Wild and found food

The mulberries
The mulberries.

We spent the day yesterday in the Montseny National Park, hiking, eating, sitting, chatting and foraging.  Montseny is woodsy, waterfally, swimming holey, and what-all.  We took the train and didn’t carry a camera or much else, other than water and a little food.  The train stops at a little town, Figaro, on the edge of the park, and you just walk through the town, to the trailhead, and go.  As we walked we ran into groups of schoolkids, old married couples, groups of teenagers, old folks, young folks, families.  We were feeling chatty, and they were mostly friendly and chatty, too.   We learned some new foraging tricks out there.

We love foraging. Back home, we gather cactus fruit and wild berries and eat them  raw or turn them  into jam; we eat the corbezzolo (strawberry tree) fruit (although some consider them inedible.)  We’ve eaten thimbleberries in the Sierra, huckleberries in Canada, wild blackberries anywhere we can.   Yesterday, however, had to be one of the best foraging days ever.  First we found a mulberry tree absolutely loaded with ripe berries right at the start of our walk.  Next, we ran into three small, gray-haired Catalunyans gathering twigs and harvesting wild asparagus.  We’ve been seeing wild asparagus in the markets for a few weeks, but hadn’t really realized that it actually grows wild around here.  They had a good bundle of the asparagus and showed us what to look for.  There were also teeny wild strawberries along the paths, some ripe, some still green.  The teeny strawberries you can buy at the market, too, they are used in special local desserts.  We only got a few of the asparagus stems, but it was such a treat!  Plus, somebody little and determined got lots of strawberries.  We walked and walked, past wild plums and figs and blackberries, just starting to set fruit.  after a while, we met a family chewing stalks of something.  When we asked what they were gathering (that’s what we asked almost everyone that day, well, that and “which way?”) they told us they were gathering fonolles (fennel) and that it quenches thirst.  They showed us how to peel the tough outer layers, leaving a crisp, refreshing stalk you could eat right up. 

Today, we started out at home, but about mid-afternoon, the menfolk went for a bike ride.  They rode to the edge of town, where they found another loaded mulberry tree, this one “short.”  They brought back a good harvest, and we had a nice mulberry tart for dinner.  We’ve got enough left for one more tomorrow.Making the Mulberry tart

Making the tart

So all of this has me thinking about foraging, and nature, and how and what we use and use up, and what it means for public land to belong to everyone.

When we first arrived in Barcelona, in autumn, it was mushroom season.  The markets were overflowing with all kinds of beautiful and ghastly mushrooms, some with medieval sounding names:  Trompettes de la mort (trumpets of death,) or pie de rata reina (queen rat’s foot.)  When we went out to the Parc de Collserola, we saw the locals out gathering their own bolets,  carrying cute mushroom gathering baskets.  It was a little surprising at first, people out harvesting in the park.  The attitude toward using the parks seems so different.  In the states, we are so convinced that the only way to value and preserve wild public spaces is to “take nothing but photographs; leave nothing but footprints.”  Nature you can really use becomes a luxury for those who can afford their own little slice of it.  For the rest, nature is a “look but don’t touch” space.  There are exceptions: campgrounds that allow us to gather firewood, public lands we can fish, but the overwhelming attitude (one I’ve certainly mouthed myself) is that we are not to touch, cut, take, etc. anything from the woods.  “After all, if everyone took one…..”   It was at first surprising to see the Catalunyans out gathering, picking, and cutting freely from the woods.  Of course, we forage back home, but it often has this slightly prohibitted feeling, unless we happen to be foraging for things no one wants.  I realized that I had come to believe that the woods belong to everyone, so no one should use them–a curious thought.  My neighbors here seem to believe that the woods belong to everyone, so everyone should use them.  It shows in their approach to “gathering” stuff from the parks:  One of the ladies who lives in our building is growing flowers she got from Monserrat; we walked through Colserolla and saw a young couple showing their children how to split pine cones for pine nutsand digging up little plants they place in two little plastic buckets to take home;  at Monserrat, I saw a woman carrying a  rosemary plant home.    

It’s not just that you can take things, either.  I can see a different relationship to parkland in their transportation planning:  Trains and buses  take you to major parks, rack railways make remote, otherwise inaccessible mountains available for daytrips from the city.  Up on Vall de Nuria, or Monserrat, you’ll see Catalunyans of all ages doing what they do everywhere:  walking, eating, talking, smoking a cigarette, having a glass of wine.  I keep thinking that back home, I’d have to be in a car or be some kind of super athlete to see places like these.  Here,  I can ride up for the day, have a sandwich, walk around, listen to the birds, come home.  Of course you should be able to get there:  it belongs to everyone.


1 Comment

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One response to “Wild and found food

  1. what wonderful lessons you gathered from the locals! the best information…

    this idea has stuck with me as well .. i know that most state and national parks we visit say pick nothing, leave no trace, et cetera. i’ve always told the boys (and my students) to leave the leaves and flowers and etc. for everyone to enjoy.

    but this turns the public woods and fields into a sort of sterile display. the idea of people actually using the woods, picking the fruit, gathering mushrooms, etc., seems so much more alive.

    bill bryson writes quite a bit along these lines in “into the woods” .. especially about the grassy balds that are disappearing — along with a huge number of different plants and insects and birds — because park officials will no longer let local people graze animals on them.


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