Pasadena and Altadena's seasonal indicators are different than what we have come to know from most other places as fall, winter, spring, and summer. Our seasons enter our consciousness more through taste, color, and smell than temperature. They slide into one another without distinct fanfare until suddenly it is too hot to think or do. Winter into spring is heralded by the distinct combination of orange and green as citrus fruits ripen and fill our trees. Spring into early summer is a purple time: our Jacaranda trees come alive with bloom that eventually turn whole sidewalks into a softening carpet of blossoms. And then summer into fall when night blooming jasmine perfumes our evenings; a scent that takes me back to my childhood and awakens my four-year old grandson's wonder--what is that Grandma?
In the time between winter and spring, my foraging instinct led me to what could only be described as the sweetest way to enter my new neighborhood--through sharing this abundance. I noted tree after tree loaded with citrus fruit, most of it unpicked, just beckoning me to turn what might be wasted into marmalades and candied citrus from newly discovered fruit varieties. Through the neighborhood website, I made a pitch for harvesting anyone's excess fruit and gifting in return a large jar or two of marmalade.
In less than a week, my message box was full of generous offers. Three of these exchanges became longer visits that led to a sense of my community knitting even more firmly together. Pasadena and Altadena bear little resemblance to New York, but the words of Jane Jacobs, tireless warrior for her city's soul resonate never the less.
While you are looking, you might as well also listen, linger and think about what you see.
The first fundamental of successful city life: People must take a modicum of responsibility for each other even if they have no ties to each other. This is a lesson no one learns by being told. It is learned from the experience of having other people without ties of kinship or close friendship or formal responsibility...
New York, Altadena and Pasadena are places with character and complexity, with layers worth excavating. In this case, I began with the search for oranges.
Elizabeth is a retired professor of Linguistics and Archeology at Occidental College who has lived in this area most of her life as her father was a mathematics professor at Cal Tech. Her memories are vivid because she continues to live what she loved as a child. "My parents had very little money," she says, " and so took up cooking and folk dancing as forms of affordable recreation. I remember they had a large cold storage area for our home canned fruits where I would help my mother and grandmother wipe the jar tops and take them down there. I was probably three or four."
Like her parents, she exhibits a resourcefulness that transforms a problem or scarcity to opportunity. Her scholarly focus on the lesser known contributions of "women's" work from the bronze age forward is a testament to resiliency and imagination. Although a stretch, I believe her family's creation of a delicious marmalade out of an intensely sour fruit whose origins are Northern India is a sure sign that adventurousness runs in her family.
The cryptic message said, "Come and pick from your old orange trees, Kate." I noted the street as the same as a former home of mine without making a connection until I spoke with Kate. Fifteen years ago, Kate and husband Ed's home had been a glorious nest for my daughter and me. "My" old orange tree had survived and thrived under their care.
I picked a generous portion of navel oranges with the very picker I had given them those many years ago and then took a tour. The waves of sadness and memory I felt were bound up in knowing that our houses have lives that extend beyond our own.
This generous and beautiful jar of honey was given to me in exchange for marmalade by Martha Jaramillo, manager of my daughter and son-in-law's apartment in Pasadena. She and I like to talk food and ingredients, which led to a discussion about my marmalade bonanza. Talk turned to her father-in-law, Victor, a venerable bee keeper living in nearby El Sereno.
I visited Victor at his home and honey stand on a busy stretch of street between the El Sereno Library and a church. Describing himself as the "oldest beekeeper in the world," Victor will be 94 on June 28th. He has been keeping bees his entire life. As a 15-month old in Zacatecas, Mexico, he experienced his first honey harvest riding on his father's back. He had a talent for finding bee swarms even as a young child.
His bees rest at night in a jumble of hives scattered around the front and side of his old wood frame house and "work" during the day in various nearby locales: the hills of El Sereno and Bouquet Canyon and the gardens and hillsides in South Pasadena. Earliest to rise, latest to rest, along with some honey every day is his recipe for longevity.
Victor sells his honey every Saturday and some Mondays during daylight hours. It is, as he says, "the best honey in the world."
As tangible delights from my adventures, here are this week's recipes: Orange Marmalade with a Rangpur Lime variation, Candied Orange Peel, Eric's Anasazi Beans with Honey and Rumi Mahmood's Jhal Gosht Curry with Rangpur Lime Marmalade as a bracing condiment.
For those of you wishing to try your hand at foraging, a bit of advice. Don't be afraid to stop if you see something interesting: a small stand of fruit, someone selling their own baked goods, or even a mysterious food in a store. I am an inveterate question asker and have found that my inquires usually evoke delight and the beginning of connection. For those of you who live on the east side of Los Angeles, I recommend Lily and Steve's Porch Market in Altadena, an occasional celebration of carefully crafted and grown foods complete with free coffee and baked good samples.