learning to forage

While J-P and I were hiking the Marin headlands this week, we paused to pick and eat blackberries anywhere we saw them. It seemed we were late in their season, though: we saw few ripe berries, and few red ones nearby when we saw those. No green ones, and no flowers. (It also didn’t help, I’m sure, that there were many other visitors to the park.)

I realized as we walked that it bothered me that I didn’t know how to eat from this landscape. Growing up in Texas, I learned plenty about which wild plants were edible. Dewberries, prickly pear pads (nopales) and fruits (tunas), pecans, pine nuts, agarita berries (shake them off the tree, don’t pick!), wild onions, pepperweed (which turns out to be a European import), dandelion greens, mesquite flour (even though the plant was a nuisance), acorns (after a lot of soaking), even cattail roots, or so I heard. As a gardener in Austin, I learned a few more, like henbit, chickweed, and purslane. Then there was the urban forage in Austin: pears, persimmons, pomegranates, loquats… If I somehow had to, I could get by.

I never had the urge to learn the same skill in Massachusetts, although I did add lambs’ quarters, wood strawberries, and the identification of maples (for syrup, of course) and walnuts to my repertoire. Urban forage came to include apples and cherries, too.

Maybe I didn’t feel the need in Massachusetts because I was already too busy adapting to the climate to bother with the landscape. Or maybe it was that our time outside of the city was mostly on our bikes, not on foot. Or maybe it was that, though foreign to me, the flora there wasn’t as gobsmackingly foreign as it is in California. Whatever the cause, I was feeling the lack of my old skill.

prickly pear by tomas castelazo

4 Responses to “learning to forage”

  1. July 25, 2010 at 07:21

    I miss agarita berries more than any other one Texan food item.

    Also, I realize that while parts of that state over there may be a bit desert-like, you live in a goddamned greenhouse. If you can’t feel comfortable with the fruit that the trees are practically throwing at you, you might might not be evolutionarily fit.

    As Wired put it, gardening in San Fran is like tending to houseplants which just happen to be outside.

  2. July 25, 2010 at 10:12

    Orchard meaning field full of deliberately cultivated edible plants. Sure, the wild here looks like an orchard, but can you figure out what’s edible in it? Don’t be difficult.

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