I’ve posted the photographs and slides from my recent talk at Shibaura House‘s Community Herb Garden event. My purpose was to encourage city residents to plant herbs because they are easy to grow and have many uses (culinary, cocktails, tea, scent, butterfly attractors).
Next week I am talking at Shibaura House’s Community Herb Garden talk event. Herbs can be used for flavor, food, medicine, and perfume. Even in small urban spaces, herbs are very tough and can be used in daily life. This balcony lavender attracts Tokyo butterflies.
Compared to the last photos, this narrow street in Shimbashi, an older business district that’s no longer Tier A real estate, allows pedestrians to take full use of the street and offers an amazing variety of products, signs and even foods spilling out of the shops.
I like to have ready access to fresh herbs, and to use nasturtium flowers in salads. These potted herbs on the balcony are close to the kitchen so I can use them often.
Many foreigners are surprised just how full of persimmons Tokyo is in the fall. Maybe you’d miss them if you stick to inside the newest malls and corporate developments. But it must be one of the most popular residential trees, and a true marker of fall.
This one is behind Shiho ceramic studio, and the funny story is that my in law teachers say that this year there aren’t so many fruit. Despite being an off year in a two year cycle, there’s actually still quite a lot of fruit. My mother in law is a great cook, and she uses these fall persimmons and also small sour plums in summer for food she shares with students and friends. She didn’t plant these trees but has gotten a lot of use from them in the past ten years.
Some persimmon trees produce fruit that’s best eaten raw, others dried, or cooked into jam or other sweets. For me it’s an acquired taste, but seeing these orange globes dangling across Tokyo is undeniably beautiful.
Through this blog, I was contacted by Edoble, whose tag line is “free food everywhere, in Tokyo.” Last month Edoble organized a hassaku marmelade party at a small shoutengai in Nakano, not far from where I live.
Edoble’s founder Jess Mantell is a Canadian designer, doctoral student, city explorer, and community organizer. As you can see from the poster above, she’s a great illustrator, too. At Keio University, she previously led a team that created an iPhone app that tracks movement across Tokyo with city sounds.
Edoble’s hassaku marmalade making event was great fun. Hassaku is a citrus tree that I often see growing in older gardens in Tokyo. The tree is very robust, and the fruits bright orange and large starting in winter. Seeing them makes me feel like there’s a bit of Florida or Southern California in Tokyo. But everyone had told me that the fruit is inedible. Jess’ idea was to bring people together to harvest and prepare hassaku.
It seems that if you pick the fruit at different times, the taste changes. Jess spotted mature hassaku trees in an abandoned city middle school near her house in south Nakano. She asked permission from the ward office to harvest the fruit in the spring, and several city workers unlocked the gate and joined her in collecting and sharing the fruit. That alone is pretty cool.
In June, Edoble hosted a marmalade party as a public event at a small space that is shared by the shoutengai association. On June 11, about twenty people very rapidly peeled the fruit, eliminated the membrane, put the seeds and membrane into a cheese cloth, and then boiled everything in four large pots. It was fun to see the amazing knife skills, particularly the older women and one young nursery school chef. We even got some help from some neighborhood kids.
The workshop was super-inspiring. It is great to realize how much food is growing in Tokyo, and that we can join with our neighbors in collecting and preparing super local food. Edoble’s accomplishment was in bringing together residents and local government, children and seniors, mostly Japanese and a few foreigners, mostly women and a few men.
Edoble reminds me that cities can grow a lot more of their own food, and that residents enjoy opportunities to work together and share food. Urban foraging is low cost and high return.