FRUIT: THE CURRENCY OF MEMORY, SARA BIR
For Sara Bir – food librarian, forager, chef and author – fruit are sweet, delicious, sexy and tactile – but every bit as important – they among the currency of memory. Sara joins Cultivating Place this week to share her fruit foraging philosophy and practice.
As we settle into the possibility of a new year - people have resolutions, hopes and goals for all kinds. For Sara Bir, the various branches of her life come together to help her live into her life values - even accepting some of the incongruencies. Her new book, The Fruit Forager’s Companion Ferments, Desserts, Main Dishes and More from your Neighborhood and Beyond out now from Chelsea Green Publishing walks us through her foraging walks, how she sees the world, and how to make the most - edible-y and philosophically - of where you are now. She joined us from her home in Southeastern Ohio where she grounds herself in the seasons and her place by engaging with the fruits to be foraged in any season
Sara's been a fruit forager for most of her adult life – from persimmons in California to the paw paw fruit that called her to a deeper relationship with her childhood home as an adult. She says: “I don’t believe in fate but I do believe in the magic of being receptive to the right thing in the right moment and when I encountered that paw paw in that moment - that was it.”
“Of all the things you can forage for, I forage for fruit, because it’s sweet and delicious and sexy and tactile and fertile and there’s just something about it that is deeper than mushrooms or greens, at least for me. I think fruit is the currency of memory.”"
Sara Bir, author of The Fruit Forager's Companion
In this conversation with Sara Bir, we heard her talk about foraging for fruit and how in her youth and early ignorance, she had sometimes taken fruit from people’s trees overhanging streets, etc, without permission.
Following up on an email from listener Jessica Morrison, I want to remind listeners that taking fruit from private property is in fact theft, and without appropriate permits on public land, it is likewise against the law. As Jessica writes: “I had several experiences with people coming onto my property and taking fruit (not just one or two pieces, but baskets and bags), that I had lovingly cultivated, and spent an inordinate amount of money organically treating and amending. This is not a practice that is appreciated.”
And as learned and adult Sara Bir states to us today in no uncertain terms, a very good common sense rule of thumb is this: "If taking something makes you a jerk, don’t do it.”
THINKING OUT LOUD this week..
Ok so thinking out loud here – I definitely want to unpack this idea of fruit being a currency of memory. I love the concept and know just what she means when she says it - I feel this way about plants and gardens in general – the memories held in specific shades of colors, in certain scents – like the Daphne odora blooming in my front garden right now.
And so when Sara says this of fruit – I can easily conjure up memories of being very young, with my family, driving in a beat up old green jeep from where we lived on the eastern slope of the Rockies, to the western slope. To a town name Paonia, historic homelands of the Parianuche and Tabeguache peoples, where my father had done research for his PhD in Wildlife Biology and my parents had fallen in love with the scrubby, dry landscape of an area famous in those parts – for its fruit. Apricots, and cherries, apples and pears. From the time I was 5 to 13 or 14 years old, we would travel the mountain pass from Lookout Mountain, Colorado to Paonia, Colorado and a tiny 2 room log cabin there – if it was summer or fall the return drive to so-called real life, involved the jeep being full of orchard boxes of whatever fruit was in season at the time – and we three girls in the backseat always ate too much of it on the long drive home.
Certainly various fruits have strong regional memory associations as well – such as the paw paw Sara mentions. The paw paw, Asimina triloba, is a deciduous, understory tree native to much of eastern North America. It can reach 30 feet in height and span. It is renowned for being deer resistant, and for its long dark green lobed leaves. It is listed by the USDA as endangered in New Jersey and threatened in New York. The University of Florida horticulture department describes the flowering and fruiting as: The two-inch-wide purple flowers with a less-than pleasant perfume appear before the leaves unfurl in springtime, and are followed by the production of unusual, fleshy, three to five-inch-long, round or oval fruits, green when young but ripening to a brown/black, wrinkled texture. When fully ripe, the edible flesh becomes soft, almost custard-like, has a sweet, rich taste similar to bananas, and is surprisingly very nutritious. The fruits are popular with humans and wildlife. It prefers soil that is rich, moist and slightly acid, and will even tolerate wet, soggy soils. It can be found in multi-stemmed thickets along stream banks and on flood plains in the wild. It can add brilliant yellow fall color to a landscape, and it also makes a great coarse-textured specimen. Propagation is by seeds, layerings, or root cuttings. (source material: http://hort.ufl.edu/trees/ASITRIA.pdf)
Do particular fruits hold memory for you? Are there native fruits particularly associated with your region? I clearly remember the first time I prematurely tasted a native persimmon when we lived for a brief time in Southern Illinois. Ooooh. Don’t do it. For me here in interior Northern CA, historic of the Mechoopda, my mind swings to wild grapes, the berries of manzanita, of mahonia, and ribes and of course the various distinct acorns of our native oaks.
While we do have a native blackberry, fall here s heavy with the fruits of the invasive Himalayan blackberry so it seems our duty to eat as many as we can….
Towards the end of our conversation – Sara talks about the importance to her of not only doing this thing she loves – foraging, cooking with and learning about fruits – but also being in community with others who share this passion – passing her knowledge forward, stewarding and helping to preserve the knowledge of those before her – such as the local wild food woman, Edelene Wood – the long running president of the National Wild Foods Association.
This idea hearkens back to some of the inspiration behind Megan and Rupert and the Turning into Flowers episode from two weeks ago – and from Linnea Hanson’s work to form better and more complete networks of communication among professional botanists at work in Northern California.
This desire to form pathways for more - and more complete - shared knowledge among plantspeople is certainly a strong component to the mission of Cultivating Place – a mission which I reaffirm in this month’s A View from Here Newsletter. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out – it’s up now at Cultivating Place.com, if you’re subscribed it should have arrived in your email inbox last week. This month I shared some of your garden resolutions AND some of your series and topic requests for the coming year on CP. So look forward to series on permaculture, an episode on fire recovery and landscaping for fire safety, a series on good native plant endeavors around the country – including an episode on the Penstemon Society – a favorite genus in the garden and on the trail.
And of course much more.
Thank you to everyone who wrote in – I love to hear your feedback and your requests for even more cultural and natural history here.
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