Wild in Corona Heights: Foraging Fridays

After a few days of biting cold, yesterday beckoned us outside, tossing the temptation of adventure at our feet.

Ready to get her forage on, Fern begins attunement by becoming one with the tree well.

Since last week’s visit to The Randall Museum, Fern has wishfully asked every day if we are going back to see, “Rabbids and Chows and Sar Gass and that guy.”. That initial visit was grey and cold, so a warm golden day offered enough of a new experience to lure us back.

Every time I try to find the museum, I might as well be wandering through the mists of Avalon. Corona Heights is labrynthine with many dead ends and twisty turns twining around a steep hill in the middle of the city. I could google directions or look at a map, but I prefer to test my instinct and instead enjoy meandering around until I finally arrive.

Yesterday proved no different, and I was feeling quite lost. I am always aware of the window of good humor that can close quickly in toddler time, and the pressure was on to get us there before boredomsleepinesshunger set in. I rounded a corner to discover we were at the backside of the park, the decline of which offered a reward for weary travellers.

Opuntia Cacti with Prickly Pear Fruit

Lots of paddle cactus with almost ripe prickly pears. The cacti were on a nearly vertical slope, which may be why they were not picked over. I have heard about this fruit, but I had yet to try it. No time like the present!

The pears become deep red to purple when ripe. You know you’ve got a perfect pear when the flesh that is exposed on the detached end is bright red. 

I pulled over, blocked about three driveways, turned on the emergency lights and took us across the street. Fern looked dubious when I said, “Do you think Mommy can climb that hill and pick one of those red balls?”. She busied herself with sour grass while my clambering caused a small avalanche.

An important piece of advice when picking and handling Prickly Pears. WEAR GLOVES.

I have grown cacti for years, and had my share of brickles in my britches, so I was confident I could pick one of these babies with minimal harm.

Another important piece of information about Prickly Pears. They have two types of spines…hard sturdy ones that are obvious and easy to avoid, and small hairlike ones that gleefully leap off the surface and embed themselves into every tender spot in your hand.  WEAR GLOVES. Or a hazmat suit.

My brave little forager grabbed the fruit from my hand and then stood in bewilderment at the invisible “Ouchies” that used her hand like a baby pincushion. We sat down together and I used my tongue and teeth to search out every offender. I explained what it was she was feeling, offering firm hope that it might sting and itch for a minute, but it would get better fast. She took it all in stride, the way she always does. Over and over with her, I flash back to that moment just as she emerged from me in birth, eyes open wide, slightly consternated, boldly taking it all in. Cactus-like herself, this girl is not easily phased.

My hard won prize was the one on the top left.

The flesh inside the fruit is delicious. Slightly mucilaginous like a persimmon, and full of many tiny edible seeds. This article from Mother Earth News has recipes for Prickly Pear jelly, wine and pie. However, I have my tastes set on Prickly Pear Mojitos. And I don’t even have to risk bodily harm to make them, since my bioregional swap package from Kim contained a bottle of the necessary precious syrup. As always, foraged food is best enjoyed in simplicity. After scrubbing your pear under running water with a veggie brush, slice off both ends and then slice horizontally. Get your thumb in between the flesh and the skin and peel the outer layer off. Now eat it.

This looks quite horrifying up close. As you can see from the color, it was almost ripe. But, still delicious.

After our risky behavior, we found our way to the museum. We visited the bees and said hello to Mr. Great Horned who “hoo hoo hooted” at us. The glorious day beckoned us out to the deck, where we had a tiny picnic and counted our blessings for living in such an amazing place.

We rounded the mountain and then made our way back to the car. I recognized a voice behind us, and was tickled to discover it was Mama Jax. We haven’t seen each other since last year’s potato harvest, and so we were  tumbling over our words in eager connection. I gave her the down-low on the mysterious decision making I’ve alluded to in my last two posts. Jax has a no bullshit east coast sensibility still intact even after years of Northern California living, and her perspective was refreshing and validating. (You know what we call spiritual bypassing in New York? STFU!). While we blah blah blahed, Fern got all Andy Goldsworthy on us.

By the time she was done, her artwork extended under that car in the background.

We have been so focused on our quest to find the farm of our future, that it has become increasingly easy to feel disgruntled about the meagerness of city life. And then this happened…

As part of her 40th birthday extravaganza, Missa (on the left) has been inundated with visits from bloggy sisters. I was fortunate enough to catch her on the tail end of Milla‘s visit, who I miss already. Lucky for me, Missa is in Santa Rosa and I look forward to seeing her soon. (Girls, I purposefully posted the more awkward photo. I think there might be better ones on Missa’s cam.)

Both Milla and Missa reflected back to me the beauty of this life in the city, and how bountiful my foraging expeditions really seem. I definitely can get caught up in fantasy of going back to what I remember about rural life, so it was good medicine to hear of Milla’s love and frustration of living in her forest dwelling. We spoke to the edginess of engaging with urban ecology, a conversation that echoed one I had with America recently as well. The vastness of wilderness also contains within it an indifference to humanity, and rubbing shoulders with hawks, foxes, prickly pears and nettles in the concrete landscape feels more intimate. Hello hawk that I see every day. We both live here. We are both slightly displaced. We are both surviving. And thriving.

Have a great weekend!


13 thoughts on “Wild in Corona Heights: Foraging Fridays

  1. i love the exuberance here! such a nice little adventure for you and fern, though i admit…the prickly pears’ defense mechanism freaks me out! cacti never fail to amaze me. i am reading ellen meloy’s turquoise and dreaming of the desert. i don’t remember ever seeing them actually fruit or bloom…but i must’ve as a kid.

    and so glad you got to meet up with missa and milla! in rampant san francisco sunshine no less! it’s always a little heartbreaking to say good-bye huh, to friends you’ve only just “met” but are already wishing you could see again tomorrow! the content of your conversation echoes just what i was thinking as i looked through your post and admired your ingenuity for foraging in city life. you have a knack for finding balance and natural joys in any environment!

