I don’t know many of my neighbours, but I do know their lemon/fig/pomegranate trees intimately. I visit them often, usually at dawn or dusk when the air is cool and human visibility is not so hot.
It’s not that I scale the neighbourhood walls or cross any boundary lines to steal the fruits of their labour. But I don’t like to see a juicy ripe pomegranate go to the birds. It’s criminal. So I might take some poetic licence when it comes to those private property laws. But I do respect a working electric fence, switched on or not.
Tamboerskloof, my neighbourhood in the centre of Cape Town, is perfect for foraging. What starts off as a morning walk quickly ends up an afternoon adventure that fills your pants and pantry. Lemons, figs, pomegranates, avocados and mulberries – it’s a veritable Woollies shopping aisle with none of the cost or crowds.
Urban foraging is one of those city adventures that combines all the best pastimes – eating, walking and pointing out the bad taste and good acreage of your more affluent neighbours. Luckily some of the best finds are not towering above the high walls and electric fencing. Many a fecund berry bush can be found squatting, beyond the quiet cul de sacs, unidentified or gentrified by its gentile neighbours. Not even the guards, listening to their radios in their tiny wooden huts, wonder why you might be going for a walk with scissors and a plastic bag. And if there is one thing I have learnt about people that live in triple story glasshouses, it’s that most of them wouldn’t touch a Mulberry unless it came in packaging with an organic sticker and a looming sell by date. More berry smoothies for me.
Personally I prefer my food free range, in the hunter/gatherer sense. It all started with a trip to France, where I helped trample down a perfectly good patch of forest in search of a few elusive Cep (Porcini mushrooms). It got hot, we got tired, and us international babes almost got lost in the woods. But then, like a Disney miracle, the trees parted and the heavens shone a sliver of light and love on the lone mushroom. And it was magic, and not in the lethal trippy sense. The mushroom was edible, the feeling of “bagging your own”, intoxicating.
My foraging adventures continued in London, with my Brixton-based sister, who has spent many good years and miles mentally mapping out the best fruit trees and mushrooms squats south of the river Thames. At 16 Rand to the Pound, it was by far the cheapest takeaway I ate that holiday.
And then there was the time I went turkey feather hunting in a state park in California and ended up gorging on a bush of blackberries to refuel for the hunt. Those turkeys had no chance after that
The Disney effect hasn’t worn off. There is still something magical about finding your own food. Maybe it takes you back to Easter hunts in the garden or probably, in my case, Sunday drives to the municipal dump with my dad who, would “forage” (I use this term liberally) for scraps to inspire ideas in him, that often went to the birds.
There is much foraging to be done on most travels. All you have to do is open your eyes, and maybe a few books or URLs to help you identify the leaves and fruit and steer you clear of toxic plants. I sometimes think that that foraging is more an attitude than a skill; something that hopefully grows into total self-reliance. (Did anyone say off the grid?)
The great news is that many cities are mapped out and geared up for this very pleasure. So be sure to Google (back on the grid then) foraging activities before you land in a new city and maybe even join foraging groups like The Abundance Projects in the UK. This group gathers people to harvest the seasonal glut (great word right?) of local fruit with the tree owner or council’s permission. You pick the fruit, the owner gets an agreed amount and everyone goes home with juice on their face. Not quite. The rest of the fruit is shared to make jams, etc with surplus fruits getting sold to restaurants and shops (on a non-profit basis), which is put back into the project or donated to local charities. What a great guilt-free pick and snack.
And that’s just one example. You’ll be surprised how many foraging groups/talks/forums are out there. You can even join retreats that combine foraging with cooking, so everyone goes home happy and filled with the fruits of nature’s goodness.
How/where to start foraging in Cape Town? Here are some starting points:
Good Hope Nursery at Cape Point offer half day “Forage Harvest and Feast” courses for adults and offer a fun foraging morning for the kids during school holidays. Visit www.goodhopegardensnursery.co.za
I have heard of (but never met) Charles Standing a self confessed “enthusiastic urban forager who goes by the name of The Urban Hunter Gatherer”. He has been known to host pop-up dinners that are created solely (or mostly) from foraged foods. Discover more on his blog: www.theurbanhuntergatherer.com
Come April to June, there are usually a few post-rain forages for mushrooms in Cape Town. www.slowfoodmothercity.co.za is a good place to start if you want to fill up your basket and head with fungus facts.
Musing on…that Mr Gadget thingy that will help me reach those far and distant branches