The City Jam Scam

A few days ago, I got an announcement about a jamming workshop being held on August 23 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, at a very expensive bar (borderline museum of precious beverage) called Beer Table. The first line of the announcement read: "Peak season and you haven't yet preserved summer's bounty?" It's limited to 12 participants and costs $50.

Thank goodness there's some skill sharing going on, to help all the New Yorkers who are now scrambling to preserve the peaches, plums, and blackberries overflowing on their postage-stamp roof decks and shared patches of tenement paving stones. Let's face it: New Yorkers who can obtain and pickle summer's bounty from farmers' markets and CSAs, produce driven into the city from the Hudson Valley or other areas that feature farms.

But let's not pick on New Yorkers. The urban homesteading movement often has notes of inauthenticity. Starting with the question of: How much jam does the average person honestly consume? I consider myself a jam fan, and I think I've had the same jar in my fridge for nine months. And coming back around, it takes, according to a sample recipe from, one pound of blueberries to make four small jars of blueberry jam. Once you've paid for the ingredients at the store and taken the time to make the jam, it's seeming less like a thrifty, homey back-to-the-land project and more like a dilettantish exercise in fake rusticity.

Why can't urban homesteaders call it like it is? We've got wildlife in cities we actually could harvest, without having to buy berries from 100 miles away and pretend we're living a fantasy agrarian lifestyle.

1. Weeds. You could make dandelion wine, jelly, or even salad with shaved pecorino. If you are worried about pee being on the weeds, wash the greens well. Urine dissolves in water. I once met a woman who had been in a California state prison for 35 years and had harvested dandelion greens from the perimeter of the prison exercise yard to provide a more nutritional diet for herself. You can do this, too! And dandelions are just one kind of edible weed. There are lots of others.

2. Pigeons. I am amazed to see that when you Google "foraging pigeons," you do not find links to any workshops going on at fancy beer museums, nor anybody capitalizing on the fun that can be had with a six-pack and a couple of BB guns. Did you know that young pigeons are squab? The very same bird on the menu at many fancy restaurants. Why, just last month my dining companion had a lovely pastrami pigeon cooked by Michael Voltaggio at the Dining Room at the Langham in Pasadena. He probably did not shoot the bird down in a homeless encampment in Los Angeles, but the point is, he could have, and so can you. You may be worried that city pigeons consume barf, glass, and old burritos. But what do you think catfish eat? For more pigeon ideas, see here.

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