Recently, my husband James and I went on one of my favorite autumn expeditions: cranberry picking. At the back of our property there is a cranberry bog below the high-tension lines, and it's accessible by a neighbor's driveway. Our neighbor, Marnie, had told us about the bog after we had been living here a couple of years (perhaps she was waiting to see what kind of people we were before she divulged her secret), and in it grows wild cranberries -- they taste just like Ocean Spray, only better: fresher, earthier, and definitely tangier.
It was a dry summer this year, which translated into a lean harvest for the berries, and at first I thought the bog was picked clean. Although, once I put on my "cranberry eyes" and narrowed my focus, I started to see them: dark red berries, often hanging in clusters of two. Passing over the soft ones that had already suffered from a freeze, we eventually filled our picking baskets with close to two pounds of fruit. Some will become cranberry sauce, some infused with vodka for a cordial, some are already baked into scones, and the rest are in the freezer for our winter enjoyment.
Eating locally is not just about joining a CSA or having your own garden plot, although those are two of the best ways to get your fill of local foods. Eating locally also requires looking at your world with "cranberry eyes", that is, examining your local area to see if there is some food that is going unharvested.
Maybe there's an old apple tree of your neighbor's that overhangs your property?
A pecan tree at the local park?
Perhaps that's a Meyer lemon at the neighborhood rental?
Wild asparagus growing on the side of the road?
The Lamb's Quarters that come up as a weed in your garden?
Or maybe you know your mushrooms, and have found a secret grove of morels or chanterelles.
The things your cranberry eyes see will change with the seasons, so it's a good idea to always be on the lookout. Some people seem sheepish about gleaning foods from these unexpected and very local sources. Don't be! Just ask permission if the object of your stomach's desire is on someone else's property. Who knows? They may even be delighted that you're offering to deal with their "mess".
Just don't tell too many people about your new way of seeing... you may get some competition!
Liz homesteads in Maine with her husband, where she has a big garden, but still keeps her cranberry eyes sharp.