I never ate a mulberry until I moved to the Great Plains seven years ago. There were countless mulberry trees in all the neighborhoods of my youth but they were all hybridized fruit-less mulberry trees. Why, oh why, would anyone want to make a fruit tree stop bearing fruit?
That first year here in this town on the plains I noticed the trees that had berries. I wondered what they were and if they were edible. A little research revealed that these berries hanging from the trees are mulberries. This little town has many, many mulberry trees and they are all the old-fashioned kind; the kind that bears fruit.
In each subsequent summer I have suffered from a condition known as Purple Hands. This is when your hands turn purple from picking so many mulberries. The berries are black but their juice is purple. The mulberries are ripe for picking from the middle of June into early August. These are the months when my hands are purple. I eat them every single day.
I know where every nearby mulberry tree is and my daily walks take me past several of them. And I simply cannot walk past a mulberry tree without greeting it and thanking it for its fruit which I then commence to feast on.
I stand under the tree with my neck craned back. I reach up into the tree and pluck a ripe black mulberry and within a fraction of a second that mulberry is in my mouth. There is no time for the chi to dissipate after picking because it goes immediately in my mouth with all its chi intact. If I had a really long neck I could dispense with using my hands and just pluck the berries off the tree with my mouth like an animal. Alas, I do not have a really long neck and that is why my hands get purple.
I almost never bring any mulberries home with me. It just doesn’t seem right. It is so much more satisfying and natural to eat them directly off the tree. Purple hands or not, it is a great way to instantly and intensely to connect with Ma Nature.
Of course, if you are standing under a mulberry tree plopping berries into your mouth the ground you are standing on most likely has a layer of berries covering it that had fallen from the tree. Once you have had your fill of delicious berries and move on down the street you are now leaving purple shoeprints everywhere you go. Then you go home and track the berry juice into your carpet….
Therein lies the rub for mulberry trees. They are messy. If a tree arches over a sidewalk the portion of the sidewalk under the tree turns purple (with purple footprints heading off in both directions). With the suburban American Dream and its requisite white picket fences and perfectly manicured lawns, the messy mulberry tree grew out of favor with homeowners. They started planting non-fruit bearing shade and ornamental trees. Who needs the mess? And if someone wants delicious fruit they could just go to the grocery store.
Most of the mulberry trees in this town on the plains are old trees, planted 50 to 100 years ago. They produce an enormous amount of delicious and very nutritious fruit each year. I visited a nearby tree nursery the other summer and found that they only had fruit-less mulberry trees for sale. I also found out that the trees are no longer recommended for gardeners not just because of the purple mess but also because of the pollen the male mulberry trees produce.
This town on the plains not only has a lot of old trees but it also has a lot of old humans. So I have spoken with a few of the old-timers. All of their stories were identical; “Mulberries? Oh, I remember them. We used to eat them all the time when we were kids. Grandma would bake a mulberry pie every Sunday in summer. But once we all grew up I guess we just stopped eating them. I’m not sure anyone got Grandma’s recipe for mulberry pie before she kicked the bucket. Heck, I ain’t had a slice of mulberry pie in decades.”
When was the last time you saw mulberries in the produce department of your local grocery store? Personally, I have NEVER seen mulberries in a grocery store or even at local farmer’s markets. They just are not a popular fruit. No one eats them or sells them. Why the heck not?
I am okay with that. I am not complaining that you can’t find mulberries at the market. To me, it does not matter. After all, I know of hundreds of trees where I can get that nutritious deliciousness for free. Why pay a multi-national corporate conglomerate money when Ma Nature offers up her bounty for us? And food is always the best when the journey from plant and soil to mouth is a short one.
Yup, I know where all the mulberry trees are.
And my purple hands are a testament to that fact.