An iPhone app, hard times and locavorism fuel renewed interest in foraging
I grew up near a family farm, picking corn from the field next door and shelling peas in the backyard for a snack. But then I moved to New York, and later Washington, D.C., and left my childhood foraging ways behind. When I finally made it to California, I was a poor line cook with no grocery money and a need for cheap food, so I used to bike to the Presidio in San Francisco and fill a bag with blackberries or plums from the neighbor’s overhanging tree.
Now that I’ve been in Sacramento for a while, I’m amazed at the amount of free food that’s all around us. You can’t walk down the street in the winter without squashing citrus in Midtown. Last fall, I was waiting for my dawdling toddler near Fremont Park and noticed a ton of black walnuts lying about on the ground. I scared off the squirrels and filled a handy sand bucket with nuts.
Lately, though, I’ve been looking for more organized ways to forage. I discovered an iPhone app called Find Fruit. It’s from the folks who started the Neighborhood Fruit site (http://neighborhoodfruit.com) last year. You put in your ZIP code, and it tells you about registered fruit trees or bushes in the area. The trees must be either on public lands that allow foraging or private property, registered by the owners. It’s a great idea, but sadly doesn’t have a lot of data yet. In a 25-mile radius from downtown, I found only three listings.
There are of course more than three spots in Sacramento, but how do you find them?
I asked Hank Shaw, author of the Hunter Angler Gardener Cook blog (http://honest-food.net) and veteran forager. He just wrote a post about finding wild plums everywhere he looked lately.
“How do I find my spots?” he said, “Scouting. Sometimes hunting, sometimes just walking along for exercise or to clear my head after writing all day. I have friends who give me tips, and I reciprocate. I never give up my spots—if lots of people knew about them all, they’d be picked clean in no time.”
This is possibly true. But it’s alarming how much fruit goes to waste in Sacramento. And part of the problem is that people no longer recognize or trust the fruit they see. It helps to get a referral from a friend who’s more knowledgeable or who has picked there before. And you also have to know the seasons for fruits, to know what to look for. My husband has a couple of favorite fig trees that he bikes by on his way to or from work. You just have to keep your eyes open.
Garrett McCord, raconteur and scribe at Vanilla Garlic (www.vanillagarlic.com; he’s also an SN&R contributor), is also a fan of foraging. “For kumquats, I just passed by the tree one day at [Sacramento State] and realized no one was picking it,” he explains. “So now I just go every spring and pick the hell out of it on a weekend. Gathering elderberries over at the park is technically illegal. You can eat what you find in the park, but you cannot take anything out.”
He advocates picking on the sly with a lookout, but it is good to know the law. The Capitol grounds, especially, are off-limits for foragers, despite the ton of citrus that falls every winter. City lands, however, are somewhat open.
When I spoke to someone at the Sacramento Department of Parks and Recreation, he admitted that the city isn’t likely to fine you for picking fruit unless you strip the trees bare. So help your fellow foragers and register some trees with Find Fruit, or at least start using some of the bounty before all the fat squirrels gobble it up.