Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A lush environment, loquats, mulberries, urban change

**Photo of loquat fruit by DeusXFlorida, Flickr Creative Commons.

I haven’t mentioned it outright, but some of you may have noticed that this blog's focus has shifted away from the Northwest. That’s because I’ve relocated to Houston. I grew up here, but I’ve lived away for more than 10 years, in New York/New Jersey, Chicago, and Seattle.

Perhaps more surprising, I’m excited to be back.
Houston is a strange and interesting, multicultural place. I like the sunny, garden-like feel of my daily walks. While the city has room for improvement, I’m thrilled by the work we are doing toward sustainability and change.

**Photo of a bike against flag mural, by Adam Baker, Flickr Creative Commons.
These are exciting times for American cities. I base that on a $500 million plan to increase transit and trees in one Houston corridor; and an award recently granted to a similarly sprawling, sun-belt city, Phoenix, to improve walkability along its light-rail corridors. If you want more updates, look here.
Back to gardens, I’ve recently compared greenery with a Los Angeles friend (who also moved there from Seattle). As it turns out, we share many of the same plants. Houston, like LA, is within a few hours of the Mexican border, and has the warmth of a lower latitude.

Everything around smells like jasmine, says my LA friend. I have to say, excitedly: This is true for me, too.
On my walks, I see star jasmine, vivid and RCA-trumpet-like hibiscus flowers, and red, fuchsia, and white sprays of bougainvillea that cascade over fences.

**Photo of bougainvillea, by jchatoff, Flickr Creative Commons.

There's also plenty of citrus. Most walks pass trees hung with the small, egg-shaped orange kumquats – those lovely pellets of Vitamin C -- and orange and yellow, plum-like fruit on the long-leaved loquat trees. The latter are called nospero in Spanish.

My mom recently asked what fruits I use in smoothies. Back in Seattle, each summer I gathered blueberries, and the blackberries that thrive on invasive vines in all the Northwest's untended spaces. My mom sighed, saying she wished more fruit grew here in Houston.
It's a common complaint. Houston's often called a concrete jungle, although anyone who has spent time in more densely populated cities probably wouldn't agree.  

These days, I can see that although Houston isn't a place of mountains or dramatic landscape, the city's near-downtown areas have the lushness of the Louisiana lowlands. Plants grow, vines twist, frogs sing at night in curb-side puddles. While some parts of town, such as the mall-centered Galleria, have expanded too heedlessly -- and it's still important that we continue to put forward initiatives for parks and green spaces -- my perspective on the city has changed.
These days, I feel that edible things *do* grow everywhere here. We just have to learn how to see them. At the moment, I'm excited about several plants. The first is loquats, from which we can make preserves, chutneys, garnishes for meats.

**Photo of loquats in a bowl, by Infrogmation, Flickr Creative Commons.

Second is jasmine, whose vines and starry white flowers form most hedge-rows here. From its heady flowers, we can make infusions for cocktails and to top ice creams.
**Photo of star jasmine is by Herry Lawford, Flickr Creative Commons.

Third is mulberries, which are turning dark purple-black on their shade-providing trees. These are strange fruit, like blackberries in a worm shape, with their distinctly mulberry, slightly bland flavor. But they grow so plentifully, and in such pleasant spots alongside bayous, that I have to like them. From them, we can make sorbets, jams, pies, and many other things.

**Photo of mulberries by BionicTeaching, Flickr Creative Commons.

That's just the beginning, though. Much else will grow, as summer comes (and stays) upon the land.

**Photo at Menil Collection, Houston, by kimbo_swift, Flickr Creative Commons. ##


  1. Are you interested in writing about the history of Houston? I might have a project... Carol Lieb

  2. Hi Carol, I'll send you an email. Thanks for getting in touch!

  3. How does a loquat differ from a kumquat? Inquiring minds want to know!

  4. Hello, duelofseashells/Osirun -- yep, it's something I wondered about for years, these 'quat-ending fruits, until arriving here and seeing both on common yard trees. So: I actually prefer the kumquats, which are like small egg-shaped oranges that you bite (skin and all) to receive a pure orange/Vitamin C splash of flavor. They have very thin, orange-like skin, and you eat them whole. They don't have discernible seeds.

    Loquats are similar in size but have faintly furry skins -- or at least, skins that are more like plum-peach than orange. They also have large, shiny seeds -- usually 3-4 in each one.



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