Does anyone drive by all the citrus trees in town, or step over fallen fruit on the sidewalk and sigh, “All that waste?”

I do. So this week, I’m encouraging foraging for wild, untended, even semi-domestic fruit in winter. Of course, if said fruit tree bearing uneaten gems is, in fact, in someone’s yard, please ask permission before picking, but if not, why let it all rot on the concrete?

I have, while biking through neighborhoods, picked citrus from branches that hung over the sidewalk, and while the flavor of the fruit ranged from extremely tart to exceedingly delicious, that’s part of the fun – peeling back rinds to see what kind of gift lies beneath, and appreciating feral fruit whether sweet or sour.

If I were waxing philosophical for a moment (which I almost always am) I would say that foraging is so much a metaphor for life. We pick what we find, what looks promising, and sometimes we get exactly what we’re looking for; sometimes not. But, by getting to a root (or in this case, branch) level existence, we encounter life at its purest: searching for subsistence in our surroundings, finding not only calories, but hopefully, pleasure, too.

I recently went with my friend, Erica, to her grandparent’s house, where a small mandarin orchard benevolently bore a hefty load of delicious, fresh fruit. We giggled and cut softened fruit from pregnant branches while snapping photos in the sunshine with the family dog by our sides.

Moments like that call to mind lyrics from a song Erica recently wrote: You prefer concrete, I’d rather have orchards below my feet. Isn’t that why we all live in Chico?

Erica also informed me that this time of year mandarins are sweeter because they’ve been through some serious cold. Late-season mandarins (as opposed to late November mandarins) have a higher sugar content than their early-season counterparts since they ripen on the tree. But once picked, mandarins don’t continue to ripen as other fruit does. Also, the citrus must be cut from the tree, and not picked, to ensure the branches will produce for the next season’s harvest.


Foraged Mandarin Syrup
(for your morning pancakes, ice cream,
or cocktails)

Foraged mandarins (enough for 1 cup of juice)

1/4 cup sugar, more to taste if your fruit is particularly tart (or try orange honey)

1 star anise

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 tsp. real vanilla extract

A pinch of fine grain sea salt

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

Juice the mandarins into a medium saucepan and cook over medium-low heat with the sugar and spices until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove and discard (or shit, chew on) the anise and cinnamon stick. Add the salt and mix well. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter until melted and fully incorporated. Serve over pancakes. Yes!

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Jen Cartier misses Chico! However, she has taken to the great beyond (er...The Bay Area) to be some kind of chocolate maven while simultaneously figuring out how the hell to navigate her long-ass work commute, and still kick ass at raising three munchkins, loving one soon-to-be husband, and keeping one rascally Brittany Spaniel in the damned yard. She loves Nutella, red wine, and American Spirits. She takes her dog along on runs to wear him out (sometimes he shits in someone else's yard - bonus!) and also to balance her own general consumption of all the fine tasty things life offers, ciggys included. Follow her blog at