Florida School of Holistic Living
Makes two loaves of delicious, slightly sweet bread with a consistency similar to muffins or banana bread. You can halve the recipe; I don’t have a heck of a lot of free time, so I bake twice as much, less frequently.

Ingredients:
3 cups thawed fruit pomace (any kind, feel free to mix them)
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1/2 cup of organic honey
4 eggs (the original recipe suggests chia/flax substitutes)
1 tbsp vanilla extract (look for fairly traded vanilla, and don’t buy the sugary extract if you can avoid it)
3 cups flour, ideally from freshly-milled spelt, emmer, khorasan/kamut, einkorn, buckwheat, and other grains that are high in flavour and nutrition (the original recipe says you can use non-wheat flours here)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder (yup, both soda and powder in this recipe)
1 or 1.5 tsp salt (I like extra salt) (look for locally-produced or at least fairly-produced salt) (or heck, make your own)
3 to 4 tsp cinnamon (I really like cinnamon)
1/2 to 1 tsp nutmeg (I really don’t like nutmeg)

Can you replace the cinnamon and nutmeg with pumpkin spice? Sure! Could you add some crushed nuts? Sure! You’re in charge of this lovely bread.

Instructions:

  1. Beat, stir, or whisk together the liquid ingredients: oil, honey, eggs, vanilla.
  2. Stir the pomace into the wet ingredients.
  3. Stir or whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg (and any other dry things you decided to add).
  4. Incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. The whole thing will be pretty gloppy, similar to a muffin recipe.
  5. Grease two loaf pans. I used (local organic) butter for this, and it was extra-decadent. Mmmm.
  6. Pour the batter fairly evenly into the two loaf pans.
  7. Bake at 350oF for 45-60 minutes, or as long as it takes for the top to get nice and crusty. Your test of “done-ness” is, as usual in Western baking, to insert a toothpick and see if it comes out clean. If some damp dough sticks to the toothpick, cook your loaves for a few more minutes and test again.
  8. Let the loaves cool completely before slicing.
  9. I sliced mine thickly and froze them right away. That way, when I want a couple of slices, I can pop them into the toaster oven, warm them up, and serve with or without a little bit of butter.

Variation on a theme: My latest brilliant adventure with pomace was a completely random, whaaaatver-fits-in-the-bowl, oatmeal pumpkin spice muffin. I couldn’t tell you what ratios I used, except that I estimated 1 whole egg per 1 cup (or so) of pomace; then a bunch of pumpkin spice, some salt, some freshly-milled quinoa, and enough oatmeal to absorb the obvious moisture without making the whole thing dry. I threw in some organic raisins, mixed it all together, popped it into silicone muffin trays, and baked at 350oF until the ol’ toothpick test came out clean. I ate one while it was way too hot, and regret nothing: it was delicious!

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