Sunday, September 6, 2009

Urban bounty

It's amazing what you can find if you know what you can look for.

In the middle of August I went blackberry picking in the woods by our apartment. During that same trip I noticed some elder trees. Elderberries, however, don't ripen until...well, about now (September).

Today we went foraging for elderberries--the goal being to get enough to make a decent batch of jelly. And it is truly astounding, how common elders are, and how bountiful they are, if you know how to look for them.

They tend to grow in clusters--where you find one, you'll likely find another one or two. It can be a bit of a trek to find one, but once you find one, if it's a good one, you'll be pleasantly rewarded with handfuls upon handfuls of dark purplish berries, ideal for making jams, jellies, syrups. The fruits can lie beyond the reach of a mortal arm--however, the tree is quite flexible and, if you have a partner on hand, it is possible to bend it to your will. Literally.

We managed to collect about 2 kg of them, from perhaps a dozen bushes. And no, we didn't strip any of the bushes clean, either--I make it a point to leave behind what I call a "bird tithe", so that the birds can also partake--and propagate the plants. We left at least 1/2 of each bunch on the trees.

We also came upon plenty of rowan bushes, which are actually more commonplace than elder trees in this area. Although you can make rowan jelly, my boyfriend (who is actually the preserve-'spert between us) wasn't quite certain about the taste, and furthermore I wasn't quite certain of their ripeness. There were also three enormous chestnut trees, filled to nearly-bursting with unripened burrs, and I know of at least two walnut trees in the neighborhood.

This all makes me a bit sad, really--to live in the midst of all this bounty, and not see a single soul (other than my boyfriend) partaking of it, to realize how divorced people are from what food actually is: we met up with another couple who were curious as to what we were doing (admittedly, walking around with a bucket is kind of strange). You would have thought we were sharing the secrets of the dead when we explained that elder trees were everywhere in these woods. Which was, perhaps, somewhat of an exaggeration--but not by much.

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