My maternal grandfather was a descendant of the gatherers. He was a forager in the woods, especially in late Summer and early Fall for berries, nuts, mushrooms and paw paws. He also gathered many other things including “pieces of string too short to save.” He would put them in a shoe box with that written on the top and when it was full, he tied them all together to make a ball of string that he used to wrap packages. The Great Depression prompted all kinds of ways to save money. I recall my grandparents with a basket of gathered nuts, cracking them open, eating some and putting the rest away for later. What I learned was enjoying the “fruits” of one’s labors, although walking in the woods hardly seemed like work. Cracking the nuts open and picking out the nutmeats seemed a bit laborious to a young, impatient boy.
My grandfather passed those habits and practices along to my mother whom I accompanied on many walks in the woods and for her it was a treasure hunt. I may have developed my love for walking in the woods because of those experiences. She often said she would be happy to live in the woods although she never did. I was reminded of paw paws recently reading an article in The New Yorker:
“Gathering was long associated with the feminine, with the quiet art of noticing when buds engorge, berries ripen, and mushroom burst. Today, much of this knowledge has been lost or forgotten, and our diets have dramatically contracted to just a few cultivated varieties. When we lost wild foods in our everyday lives, we also lost the embodied feminine knowledge associated with those plants. Women’s alchemical ability to turn vegetative matter into nutrients and cuisines was systematically discredited. Women’s ability to heal with nothing more than buds, leaves, and roots was violently denied. We lost a necessary reverence for the wild and for the feminine. It was a two-headed death.” This quotation is lifted from:
I have no immediate plans to become a more knowledgeable and practicing forager although I am fond of nuts, berries, and mushrooms. Paw paws not so much. I think it’s an acquired taste.
My grandfather always had a garden and even after he retired from owning and operating a grocery store, his garden was his happy place. He loved growing onions, potatoes, carrots and storing them during the winter months. My other set of grandparents, who lived on a farm, were almost self-sufficient, either raising or growing whatever they needed. In their setting it was my grandmother who was the gardener. All 4 of my grandparents, fresh from the Depression, knew how to live simply and use everything they had for sustainability. I miss having a garden that grows food. Our garden now is full of ornamental cacti and other plants like jasmine, gardenias, roses, geraniums and petunias. Colorful, not edible.
Other Fall harvests in the past included apples, pumpkins, squash, corn and melons. On the farm the hayloft was filled for the winter and the garden was put to bed for another season. I see by the calendar that Fall is officially arriving next week on September 22. Time to prepare for that too.