Culture

Delicious Connectivity

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Bettina Wiesenthal-Birch, NPR

My new friend Gary sent me a link to a jam-making event being planned by urban art and community collective Fallen Fruit. It just so happened I had a tree full of Persian mulberries and another full of white kadota figs. It was meant to be. I decided to pick most of the fruit on Saturday, so that I could just ease on in to Sunday and enjoy the unknown afternoon.

It was a noontime Sunday gathering of people from all different parts of Los Angeles, all of us arriving with bags, boxes and armfuls of freshly picked, store-bought and borrowed fruit. It was a crazy delicious array of oranges, red berries, blueberries, mangoes, black mission figs, peaches and cherries.

Bettina Wiesenthal-Birch, NPR
Bettina Wiesenthal-Birch, NPR

I arrived with Persian mulberries and white kadota figs. The sidewalk in front of 1200 N. Alvarado, home of the Machine Project Gallery, was filled with tables, people, electric burners and, of course, lots of fruit. There was lemon verbena, lavender, mint from the farmer's market, beets, cactus and strawberries, pluots and Asian pears. Tables were laden with basil, oregano, plums, pummelos and lemons, all being peeled, diced, sliced and even minced by undergrads from Pomona college, professors from Cal Arts, a student from Nepal with her adoring sister Kristin, and a kind person who loaned me a pen from Topanga Canyon. John from Long Beach arrived with canes of sugar. Two young Cal Arts students arrived with a bucket of Persian mulberries, collected from their campus. Other tables had hot plates and big stainless steel pots, boxes and boxes of jars and stacked packages of pectin. Laura from Hollywood explained that it's fun feeding and meeting new people. "I've never made jam before," she added.

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Left to right: Fallen Fruit founders Matias Viegener, David Burns, and Austin Young, with an unidentifed jam maker. Bettina Wiesenthal-Birch, NPR

I went inside where I was greeted enthusiastically by Matias Viegener, Cal Arts faculty member and co-founder of Fallen Fruit. The organization was founded by Viegener in 2004 with David Burns, UC Irvine faculty member, and Austin Young, a photographer.

There were wonderful posters on the walls touting the benefits of fresh fruit. Ah the joy, the color, the nutrition. Matias urged me to come in, find a place and begin making jam. I was lucky to sit next to Olivia and Field, two young students from Pomona; she's on her way to study abroad and he now lives in the neighborhood. Their neighbor gave them lemons and figs from her trees and they brought peaches from a farmer's market.

Together we made three different jams with the fruit we both had brought and borrowed from other tables: fig mint, mulberry peach and a final medley of peach, mint, pepper, kumquat, lemon and a couple of mulberries. Field stood in line for the cooking and stirring and canning while Olivia and I talked, chopped, minced, diced and sliced. The colors and aromas on all the other tables lured me to find out what others were cooking and take these photos.

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Bettina Wiesenthal-Birch, NPR

A splendid outcome was that, at the end of the day, we were trading peach mulberry jam for Kristin and her sister's strawberry basil, plum and another trade for a fig-lemon-lavender. Another gift is that now I can share these splendid tastes and recollections with my friends. David Burns had said that this event was all about art and connectivity, and this sharing of the, well, fruits our labor, is a central part of Fallen Fruit's vision of putting Los Angeles' unappreciated resources to good use. Good for the body. Good for the soul.

Fallen Fruit is hosting a salsa-making event this Sunday, August 17th. I'm looking forward to it!

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What a great, uplifting way to spend a day. I'll try it here in Rochester, NY.

Sent by John Wiesenthal | 2:57 PM | 8-21-2008

What a sumptuous description of fruits and exotic recipes! The aroma that day must have been delirious. What a great way to discover new flavors and celebrate the earth???s bounty with a community of people. The author's passion inspires me to harvest, create and taste!

Sent by Carol A. Marcy | 7:41 AM | 8-22-2008