this was originally published on a online zine that seems to be defunct.
We are having a conversation about our breakfasts because we do not know each other well. “I had eggs with wild onions,” I say.
“Where do you get wild onions?” he asks.
“I picked them out of a park,” I say.
“Really?” he asks, eyes wide as anything.
Apparently, this gleaning I occasionally do is out of the ordinary. It’s not necessarily a bad sort of unusual, but definitely an interesting unusual. This casual conversation has led to me revealing a part of myself I wasn’t consciously aware of. I tell my audience of one how to forage in a city. Don’t pick anything you are unsure of. Have someone who knows what they are doing teach you what you can and cannot eat- my mom was my tutor. Try to adhere as close to local laws as possible.
This patch of wild onion I watched grow in the park for a few months. It’s small and bright green with tiny white bulbs bunched close together underground. It would be easy to mistake for a bit of untrimmed grass if you don’t know what to look for. I wonder how many people walk by without a thought. Wild onions smell and taste like an onion should. The way I’ve always eaten them is scrambled in eggs and a bit of butter.
I am in elementary school still when my mom takes my brother and me behind what will one day be affectionately called “the shitty trailer,” the one with the opossum sized hole in the bottom. The one that I spent a good portion of my childhood in. The fence there is covered in vines and the occasional orange conical flower.
“This is a Honeysuckle,” she says. She shows how, once you pull off the petals, there is a small edible bead of nectar at the end of the stamen. The nectar is sweet and watery, but not at all honey flavored. This is a real disappointment for a literal-minded child. But for a child with a sweet tooth and no pocket change for candy this is Willy Wonka’s factory. For a nature-loving child who is prone to daydreaming, this is being let in on a grand secret. For as long as we live here I sneak around the back of the trailer to pick a flower or two weekly.
I spend school breaks in Bermuda- not in the way a well-off child might, but in the way many children of divorce are shuffled from one parent to another. I spend the school year with my loving American mother and every summer break I could with my loving Bermudian father. This doesn’t stop me from talking about my summer house in the islands. I have to cope with other children the best I can.
My cousins and my brother are the type to have typical childhood adventures. Playing cricket and tag, climbing hills and trees. I try to keep up the best I can, but I am more the type to stare at clouds and pick at blades of grass. I sit on a brick wall and listen to them play, while I comb through leaves and vines for ripe cherries.
I don’t remember who taught me how to pick cherries. I have to wait until they are dark dark red. If you are expecting a fruit that tastes like you can get from the store in bunches or cans, you would most likely be disappointed. I’m not sure what they taste like, other than themselves. Sweet, sure. Floral, maybe? I am a little girl content to cling to a wall and watch everyone else gets on with the serious business of playing. I wonder if my quiet, observant nature allows me to find so many cherries or if my love of wild fruit made me quiet and observant.
I’ve always eaten fennel from the side of the road. My folks split up just before first grade, so my mom and I only live in Bermuda full time while I was a toddler. She pulls the small yellow car over to the side of the road every once in a while. We grab a couple of spindly fronds and chew them to mush before spitting them out. Fennel is easy enough to buy from the store, and the roadside version tastes no different. It is stringy and licoricey, a little sweet and refreshing.
Fennel grows everywhere, large bushy fields along the side of almost every road. By ten I am old enough and responsible enough to be trusted walking myself from the bus stop to my nana’s house. On the way I run my hands on every plant and tree on the side of the road and snap off a piece of fennel.
Maybe mom wants something sweet and all we have in the house is sugar. Maybe we are driving down the highway and she spots some bushes. Maybe it is spring. No matter the reason, we gather the dark purple berries we find on the side of the road in shirtfolds and large Tupperware containers.
Mom bakes dewberry crumble while my brother and I play in the front yard. We are banished from the kitchen after sneaking too many handfuls and cheekfulls of berries and raw dough. Dewberries look like blackberries and taste like sugar. They aren’t much to write home about. It is far more fun spending our weekends getting stains on our shirts and laughing and joking around than it is to eat, but I am a child and sugar is sugar.
“Do you know why we went on so many walks?” my mom asks.
“Because it was fun,” I guess.
“Because were broke and it was a free way to keep ya’ll entertained,” Mom says.
But I remember her pointing out dandelions to me on our walks, telling me I could make a salad from the greens. I could also make tea from the roots, but it is a time-consuming task. She shows me just in case I ever want to eat them, in case I ever need to eat them. She teaches me what her grandmother taught her.
“Big Mama showed me how to make dandelion salad, and poke salat, and how to cook wild onions,” she often says. Her face looks the same as mine when I am telling someone how to cook wild onions- like we are letting our audience in on the secrets of the universe.
Whenever my mom wanted dandelion salad, I would fetch the leaves for her. She would wash and chop them and dress them with oil and vinegar. Dandelion greens are bitter and gross. I say this as someone who usually appreciates bitter foods. Dandelion salad tastes as interesting as a salad.
I am old enough and have enough to pick a few things up from Whole Foods- not my entire grocery list, but a few specialty items. In the produce section I see a sign reading ‘Dandelion Greens’ in a font made to look homemade. It is jarring to see the greens all washed and tied in pretty little bundles. They are being sold for a ridiculous price. I do not know for how much they were sold, but any price above free is ridiculous.
I wonder if people are paying for permission to eat the same weeds that grow freely in their yards. I wonder if no one else cares to stop and look at the world around their feet. I take my time and notice the small, hidden world around me. I am slow and deliberate wherever I go. I am still not sure if my nature makes it easy for me to find edible plants or if knowing that these treats exists has shaped my nature.