Armchair Foraging

Apparently, there’s a wild grape vine growing on the chain link fence across the street from our apartment. I know this because every afternoon, Grape Guy shows up to pick the leaves. Since I’ve been couch-bound and working from home, I’ve discovered some of the rhythms of our neighborhood just by glancing out the window from time to time. Kind of makes me feel slightly less bad about not really being able to leave the house.

Clearly, I have no idea what Grape Guy does with all the leaves he picks, but I imagine that he goes home every afternoon and pickles them so that he can have a winter-long supply of fresh dolmas. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. Sometimes he fills up a plastic grocery bag with leaves, and sometimes he only stops to gather a handful. But if it weren’t for Grape Guy doing his thing, I probably never would’ve known that vine was there. I’ll be missing the season on gathering my own grape leaves, but next summer – next summer, we’ll have preserved grape leaves too.

Since I’ve been so intently observing Grape Guy’s simple foraging, I also started to notice the tree that’s in the parking lot behind the chain link fence. I’m fairly certain it’s some kind of walnut. My Great Grandparents had a giant old walnut tree in their front yard, and it’s enormous branches hung out over the carport and porch, and it just rained down black walnuts every fall. So I feel pretty confident that I know what walnut leaves look like, and this tree is pretty similar. I’m not positive it’s a black walnut, but it could be a Persian, or any other variety . Hard to tell from this far away, but I’m hoping to be fully back on my feet by the time the nuts ripen this fall, so maybe the baby and I will trek across the street on his first foraging trip and gather some. Fresh walnuts saved for winter cookies would be a real treat – my husband’s favorite Christmas cookies are Russian teacakes, which of course call for a healthy dose of chopped walnuts.

This made me think of the other types of wild edibles available in the neighborhood that I’ve noticed. I didn’t really get a chance to go on a foraging walk with my identification books like I was planning this summer, so the only thing I remember noticing off-hand is an apple tree that grows along the embankment by the train. Actually, husband pointed that one out last fall when he noticed a few apples on the tree while waiting for the train one day. And I saw that it was producing at least a couple this season back when I was commuting every day – the flowers on apple trees are easily identifiable white blossoms in the spring, and it had a few green apples on it the last time I was over that way. Unfortunately, since it’s high up on the embankment on the far side of the tracks, it’s not accessible at street level at all. So any fruit it produces will go to the birds and wildlife.

I’m sure I could find a hickory tree for nuts in the neighborhood, and I’ve heard that there are some serviceberry bushes in a local park. Dandelion greens are prolific no matter where you live. I’ve seen mulberry trees around up here too. I’d love to find wild garlic and onions in the neighborhood, and I’m sure that if I looked in the right spots I could. Finding wild raspberry bushes and the elusive morel would be the ultimate finds. I have plenty of time to study up with my identification books this winter – I hope to be out next season gathering all of the wonderful wild edibles I know our neighborhood has to offer, but until then, it’s armchair foraging for me.