Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mulberry Joy

I was told that mulberry season is over.

Apparently our backyard mulberry tree didn't get the memo.



We are still gathering berries every day, though the peak occurred about 2 weeks ago. At that point the kids and I were picking cups full each day, and now it's about one cup per day. Compared to last year, the harvest is enormous; you can read about last year's pitiful mulberries HERE.





What do I enjoy most about having this mulberry tree, an accident planted into our landscape, presumably by a bird?



I'd like to say that a lot of the joy comes from nostalgia, since we had a mulberry tree when I was a kid. It was also a happy accident, born from actions completely unintended by either some bird or small animal. The tree grew in a somewhat inconvenient place, pushing its way into our gravel driveway, but dad refused to cut it down and he shaped a gravel extension--quickly named the 'turn-around'-- with the mulberry directly in the middle of it. My entire life that mulberry tree lived, so much a part of the driveway that it became difficult to imagine a tree-less drive leading to our house. I'm pretty sure one or all of us kids bumped it at least once while learning to drive.

While I'd like to say nostalgia is strong with that tree, I can't honestly say I have any specific memories of eating the berries. This year when I proudly told my dad that I'd made mulberry jam, he gave me a look and said "Well, why would you do that? You can't do anything with those berries to make them taste good. Mulberries are terrible!" Say, what? I quickly scratched him off my mental list of possible people to gift with mulberry jam. My dad always has a way of shocking me a bit with his strange juxtapositions; he was never willing to slay that inconvenient mulberry tree, yet he hated the berries! No wonder I don't remember much about my childhood mulberries--apparently we didn't consider them anything special. I'm touched that my dad cared so much for a tree, but surprised that he didn't appreciate the simple goodness of the fruit.



The mulberry tree in my backyard has swiftly burrowed into my heart, and it's not due to childhood memories. Though, the joy I feel when mulberry-picking has such a child-like feel to it! I have even climbed the tree to reach the tantalizing black-ripe gems. In my flip-flops. Luckily I gingerly got back down after common sense kicked in (and before any kids spied me and got the idea it was safe to climb trees while wearing flip-flops), and changed into shoes. Along with climbing the tree, we got the ladder out several times to reach some of the challenging branches.




I get a bit lost while picking mulberries. There's the easy-going mental challenge of seeking the black blobs among the green leaves and berries of other shades, ranging from white to pink to 'almost-there' deep fuschia. The challenge is easy enough to let your mind wander to a million other things, but just tricky enough to keep your eyes sharp. There's the satisfying pluck of a perfectly ripe berry, which gives almost no resistance to the tug of your fingers, as if just waiting for you. There's also the miraculous way that, after you've canvassed a branch and think you've picked every current ripe berry, when you come back around from the other side of the tree to double check, there are one or two more. You are left to wonder; did I miss those berries the first time around, or did they actually ripen within 10 minutes? Though it's vaguely frustrating to see tons of berries way up in the top branches, inaccessible without doing some tricky ladder work, that's okay. Leaving some to the birds is gracious...as long as they leave the lower branches alone. Oddly, the birds have not seemed to take notice this year. We have a nest of cardinals actually living in the brush next to the mulberry tree, but someone told me cardinals don't eat mulberries. I won't name the someone, because I'm thinking the statement is totally false, but hey, these lovely cardinals haven't seemed to touch a single berry, so I'm going with it.


What have we done with our generous harvest of mulberries? As I write this, a huge bowl of them sits in the fridge, the pile slowly growing with the daily berry contributions, waiting to make more jam. Our first harvest came inside with us for a cupcake party that was already in progress. We welcomed the berry bonus!






Second harvest went to jam, using store-bought pectin.

Third harvest went to THIS JAM, which although more runny and containing whole berries, is surprisingly wonderful on buttered toast, pancakes, biscuits, and even a sandwich if the roll is sturdy enough.






Licking the plate clean is a sure sign that the mulberries were delicious


I'm not quite sure what my dad doesn't like about the taste of mulberries, since they are very mild. I'm thinking if he'd just give a mulberry jam sandwich a chance, he may change his mind. ;) The simple mulberry flavor is becoming one of the treasured flavors of summer around here!


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