  2. YAAAAAAAAAY! this post just cheered me up no end. Am feeling a little hyper this morning and ready to hit the beach. I love reading your foraging adventures, it feels like I’m right there with Fern watching you reach up for that prickly pear. I feel like there is some happiness and hope in this post..with your little arty genius and new friends. So cool you got to meet those girls! I love your blog, and you!
    p.s i told you i was hyper today, didn’t i ;P

  3. Dearest Mary, how proud am I to be a little part of this post?! Your adventures in prickly pears so beautifully illustrates our discussion of the specialness and plentyfullness that excist in the simple, homesteading, resilient, self-suffiecient life in the city. In many ways your adventures in gathering more perfectly represent the ancient modes of that craft, traveling far and wide to forage small amounts of foods (I also believe that same instict hides behind our love of thrifting;).

    Of course wild-crafting in the country is in some ways more bountiful, easier, but your city harvest and nature encounters, as well as encounters with like-minded folk, come as such a gift, so luminous. You are forging a worthy, gorgeous life where you’ve landed and that’s where the meaning and beauty dwell, right?

    Though I sincerely hope you, Jeff and Fern find your dream farm, I have no fear that you won’t continue to make an abundant life where you are in the mean time.

    When I was at Missa’s, a neighbor of theirs came to get some lemons from their tree. She just walked a little ways down the street and there it was, this bounty that Missa and Lucas were happy to share. The neighbor had traded them for some homemade cordial for the lovely lemons, Missa said. And what the heck, the lemons just keep growing and growing under Lucas’ care. To me that embodies the variety of ways to homestead, in the country, the city, suburbia, where ever we are we must make our place, lives and farms.

    I’m so happy to have gotten to be a part of yours for a few hours.

    Much love. My mother-in-laws computer sort of works, so I’m off to check out AAAAALLLL the posts I’ve missed. Also, realized after we met that we didn’t get to talk bread. We must.

    1. i love that allegory between the “scarcity” of city foraging and the ancient ways of knowing THAT spot in THAT place that has THOSE edible yummy things. and i totally agree about thrifting and have wondered about that myself too!

      i sincerely miss you already and look forward to starting an email convo. blessings on getting settled back in and sorting out computer stuff. love to you!

  4. ok. have to tell you bout those silly prickly pears out here in our yard. i’ve always loved eating the flower petals, and then once the babes were old enough to ohsocarefully reach their cute little hands in to pick a petal, i’ve LOVED that even more. and they love them, mucilaginousness and all. but we have them everywhere. so many times, max in particular, has come up from a fall with the tiny hairs stuck in some body part. once at a birthday party here, one of zhi’s friends fell on her butt in a party dress, and spent the next hour with her dad inside getting her butt de-spiked. poor baby. i felt like the worst party thrower. please, come play with us, and sit on cactus! they are so resilient too. i’ve tried removing a few of them that are in pathways, and those pears just come on back. no kind of glove is impermeable to the hairs either. NO KIND. have to use a shovel. BUT> i’ve never gotten to eat the fruit! that’s weird now that i think about it. i’ll be on the lookout for a good one this year. usually when i see the fruit, it’s diseased or something. white moldy looking stuff on it. i think maybe i’ve just had my eye out for the petals, and just haven’t really tuned into the fruits when they’re ripe yet, i guess?

    also~ i am amazed at people who meet up in REAL life with blogging friends. that is amazing. i hope to do that too someday with a few of my beloved bloggers, but i get butterflies and jitters thinking about it. pretty funny. was it scary? how was it? easy and natural? looks like it was. for fern especially! love. surviving and thriving. that is medicine to my eyes to read. and to imagine. no matter where we are. there is a challenge that makes the thrive vibe seem out of reach. mmmmm. thrive. i could say that all day. i hope i do!

    1. you have some rogue prickly pears! i imagine the deva of those cacti are slightly malicious and like to lure little people in close.

      meeting milla and missa was a little nerve racking for me, but my nerves tend to be racked when it comes to anything social. the enjoyment of both of them far made up for any jitters. mostly it was validating and reaffirming of the connection we have felt online. just like it will be with us someday! 😉

  5. Well, I’ll tell ya Mary, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, I am the same when it comes to anything social, so it was actually really great that everyone showing up for my birthday was a surprise. Otherwise, I would have been a complete nervous wreck by the time they all arrived!

    Hey, are you aware of the spineless versions of the prickly pear cactus that Santa Rosa’s very own “Plant Wizard”, Luther Burbank, developed back in his day? There is a huge one growing at his historic home and gardens just a short walk from our house. A place we’ll have to visit if you make it up this way sometime 🙂

    p.s. This time last year I documented Clover having an Andy Goldsworthy moment of her own! It’s at the end of the post, check it out: http://thriftcandy.blogspot.com/2011/02/woodland-creatures.html

  6. ooh….did you make your mojito?! i hope you enjoy the syrup. i don’t know if you ever got my last email, but i forgot to mention how freaking fan-TASTIC your dandelion wine is!! absolutely delicious. still loving everything from the swap ♥
    i too, am in awe of lovely ladies like you meeting in real life. makes me wish i had a blog so i could be part of such a cool experience. but i am so socially phobic that i can’t even handle a blog!
    Fern seems like she’s looking to jazzercise again…..i LOVE it!
    glad to hear your decision making process ended in relief!

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