It’s the season of wood sorrel — along with wild mustard, nettles, forest mushrooms and mallow, and they form a thick carpet in Ilana Stein’s backyard, which is part of the Ein Kerem National Park, a green, leafy expanse of trees and grasses growing on the ancient farming terraces of this Jerusalem neighborhood.
Stein, the illustrator and creator of “A Year in the Garden,” a charmingly illustrated calendar charting the seasonal growth and vegetables of the Israeli garden, rents a small stone house on the grounds of the park, where she lives with her husband, Davidi Maller, and their two children.
It’s not completely clear where their land — owned by their landlord — ends and the public parkland begins, said Stein, and passersby occasionally hike by their simple, two-room home.
Still, there’s plenty of grasses and greens for everyone, said Stein, while picking a bunch of grass and squeezing it in her hands until a trickle of green juice emerged, as tart and fresh as a shot of wheatgrass.
Stein and Maller have been living a somewhat alternative lifestyle in this magical corner of Ein Kerem, below the local monastery and within sight of the Hadassah Medical Center.
Their kitchen is a kind of laboratory of foraging experiments and the successful results and recipes get posted on their blog, Facebook page and eventually, in the annual calendar.
A recent conversation was accompanied by tea made from freshly picked herbs, while we nibbled from dishes of fresh, juicy raisins (dried from their grapevines), spooned up a tawny grape honey and drank a liqueur made from tiny red berries that grow wild in the summer, like creme de cassis, said Maller, who calls himself the research department of the family.
At one point, Stein grabbed a bunch of dewy sorrel from the yard and chopped it up, adding a generous dollop of olive oil and coarse salt, serving it as a kind of sorrel chimichurri, smeared on fresh-baked rolls.
“Every season has its thing,” she said.
They’ve learned how to grow from the wild, replanting plants and adding to their own kitchen garden.
It’s all this growth and cooking that first led Stein, a Bezalel Academy-trained illustrator, to create her calendar, which helps locals forage as well as identify and use local, seasonal produce.
But besides illustrating — and programming, which is what Davidi does on the side, because one does need to earn some money — these two have a thirst for natural living, and they’re not alone.
“People are learning how to appreciate this, how to identify and now it’s in the mainstream,” said Davidi.
They send their younger daughter to a forest kindergarten where everything takes place outside, even in the winter (when the children wear a version of a ski suit.) They’re also part of a movement to create a forest elementary school revolving around the same concept.
They’re a family living somewhat off the grid, a kind of Israeli Family Robinson, said Stein and Davidi, self-described hippies settled among the 3,000-year-old terraces. They see themselves as representatives of this movement, for living and utilizing nature, growing and eating much of what they need, which creates its own kind of economic balance.
“We love to see what you can do with the abundance of what just grows wild,” said Stein.