Who doesn’t want free fruit? The 5 do’s and don’ts of foraging figs (and other urban food)

It’s the longest day of the year, and the figs are finally ready to celebrate.

Figs are one of many fruits (and nuts) that grow well in Central Texas, and if you keep an eye out for pomegranates, persimmons, pecans, peaches, pears, loquats, mulberries and even some citrus, you can forage urban neighborhoods in Austin most months of the year.

RELATED: An interactive map of edible fruit and nut trees in Austin

Austin Foraging Meetup.com group

No matter what you are picking, you need to know a few rules:

Figs are ripening on trees all over Austin right now. If you’re foraging in your neighborhood, make sure you follow some simple rules. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Only pick from the sidewalk or street. Or a public park. As long as you are standing on public property, city law allows you to pick fruit or nuts.

Don’t be shy about knocking on doors if the tree is out of reach from the public easement. Too few people take advantage of the fruit growing in their own yards, so most of them don’t mind sharing with neighbors walking by, but you have to ask to go onto their property. Even if you are standing on a sidewalk and legally covered to pick, if the homeowner is standing in the yard, it’s polite to ask. Besides, it’s important to talk with your neighbors.

This interactive map from fallingfruit.org shows many of the fruit trees around Austin. Contributed by fallingfruit.org

Don’t overpick. If you find a tree loaded with fresh figs, don’t take every single one of them, leaving nothing for the next dog-walker behind you. Take only what you’ll nibble on while you’re out of what you’ll use in your kitchen when you get home. You can always go back a week or two later to pick another round, but don’t be greedy. If anything, spread the word about your foraging adventures to encourage other people to enjoy the pleasures of free, foraged local fruit.

Don’t pick the underripe ones. Ripe figs are purple and soft to the touch. The smaller, harder green ones aren’t ready yet. Give them a chance to grow up and *then* devour them.

Plant fruit trees. The fact that you can forage hundreds of pounds of pecans, dozens of pears or peaches or roughly $1,000 in figs from your backyard is because someone years ago had the foresight to plant trees that could provide food. If we didn’t have grocery stores, we’d appreciate these little gifts from nature a lot more, but because we can get just about any fruit, any time of year, we have lost touch with the joys of seasonal fruit picked straight off the tree. Rediscover that feeling and pass it on.

Loquats are a tangy fruit with a large seed inside that have developed sometime of a cult following in Austin. They are ripe in April and May. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Author: Addie Broyles

Food writer for the Austin American-Statesman and Austin360.com.

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