Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Arizona Harvest

Autumn is the season that triggers the most beauty and memory for me. I think back to my childhood in Connecticut, where autumn meant soccer fields covered in fallen maple leaves, crisp mornings, fresh apple cider, pumpkin picking. I think back to my years in Vermont, where it meant frost on the garden, shorn corn fields, and brightly colored hills.

Now that I live in Phoenix, I'm adjusting to a very different sense of the season. We celebrate the coolness, but to us that means the first dips into the 80s (although today it's back up to 95). And we have our own version of fall colors, but it's the crimson of ripe prickly pear and the sunset hues of the Red Bird of Paradise, not the foliage of turning trees.

We also have our autumnal harvest. And in this post, I thought I'd share with you some of the foods that I've been "wildcrafting" and picking from right in my neighborhood. Some of the harvest comes from desert plants, like the prickly pear above, which I peeled and juiced for some very colorful drinks.

Some of it has a Mediterranean flavor, like these GORGEOUS olives. They've been sliced and soaked in water for a week, and then they'll go into a brine until they lose their bitterness.

Then there's the exotic sweetness of several Middle Eastern plants, such as dates, pomegranates, and carob pods. The carob trees are one of the most lovely shade trees in my neighborhood, and I think that most people don't even know that the pods are edible. Most people just seem to grow the pomegranates ornamentally as well.

The dates in particular have been intruiging to me. I've found four or five varieties growing in this neighborhood. Most of the palms are too tall for me to harvest, and I just pick up the dried dates from the ground (they're softened and extra delicious after a little soak in warm water and triple sec!). But there are a few trees that are still low, so you can see what they look like on the palm:

Our own yard will become fruitful in another couple of months when the pecans and citrus begin to ripen. And even more so in a few years, when our newly planted fruit trees -- meyer lemon, fig, persimmon, apricot, blood orange, apple -- begin to bear. In the meantime, what I've taken advantage of are the banana leaves. We trimmed quite a few in the course of this weekend's yardwork, and they impart a lovely, grassy flavor to baked Thai or South Indian dishes.

Also, we pruned a few of the craziest, weepiest branches off of our hackberry trees. Rather than tossing them out, I stripped off the leaves and wove a wild, freeform basket. I was very proud of my Mother Earthness, indeed!

By the way, I should mention that I'm not sneaking into peoples' yards to pick these things. I just take small samples from trees that hang over the street, or I ask the neighbors, or I pick from trees that are planted around office buildings and clearly ignored (e.g. they leave olives littering the sidewalk). It's been a real eye opener to see how many edibles are planted in this area, and especially to see how few of them are put to good use.

I hope you're enjoying your own harvest season, wherever you may be!


petra said...

Wow! I never imagined such a lush harvest in Phoenix. It's fantastic! I love your photographs!

Gustavo said...

Yeah, me either. I'm insanely jelous of the olives. AsunciĆ³n is one of the greener latin american capitals, with mangos, bitter orange, acerola, banana, guava, and pomelo trees randomly everywhere, but it could stand to some pommegranite, lemon, and date trees. I don't think olives would work well here, but it's always worth a shot.

|chee-uh| said...

Wow...I wish I had a grove/garden to harvest.