If youâ€™ve never tried a mulberry, I feel sorry for you. I think theyâ€™re one of the most delightful food experiences around. Not everyone agrees with me, which perhaps explains why theyâ€™re not available commercially. That lack of availability may also explain why Iâ€™m so enamored with them!
If you arenâ€™t familiar with the fruit, it looks a lot like a blackberry that was hit with a shrink ray. Theyâ€™re sweeter and more tender than blackberries, and very juicy when ripe. I have fond memories of picking mulberries from an old tree on the grounds of my middle school and other trees near my house growing up. Iâ€™ve heard stories of people who put on special mulberry picking shirtsâ€”basically ones that they donâ€™t mind getting stainedâ€”and go to town picking. If ever invited on such a spree, Iâ€™d have gladly joined in.
Sadly, here in DC, my passion for these fruits embarrasses me. Picking things off of a tree and scarfing them down is just not done around here. To make matters worse, the best ones grow over the sidewalksâ€”in full, public view and constantly awash in car exhaust–tantalizing me as I pass under their branches. (Ellen, Iâ€™m not forgetting our adventure in Rock Creek Park picking mulberries, but remember how we were disappointed with their taste, and almost drenched ourselves in the creek trying to get at them?)
A few times, I have risked the condescension of strangersâ€“I mean, they are just strangers after all, and mulberries are really, really good. I picked a few of the ones near my apartment building the other day. I call these â€œblondâ€ mulberries, because when theyâ€™re ripe, instead of turning deep purple, they stay the same whitish green as the hard, unripened ones. Sometimes, theyâ€™re touched by a pink blush or accents of purple. For these, I picked 5 or 6 and waited until I got home to wash the car smog off and eat them. They were okay, but not outstanding. Last night, however, I found the very best of the very best mulberries on a walk up 16th Street. Deep purple, so ripe that they fell away from the branch and stained my hands with I touched them. I didnâ€™t wait to eat these. They were delish! And it was dark, so only a few judgmental strangers could have seen.
And now, some verse that fits the subject extremely well. I guess you could call it â€œberry apropos poetry” â˜º
Iâ€™d never buy grapes, tight and sour
but if they were offered on the exquisite tines
of a sterling silver forchette
in a garden of orange roses speckled with brilliant fucia
By a man beautiful as a brushstroke…
Well, perhaps then.
But it is mulberries, warm and gathered,
that stop my throat and pull tears from my eyes.
Iâ€™ve tried apples, picked by others, versatile and affordable —
more dear than free but not too much more.
Itâ€™s not apples.
Not at all.
Not oranges, pears, bananas;
kiwis, papayas, or jack fruit.
Only the one that makes me wish
I could form such a perfect purple chrysalis
enjoy that comfortable clinging
like a dream of soaring
or lifting the problems of the world
while patting a yawn.
Only the one that comes from a tree who knows,
who has lived.
No other tree has told me,
as I coaxed fruit from her bent branches,
that she gives birth best at 100
and that in middle age,
the juiciest time
is yet to come.
Copyright 2005 by Rhea Yablon Kennedy