by David Cecelski
The first mulberries are ripe now and yesterday we went picking, me, my daughter, my daughter’s friend, and my little nephew. We walked to our favorite tree, a stalwart young thing across the road from the city park nearest us. The tree was just full of the sweet, dark berries.
Mulberry trees—the red mulberry (Morus rubra)—are everywhere now. We must have a dozen just in our park. Almost all of them have at least a branch or two that hangs low enough that even young children can fill their bellies with the sweet, sweet fruit.
Dedicated cooks used to make jam, jelly, pies and cobblers out of mulberries. Some old country people, like my great-great aunt Emma, used to make their fruitcake wine out of them. But mulberries have never been as popular in canning or cooking as other berries and I don’t see them used often in the kitchen today. Compared to other berries, they’re incredibly fragile. They practically fall apart at your touch, and you can’t pick ripe mulberries without the juice staining your fingers and hands a dark purple. The stems are also hard to remove without injuring the berry, and they keep poorly.
But that ephemeral quality of mulberries is part of what I love about them. They are so delicate that I have never seen them grown commercially. I don’t think that I’ve even seen them at a grocery store or farmers market. Instead, they’re only available now, for a few short weeks, and you have to find them yourself. They’re enjoyed best in the mulberry tree’s own shade, and above all in the company of a young child like my nephew. The boy returned home purple from head to foot, exhilarated and happy.
photo by Vera Cecelski