The Old Bowl


When I first moved to Berkeley — in the early 1980s — my roommates at the time were old (in their late twenties) and sophisticated (they knew their way around an artichoke). They shopped at this place they referred to as “the Bowl.”  I imagined it was named after a  big bowl of fruit, because that is what they usually brought home after they went shopping.  They also brought home this wonderful cheese I’d never heard of before.  It was called Havarti.

Berkeley was a paradise in those days.  Now you can buy havarti at Costco, so paradise is more widely available in America, which can only be a good thing.  I mean, even in this wretched economy, you can still afford the occasional good thing to eat and you have a much better chance of being able to find it than you did in the early 1980s. Cheese has a way of making the worst things seem a little bit better.  At least that is what we believe here in Berkeley, which is why I live here.

Anyway, it turned out that the Berkeley Bowl was actually an old bowling alley that had been turned into a fruit and vegetable market which also sold cheese (at a long, exciting cheese counter) meat, seafood and, sort of as an aside, things like recycled paper towels and earthy moisturizers made by people who lived in Ukiah.  To successfully shop there you really did have to have some skills, just not with a bowling ball.  Basically, you had to be aggressive with your shopping cart, and willing to snatch fruit out of the hands of elderly ladies who wanted it too.  But you’d go cart-to-cart with these ladies because you wanted those raspberries MORE, having grown  up in a place where fruit (and tomatoes!) just did not taste so real, and fresh and amazing, thus making your desire for them really strong.  At the time, I didn’t have a car, so I had no idea the real challenge of shopping at the Berkeley Bowl was finding a place to put it.

And now there is a SECOND bowl in Berkeley.  It opened today (it is called “Berkeley Bowl West”) and it amazes me that this could be so — mostly because this means there will FINALLY be a place to park at the Berkeley Bowl in my neighborhood because all the shoppers who wanted my parking spot will be at Berkeley Bowl West.  And I will not have to get into unseemly altercations near the apricots to score the perfect ones that have my name on them. Still, in honor of the time that has passed since I first discovered havarti and artichokes, the Bowl in my neighborhood is now called the Old Bowl.  (At least that is what I’m calling it.) I am now the old lady you have to face down to get to the apricots first.  (I will add that I am not really that old, and I imagine the ladies I thought were so old probably weren’t either.  It’s funny how perception depends a lot on where you stand.)

Summer’s almost here.  Three years ago, when I was just beginning to write this blog, I was up to my arms in raspberries, making jam. A day or two after I wrote about that, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I haven’t boiled fruit and sugar together since then.  This is to say that my hiatus from jam is over.  Raspberries at the Old Bowl were .99 a basket when I was there tonight — I swear to God.  And the apricots, which are slightly more expensive, are so beautiful this year.

This weekend, it’s jam time.


21 thoughts on “The Old Bowl

  1. You always do manage to take the loveliest food photos, Bloglily! I want that selection of fruit in my kitchen NOW. Alas, Tescos is not going to supply such ripe abundance. I’m so glad to hear you are making jam – it so fits with my image of you!

  2. Debbie, it is, isn’t it??

    Litlove, I point the camera and push the click thing. The stuff IN the picture does the rest. I do wish you lived here, although I also like the idea of you in Cambridge, reading and writing away. xo

  3. you have alighted upon some of my favorite things: food, cheese, and bowling–all you need now is wine, women and song, and we’d be set.

    i don’t know why, but the idea of a food market in a converted bowling alley is extremely appealing to me. (i’ve got a semi-obsession with bowling, so i’m odd that way.)

    also, “cheese has a way of making the worst things seem a little bit better.”

    true. and recalls my approach to cooking. *bacon* makes it better. i repeat, bacon makes it better.

  4. let’s jam together!!!! 🙂

    i remember that super Old Bowl–i remember thinking i could tell when i’d gained 5 pounds bc if i swung around too fast, my ass would bump something off a shelf.

    me hopes everyone goes to the New Bowl so i can keep going to the Old Bowl!

  5. Depending on how “early 80s” you made it, we might have bumped carts at The Bowl – I left at the end of ’81. But you’re right about the delicacies and the atmosphere both. I always thought of the place as Filene’s basement for foodies.

    A year ago, Peet’s coffee started showing up here in Houston. More smiles all around.

  6. The Bowl sounds like a wonderful place. My jealousy is only lessened by the fact that, now that it is June, there are fresh strawberries (just picked!) and the most amazing tomotoes at the Farmers’ Markets here. Yogurt and berries as Ms. Smithereens suggested? You bet — mixed a batch togther this afternoon and froze it for the most yummy treat this evening.

  7. What a beautiful bowl of fruit! Is that your photo? Gorgeous! Thanks for the alert that the new bowl is open. I couldn’t deal with the Old Bowl — too many choices, too many shoppers, too little parking. I get stymied by 14 choices of plums and just stand there not knowing which to pick. So I usually go to a much smaller good produce shop: Colusa Market in Kensington, which is closer to me. But I will definitely have to try the new Bowl.

  8. I was away all week last week in the mountains with my mother — my uncle died suddenly and there was so much to DO all of a sudden. It was a lovely service, and everything that needed to happen happened. But I’ve been so out of touch — more than usual.

    I just wanted to say that I feel incredibly lucky to know so many people who love summer, and summer’s fruits, not all of which are for sale at the Berkeley Bowl.

    I hope each one of you is enjoying what this time of year brings.

    Much love,

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