Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Taste of Fallen Fruit

You start with a peach, sitting on the sidewalk under the tree it fell from, a little squished from the drop, but heavy with syrupy juice, visibly sweet. You end up with so much more: a conversation with an architect who dreams up education centers for day laborers, a taste of a bottled vodka infusion that features Filipino limes picked from Myra avenue and bitter oranges from Talmadge, a meal home-cooked by an artist who moonlights in the kitchen at Canelé, a long twinkly dinner table in a cool industrial home made cozy by a black cat lounging about.
A few weeks back I went to a very special event. Clockshop is a local arts and culture non-profit, and with its Table Talk program, it brings together artists, writers, food people, all sorts of experts, for conversations, sometimes over dinner, at the Clockshop space in Frogtown, which also happens to be the home of its founder Julia Meltzer and David Thorpe. August's Table Talk featured Fallen Fruit, a living breathing art project centered around maps that point out where you can find public fruit and vegetables in Los Angeles and other urban centers.
In an open kitchen, David was putting the finishing touches on the night's meal, all accented by traffic-median-grown tomatoes, Silver Lake's own figs, and other foraged contributions.
People showed up, admired the sparse space -- the books against one wall, Julia and David's dreamy garden, the bits of art scattered around -- over wine and appetizers featuring local figs and bananas (yes, that's right, LA has bananas! A much better prospect than this.).
Over a gorgeous dinner of rosemary roast lamb stuffed with pine nuts and figs, vegetable couscous, a beautiful heirloom tomato salad (note to self: add crushed coriander and cumin seeds to tomato salad from now on. yum.), and wine flowing freely, I chatted with my neighbors. Everyone around me was fascinating: an art curator, an event coordinator focusing on art and environmental causes, a religion professor loving Los Angeles having just moved here from the UK, and not one but three local female chefs, all of whom focus their efforts on keeping their work sustainable, local, efficient, and delicious.

Eventually, Matias Viagenes, one of the three men behind Fallen Fruit, taught us a bit about the project. Fallen Fruit is not all about logic and efficiency -- it is, after all, an art project, and there is an inherent beauty to their work. What they do is a little bit magical. Imagine frolicking through your neighborhood, passing the same buildings and concrete you see every day, but this time, looking a little closer, then coming home with a bag full of just-picked fruits and vegetables, perfectly in season, impossibly local, completely free of charge. It's kind of a revelation. It might even inspire you to plant some of your own food-bearing plants for passersby. And in fact, Fallen Fruit is not stopping at maps. They're now working with local cities to create public fruit parks and replace some of the area's decorative, water-guzzling greenery with plants that grow food. Why not, right?
Everything about the night was pretty enchanted, from the setting to the company, from the meal to the conversation. But I was particularly struck by something called a Neighborhood Infusion. I'm waxing a little poetic here, but imagine capturing the spirit of a singular moment on a city street in a bottle. That's basically what it was -- they'd taken citrus from a couple streets on the eastside, infused vodka with the fruit, bottled and labeled it.
I love this -- had the fruit been picked at any other time of the year, had it been picked from any other street, the resulting spirit, refreshing with a tangy flavor that set it apart from our usual lemons and limes, wouldn't taste quite the same. I can't wait for these bottles to be available for purchase: this would immediately become my favorite gift to give -- a little taste of our big city.
At the end of the night, stragglers like me were able to fill up a bag with the bounty of the day's foraging. In addition to the found Asian pears, lemons (with actual juice! and fragrance!), peaches, and some amazing stubby bananas, I took home a reminder: explore your surroundings a little more deeply, Tannaz. You'll probably find beauty, and you might even find dinner.


  1. Gorgeous post. This would be interesting to pursue from a land-planning standpoint. Maybe it would be easier to design the medians and public& private landscaping for this kind of project from the outset.

  2. Really brilliant. I used to love finding free fruit in my neighborhood in Santa Monica when I was a kid. There used to be loquats everywhere. I'd lift up my shirt and fill it with those things.

    I'm now a huge fan of these guys.

  3. tsp thank you so much! yes, i think planning with this sort of thing in mind would be amazing. hmm, don't you have a really really close tie to the people that make these very decisions for new developments? perhaps a little suggestion is in order...

    and noah, do you know i've never had a loquat? i think a santa monica exursion is in order. and yes, you should definitely be a fan -- they are rad.

  4. Really amazing! Do you know if they have anything like this in New York? Not sure how I would feel about eating fruit from, say...Wall Street...might be a little too bitter. Okkkkk bad bad joke. I will never do that again. For real though, anything in NY?

  5. Oh yes, this is Alejandra.

  6. God, I hope Santa Monica still has loquat trees around. I'd be really sad if they didn't.

  7. i don't know about anything like that in new york, but volare, i'm looking to you to do the research! they've done maps for cities like linz and alt-urfahr (i don't know where these places are, but they sound far-flung), so i don't see why not new york. just wander around williamsburg a bit -- it'd be a fine lesson in what ironic fruit tastes like. (ok even worse than the wall street joke...)