Foraging for food saved me $600 this summer

One of the ways I keep my grocery costs under control is by home-canning as much produce as possible. Some of my home-canned produce comes out of my vegetable garden. Quite a bit of it however was foraged from wild fruit trees and vines found within a few miles of my home.

Foraging wild food is a great way to find unusual fruits and berries that you don't see in stores. It is also a very easy way to trim hundreds of dollars from your grocery bill. Here's how foraging for wild produce saved me over $600 this summer.

120 pounds of apples. This summer was a bumper year for wild apples. I was lucky to find a wild, heirloom apple tree in a gully which yielded a bushel's worth of small apples. A forgotten apple tree growing alongside a river yielded close to 80 pounds of delicious Jonagolds. With apples running at least $1.50 a pound in grocery stores, I saved $180; more when you factor in the store value of all my home-canned organic apple sauce, apple butter, pie filling, and dried apple rings.

100 pounds of grapes. Our neighborhood used to be "out in the country" up until 60 years ago when it saw an influx of post WW2 construction. While the old farms disappeared back then, a lot of the fruit trees, berry plants, and grape vines were left alone and have since gone wild. This fall, I picked nearly 100 pounds of wild grapes which were turned into concentrated grape juice and jellies. Savings here, at least $150.

50 pounds of plums. Within two blocks of my house, there are nearly 15 wild and semi-wild plum trees representing nearly 5 different varieties. Some are edible, some are not, but they all juiced together to makes some of the best tasting plum jelly that you'll ever find. If you could find wild, organic plum jelly in the stores, you'll probably pay at least $8 a pint. With store-bought plums running $2 a pound or more, I've saved $100 by foraging for wild ones.

10 pounds of crab apples. An unusually wet winter saw a lot of our street side crab apple trees groaning under the weight of golf ball sized apples. Just for fun, one of my neighbors and I collected half a bushel's worth to can. Spiced, pickled crab apples aren't available in stores - but if they were, you'd pay at least $2 per half pint for this unusual appetizer.

Wild blackberries. Even though I raise blackberries in my yard, I head towards a river to harvest wild blackberries for turning into jams and blackberry syrup. Wild blackberries are smaller and more flavorful then domesticated varieties which is why I'll harvest at least 20 pints worth for home-canning. Savings here $100.

Wild currants. Probably more popular in Europe than in the US, wild currants are tiny, tart berries that add a nice flavor to quick breads and puddings. I found a nice patch of both golden and black currants in a ravine this summer which we dried for adding to our favorite quick bread recipes. Dried currants run about $2 for a 3 ounce package which means a savings of nearly $50 by harvesting our own.

When it comes to trimming a grocery budget, foraging for the free produce in your area is an easy way to save money while enjoying a wide variety of unusual foods. Some basic rules to follow when foraging for food; don't trespass, avoid food that has been contaminated, and don't damage the trees and shrubs while harvesting all that bounty.

More by this contributor:

5 ways urban food foraging can lower your grocery bill.

Why I shop at 9 different stores for groceries.

10 ways to cut food expenses and increase your savings.