The ancestors showed up this summer. Hovering over my shoulder as I was preparing this Fall Harvest 2022 issue, they offered no opinions. I think they simply wanted to watch. The dead are like that, you know. You can ask them questions and never get clear answers. We like to imagine that they have our best interests in mind, but I only say that because of what happened a couple of months after my father’s passing in 2008.
At that time, my sister and I were facing some perplexing disharmony among family members. Out of sheer desperation, we hired a psychic to see if we could glean anything to help us push through the impasse. To our surprise, our father’s father showed up, but all he had to say was that he trusted we would find a good resolution.
In my work as a food journalist, the ancestor I most often wish to channel is my maternal grandfather. Arriving at Ellis Island from southern Italy in 1914, Giovanni Larichiuta promptly got tossed in jail for poaching pears off a neighborhood tree. Clearly, he didn’t learn the lesson, since his appreciation for wholesome plants growing in the neighborhood never waned; it meant we could count on a dandelion frittata made from weeds cut in a nearby vacant lot each summer. I never wrote down his recipe.
But I did retain his love of foraging. As a wide-eyed kid, I liked to drag the wagon down toward the railroad tracks, where tall weeds often hid a trove of discarded pop bottles tradeable for penny candy at the corner store. The more intriguing find, however, was Physalis peruviana, the marvelous paper lantern–covered nightshade fruit that I learned to call “ground-cherry.” Others call it cape gooseberry, but by either name, it’s the fruit you see on this issue’s cover, and foraging is also how that photo came to me. I would even hazard that creating this magazine each quarter is like foraging, since stories can turn up unexpectedly like the ground-cherry plant I just found growing out of a crack in a neighbor’s driveway.
Among the treasures that fell into the Edible East Bay foraging basket this season was photographer Chava Oropesa’s story, “Con Mucho Cariño.” His recipe for Chicharrón en Salsa Verde, a gift from his late mother, owes its earthy tang to Physalis ixocarpa—the tomatillo—a close relative of that husk-covered ground-cherry. Chava had the foresight to ask his mother to write out her recipes, which she did “con mucho cariño” (with much love).
Another debut contributor this issue is Chef Alison Negrin, who has added “writer” to her long culinary resumé. She offered the tale of her successful audition—back in the 1980s—to join the kitchen at Chez Panisse. Instead I chose her story about cooking for her father during the last days of his life. The narrative is accompanied by an eggplant recipe that Alison’s Greek-Jewish family members call “kapema.” When our staff fact-checked the spelling and history of that dish and another in the story, we turned up absolutely nothing online except this chef’s own writing, and there was no way to send an editor to forage around in her grandmother’s old Bronx neighborhood or in random Old World Greek-Jewish enclaves for answers. The personal food histories we each carry can hold such secrets tightly, and while the dead might have helpful information, they rarely show much interest in sharing it.
This issue’s contribution from writer Anna Mindess brings to life the story of Sima Dehestani, a restaurateur in Albany, who had to work hard to learn the secrets of her family dishes long after she left her native Iran. This was because food-curious Persian children simply were not allowed in the kitchen. Among her recipes in this issue is one that Persians make in a time-honored tradition for remembering the dead.
Family history takes center stage in our article on Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, a family-owned-and-run treasure of the Bay Area gardening community that is now celebrating its 100th anniversary. Among the warm recollections that writer Rachel Trachten turned up was a post by the (recently deceased) daughter of the founding family, Constance Budgen, who wrote about how she used to help her mother make jelly from foraged fuchsia berries back mid-century when fuchsias were all the rage.
Given all the synchronicity around food history that came up in this issue of Edible East Bay, one has to wonder if the ancestors had some hand in it after all.
Cheryl Angelina Koehler
P.S. If this issue brings to mind an intriguing story you might like to share from your own family food legacy, please tell us about it with a note sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always on the watch for items that might be appropriate to publish in our e-newsletter or in a future issue of the print magazine.