28 July, 2009

Foraging Suburbia: Sugar Plums

Forty years ago a shopping mall was built in my home town. It was anchored on one side by national discount retailer F W Woolworth's, and on the other side by local Connecticut department store Sage-Allen. Off to one side was a sparkling new free-standing First National supermarket. The architects designed a clean, modern-looking complex and planted the islands in the parking lot with beautiful flowering trees.

There have been a lot of changes at that mall over the past forty years. Woolworth's went out of business, and Sage-Allen followed. The supermarket building that once seemed so huge became tiny in comparison to the mega-supermarkets that have become today's trend, and First National abandoned it as they became Finast, then Edward's, and then sputtered into oblivion, absorbed by Dutch grocery giant Royal Ahold.

The mall saw some hard times. When most of the stores had finally closed, it was gutted and remodeled and turned into an open plaza with new tenants. The parking lots were repaved and repainted. New restaurants and buildings were added near the street and the new plaza thrived.

And through it all, the flowering trees prospered and grew. Their canopies spread over the freshly-striped parking spots. They budded and flowered in the spring, and the leaves fell and were removed in autumn, and the shoppers parked under them and brought out their parcels and went about their business, never really looking at the trees unless they were vying for a shady place to park in the heat of the summer.

Some of those trees are sugar plums. They're big, mature trees now and every summer around this time they're heavy with juicy little plums. So, every summer around this time, I park my truck under a couple of them and stand in the back so I can reach the fruit, usually picking six or seven pounds of sugar plums to munch or cook down into jam. People give me funny looks, but I don't care. The plums are "hiding in plain sight," so to speak, and they're only part of the bounty that's all around us if only we care to look.

Black raspberries should be ripening any time now. After that there'll be fat Concord grapes. And if I can get to them before the squirrels, I might be able to get a bushel of black walnuts soon. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Battle Park said...

Excellent. I have my own "secret" locations for fiddleheads, black and red raspberries, blueberries (of course), morels... but not plums! I may have to make the trek up to Enfield for this.

I'm all too familiar with the strange looks from passersby. There's a massive black raspberry bush next to a Staples lot near my house. They look at me like I'm nuts, then cross the street to buy 25 of them from Whole Foods for 4 bucks.

I'm eager to see what we can do with all the black walnuts on the 2 trees in my backyard this year. I have a new vice now in the garage to crack 'em open at least.