|Black mulberries go through several color transformations before they are completely ripe and ready to eat.|
(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel March 27, 2011)
I'm having a hard time controlling myself. Mulberries are ripe, and I can't stop eating them.
This year's crop is the biggest ever, and for some reason the birds — cedar waxwings, in particular — have not arrived to eat them. That leaves more berries for me to devour, and devour them I have. I can't seem to keep my mulberry consumption under control.
Pick a bowlful. Eat a bowlful. That has been my pattern. A couple of hours later, I'm at it again. By the end of the day, I'm wishing I had exercised some restraint.
"I don't feel so good," I told my husband the other night. "I think I may have overdone it a bit with the mulberries."
"You think?" he responded rhetorically, while directing his gaze toward my purple-stained fingers. "How many did you have today?"
"More than I'd like to admit," I admitted. "You know how I am with berries. I have no self-control."
Confession time: I am a berry addict. Put me in front of ripe fruit and you'll have a hard time prying my greedy little fingers away. That's especially true when the fruit is growing not on shrubby bushes or prickly vines but on huge trees.
My friend Pat recently moved to Florida from New York. He had never seen a mulberry tree, so I invited him to see and sample ours.
"Isn't it a bush, like in the nursery rhyme?" he asked.
"Not even close," I said, as we approached a grove of mulberry trees laden with ripening fruit.
Despite what "Pop Goes The Weasel" suggests ("Round and round the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel"), the mulberry is not a small plant. It's a large, deciduous tree. Several of ours are more than 30 feet tall and equally as broad.
The fruit develops on new growth and hangs from bendable limbs accessible by both adults and children. There are no thorns to contend with on this powerhouse of productivity, and it is one of the first plants to bear edible goodies in spring.
On our property, we grow three kinds of mulberries — white flesh fruit, black flesh fruit and red mulberries. The latter are native to America, but both white and black mulberries originated in China and were imported to this country in the 1700s.
Silkworms feed exclusively on the leaves of white mulberries. In Asia, the trees are an integral part of the silk-making industry. In the United States, the primary use of mulberry trees is to provide shade and attract wildlife.
Dozens of birds feed on the early season fruit. People — especially children — also find the abundant berries a welcome addition to their pre-summer diet. Unfortunately, the sticky purple morsels aren't as popular with parents, who have to clean up messes made by stained hands and juice-splattered feet. The mulberry's messiness has caused many a tree to meet an untimely demise.
On our property, we don't mind the mess. Sure, throughout the growing season, our fingernails are purple, and we have to remember to remove shoes before entering the house. But that's a small price to pay for such an easy source of tasty treats. We especially prize white mulberries because they provide all the goodness of the dark-skinned fruit without nearly as much mess.
My only problem with mulberries is my lack of self-control. How much goodness is too much? Is it possible for something to be too sweet? I'll get back to you on that. Right now, a mulberry tree outside is calling my name. I have berries to pick.