White Whale Bookstore hosting talk on foraging and cooking with author Sara Bir | Pittsburgh City Paper

White Whale Bookstore hosting talk on foraging and cooking with author Sara Bir

Sara Bir is nosy. She peeks into backyards, deep corners of the forest, and Walmart parking lots. 

She’s a forager with an eye for forgotten fruit, abundant harvests, and nature’s strangest offerings. 

Bir is the author of The Fruit Forager’s Companion, a book filled with recipes, tips, and tricks for the everyday forager. On Sept. 1, she will team up with White Whale Bookstore in Bloomfield and a fellow fruit-lover Andrew Moore for a book signing and discussion.

Bir started foraging in Oregon, observing the urban landscape with her dog as she walked and re-walked the same loops.

“I yearn for adventure and I love free things,” Bir says. “Foraging is a merging of those two personality traits.”

Now back home in Marietta, Ohio, Bir walks to stay independent, keep her sense of adventure, and to get outside of her head.

To Bir, foraging is about “noticing and getting to know what’s around you.” It’s more than simply picking fruit off the ground. Foraging shows where humans and nature meet, and how that intersection affects the local ecosystem.

In her book, Bir writes, “But even if I come back from an outing empty-handed — which is most of the time — I return enriched, because there’s always something new to see. I don’t just gather food. I gather observations.”

The Fruit Forager’s Companion was created by Bir, for Bir. She wrote the book because she often picked up uncommon fruits which rarely were part of any recipes in modern cookbooks.

Each recipe (except for autumn olive leather, which she took from a fellow forager) was tested by Bir. Her favorites are dependent on the season, though she’ll always lean towards pawpaws. 

The pawpaw is a sweet, custard-like fruit. Bir can turn a pawpaw into gelato, a smoothie, or curd. The fruit is native to the U.S. and Canada, and can at times be found in the woods of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

For Pittsburghers, Bir encourages getting out and observing green spaces. She acknowledges it’s a “jerk move” to forage from private property without permission, and recommends knocking on doors to ask. Bir’s never been rejected.

Join Bir and Moore this Saturday as they discuss foraging and how to “seize the bounty.” Bir might bring some pawpaw curd for tasting, which shouldn't be missed. 

THE FRUIT FORAGER’S COMPANION Book Signing with Sara Bir. Sat., Sept. 1. 7-8:30 p.m. The White Whale Bookstore. 4754 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. Free.