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Jam yields a new batch of friends

A gathering in Echo Park brings together disconnected residents.

August 04, 2008|Mindy Farabee | Times Staff Writer

Think of it as art, just like Grandma used to make.

Sunday marked the third annual Public Fruit Jam, a jam-making gathering hosted by the Echo Park art gallery Machine Project and organized by the local art collective Fallen Fruit.

As pots of concoctions such as fig-lemon-lavender bubbled on portable burners, about 250 participants moved between indoor and outdoor tables with red-checked tablecloths, forming small jam-making bands. They chopped and stirred their syrupy creations, then poured them into mason jars.

Although instructors handed out tips about pectin and bindings, the cooking at times turned into gleeful hands-on experimentation.

"It's not so much learning as freestyle jam-making chaos," gallery founder Mark Allen, 37, said, greeting one jam-maker as she arrived.

Fallen Fruit, founded in 2004 by a trio of Angelenos -- UC Irvine faculty member David Burns, 37, CalArts faculty member Matias Viegener, 45, and Austin Young, 42, a photographer/videographer -- is a collective best known for mapping Los Angeles' "public fruit" -- sidewalk bounty that grows on or over public property and, therefore, can be picked by anybody.

The artists believe the city's cornucopia can link its famously disconnected residents to their neighborhoods and to each other.

"To me, Fallen Fruit is the idea of identifying resources which are already there, but you didn't know you had them," Young said.

And Burns considers fruit a great ice-breaker. "Inevitably, everyone's got a personal narrative attached to fruit, those 'When I was a kid' stories," he said.

Only half an hour after opening the doors, Machine's modest storefront was filled with an eclectic group: some with pink hair, others with gray, young families, art majors and gardeners bearing sacks of fresh or frozen peaches, figs, kumquats, berries, apricots, assorted herbs and even a stray squash or two, in addition to the ubiquitous Southern California citrus. Produce was store-bought, homegrown or donated.

Jennifer Bruce, 29, of Val Verde arrived with a box of thorny cactus pads.

"I'm hoping it's prickly pear," Bruce said. "Isn't that what people make food out of?"

"What I like most is that this gets people in L.A. together who would normally never talk. That's the goal more than the jam -- interaction," Viegener said. "We get bikers from the Valley, foodies from the Westside, organic granola types from Echo Park, curiosity seekers from Orange County. It's a great mix."

Near the station where chefs toasted bread for sampling their wares, Judy Y, 44, of North Hollywood and friend Laura Drabkin, 48, of Studio City met up with Koreatown resident Alice Huff, 31, and Danielle Krauss, 24, of Venice to create a plum-blueberry-lemon-verbena blend.

"Our team is comprised of two friends and two former strangers," Y said.

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mindy.farabee@latimes.com

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