In the months before my youngest was born, my mother suggested to my husband and I that she live with us to care for the baby after I returned to work. We’d been looking for a larger house since my two older boys were on the verge of their teen years, and adding a third child meant room to stretch would be important for us all. She knew I wasn’t looking forward to leaving the baby with a caregiver, and was growing tired of her own job, the hours it required, and the physical pain it caused her. My husband is a far more easy going person than I could ever be, so he agreed and we changed the focus of our search to a home with four or five bedrooms instead of three.
We happened on to the perfect house one day by misreading the directions I’d written down. An open house was just concluding and the realtors were preparing to leave. We thought it looked perfect from the outside, but as soon as we entered — all heading in different directions — we were convinced. It had only one owner in its 40 year history and was unique in so many ways. Tucked into a hillside on a half acre shaped like a slice of pie, it faced east and overlooked the mature trees in the valley. The back property hadn’t been cared for in years, but was a wealth of possibilities; apricot, plum, tangerine, orange, grapefruit, loquat, and nut trees filled the space. It was perfect.
The year we moved in, the winter rains were especially heavy. Slowly, the parched hillside turned green and bulbs planted years before began to push through layers of fallen leaves. Sprigs of grape vines and berry bushes also appeared. Saturday mornings before sunrise, the baby would wake earlier than I wanted, but it allowed us both some time alone. With a bottle in his hands and coffee in one of mine, we’d walk up the hill in the early quiet of the day to see what new surprise we might find, finally growing after so many years of neglect. I loved that house.
Our trees often produced more than we could enjoy, so after freezer jam had been made, berries frozen, juice made, and sweets baked, we’d pack it up and set it down by the street with a “Free” sign. It rarely took long for passers by to stop and help themselves to the produce, emptying the buckets we’d carry back up the hill to fill again.
Now, I have to depend on the market for most of what we used to give away, but I have learned recently of many organizations involved in gleaning urban fruit for a variety of purposes. Whether it’s to gather and donate to those in need, or pluck and enjoy to keep it from rotting on the ground, interest in urban fruit foraging is gathering momentum as we all begin to think more responsibly about food.
I was gifted a big bag of Meyer lemons not too long ago, so had to pair them with the blackberries showing up at the market. The berries will never compare with those we picked on our hill, but until I find them growing wild in San Diego, I’ll have to be tolerant — or do without.
But then, there is this pie…