Marie Viljoen, through her book “66 Square Feet,” offers a homage to New York City’s green nooks and crannies, and woods and forests (yes, they are there!), from the vantage point of a gardener and forager.
Beautifully evocative both of her past in South Africa and of the fleeting present, as each month takes her through the year, Viljoen narrates the changes on her 66-square-foot terrace in Brooklyn, and the harvest and recipes it inspires, as well as tales of occasional foraging in the city.
October, for example, features Forager’s Boeuf Bourguignon (with freshly gathered hen of the woods mushrooms from Green-Wood), and Quinces Roast with Juniper, from her native South Africa.
I asked her if she’d ever gotten into trouble with authorities while foraging in a public park. She hasn’t, and when foraging, she favors far-flung places.
“Like Pelham Bay Park, for personal foraging—for Japanese knotweed, say (although I have collected it in Central Park, too), or Dead Horse Bay for black cherries. I have never seen an official presence in either. It means the places are very underfunded, but consequently abundant in edible weeds and hyper-successful local plants,” Viljoen wrote in an email. “In city parks I am usually foraging for invasive ‘weeds,’ whose spread is so aggressive that native species can’t compete.”
She loves the idea of leading “foraging blitzes” during early spring, with an experienced forager, and ranger, if needed, to yield weed-to-table dinners. “Done repetitively, it would help weaken the knotweed colony.”
Viljoen just moved to Harlem, her rent in Brooklyn having been raised by $600/month with a no-pet terms of lease. She has now 288 square feet of terrace to look after.
She says the new landlord has in his own garden downstairs, “a sour cherry, raspberries and three different table grapes. I think we’re in good hands.”
Meanwhile, her book “66 Square Feet” is a lovely memoir of her Brooklyn terrace and year of exploration on the wild side of the city.
66 Square Feet: A Delicious Life
By Marie Viljoen
Published by Stewart, Tabori, and Chang
Suggested price: $29.95