In the spring of 2007, after living in Rockridge for 1 yr, I began a small project of making an edible guide to the neighborhood, charting front yard gardens and edible fruit trees along the sidewalks. I took morning bike rides up and down Lawton Ave between Cavour and Hudson Avenues; down Boyd Street and Shafter Ave and the Hardy Street cul-de-sac. I carefully made notes of the house number and the edibles that could be found at each house. I began to walk with my head in the clouds, looking for loquats, plums, borage amongst less edible flowers, meyer lemons, Sevilla oranges, dill, quince, and figs. As spring turned into summer, I revised the guide to include more food items in season in the summer: raspberries, peaches behind the Wendy’s on College and Broadway, passion fruit, tomatoes. And then I typed the guide, organizing forage-able foods by their street location- and then gave it to my friends.
I began keeping my foraging notebook in my bag, a notebook that contained lists dating from April 2007 until the present, revisions made every couple of days as I took morning walks through my neighborhood, so that I could jot down updates. For me, there is little that is more thrilling than turning a shady and unassuming corner and stumbling upon a patch of fennel, rosemary, and loquats- an oasis.
I mailed the list to friends and with the directions to ‘forage and be merry’, I began to receive phone calls from Rockridge friends who wanted to know exactly where to find parsley, dill, thyme, apples. All spring and summer, I foraged for all my fruit from the neighborhood, and decided that I wouldn’t buy any fruit until I absolutely had to, like in late October when there is little other than persimmons and pomegranates in the neighborhood. I love persimmons more than any other fruit, but I love them in an idol-worshiping sort of way- building little altars and meticulously documenting the harvest, ripening, and eating of the fruit. The chase is romantic, but even a tried and true persimmon worshiper will eventually tire of the fruit. So, in early October- amidst mild depression about the looming end the summer’s bounty, I caved and bought an apple at the Temescal Farmer’s Market.
I seasonally changed my routes to and from my neighborhood haunts so that I could check up on the figs, which were almost ripe . Or see if the pears of James street were ready to harvest. In the late spring, I would walk down Clifton between Lawton and Boyd Avenues to harvest a handful of little plums, which involved hoisting myself into the tree because the fruit was just out of my reach. My ten speed road bike became a makeshift ladder, and many times I fell off, but with free bounty in hand. If I wanted a snack, I’d forage for it, and this has become just as much as a part of my life as going to the grocery store or farmer’s market.
Now it is March, almost April again, and now I live in a different neighborhood and there are new maps to make and a new neighborhood to chart. In late April, look for maps of North Berkeley and updated maps of the Rockridge neighborhood. I can send maps to you personally if you like, or we can meet on bike or foot and chart my new neighborhood together.