It's quite a simple concept really. Living as we do in an era consumed with guilt about how many times our produce has flown around the globe why not go foraging for what is on our doorsteps?
The local organic store has been driven out of business by too many supermarkets in too little space. And of course to add to the competition, there are those lovely boxes of organic fruit and veg that are delivered to your home. All of which has sadly added up to one more independent closing down.
Urban foraging is an interesting notion. There is, in any square mile of inner city gardens, an abundance of produce not fully put to use. But to some foraging implies stealing. Well, there are other ways of going about it.
Around here there are quite a few trees and bushes groaning with apples, quinces, rosehips, rowan and elderberries. It was my current jam obsession (back on the boil after a successful batch of blushing pink quince jelly) that got me foraging.
Newsnight investigated the whole thing a while back, and it led to an interesting discussion on their blog.
My forays can't be described as exactly clandestine. Going undercover just gets you into trouble. There's the story of the bloke who nearly got arrested by police in a London park because his clothes and hands were crimson-stained and he was carrying a black binbag (full of berries, not the murdered wife they were looking for). Anyway berries from parks are invariably covered in dog urine.
No, I don't feel the need to wait until the dead of night and hop over bushes and fences like some crazy fruit fiend. I actually knock on doors and ask, because I reckon even the most seasoned member of the local WI can only bake so many home-made crumbles.
Apparently, looking into the rules, you can't pick overhanging fruit from a neighbour's tree, and if you trim back the overhang even the cuttings belong to the neighbour. So that's one old myth exploded. But the rules don't matter when you ask beforehand. People can choose to give or not to give. There's no taking going on.
Around my neck of the woods countless urbanites do nothing with their fruiting trees year on year. It seems more than a shame to let it rot. It is, I venture, a question of ethics. I have a moral duty to forage. I can't climb trees but I do have time to cook what falls from them. Check out these!
Not sure if it's my dodgy lighting or pollution that has given them a nuclear hue. Whatever, they will make delicious quince jelly. They smell divine.
I don't hold with all this creeping about at night with torches, or waiting til the neighbours are out and then indulging in scrumping. As one person comments on the Newsnight post, why don't more people leave a box of their unwanted fruit on the pavement with a note saying "Please Take". Plenty of passers-by would seize the offer of a freebie, but they wouldn't get to meet the neighbours like I do, or go all Amelie and do something nice like pop by with a jar of jewel-like jelly a few weeks later.
I have knocked on a few doors now. The first yielded 2lb of rosehips, the second about the same in the above quinces. I have my eye on a couple of apple trees. I knocked on the wrong door but was told the owners in question would be quite likely to give me some windfalls. The people I meet are invariably friendly, nice, happy to oblige, pleased even to find a neighbour (albeit a barking mad one) on their doorstep. I always offer pots of what I make in return for what I am taking. One bloke just asked me to spread the word about his latest comedy gig. I didn't have the heart to inform him I don't get out often, and when I do lately it is to commune with other people's fruit trees. I'm guessing he could probably tell as he gently closed his front door and left me wrestling with his chaenomeles japonica, bits of twig in my hair and autumn leaves caught in my scarf.