In front of my house, in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., is an old and distinguished-looking black mulberry tree. It’s probably about fifty years old, which makes it about the same age as my house, and I think it must be a miracle the tree has survived this long. Everyone who’s ever looked at it has suggested I take it down. You see, mulberries are generally held to be useless “weed” trees.
I’ve always found that judgment more than a little harsh. I mean really, it’s a lovely tree, with dark corrugated bark and an attractive spreading habit that makes great shade. It turns a spectacular shade of clear yellow in late fall, and holds its leaves long after many other trees are bare. The sight of those golden leaves against the blue sky on a sunny day can take your breath away.
So what’s wrong with it? Why has everyone from my husband to arborists (who you’d think would more supportive) suggested I terminate the tree? Well, it does make a bit of a mess when it’s fruiting. And boy, does it ever fruit spectacularly. For almost six weeks every summer, it drops bushels of ripe, juicy, sweet berries. Since this is such a large tree, it stains the sidewalk and street in front of the house as well as covering the grass beneath it in a sticky, dark-purple paste. During summer downpours, the gutters in the street run dark like wine.
But useless? Certainly not to the birds in my neighborhood, for whom this is a bonanza. And not to me, either. I love the acidic but sweet taste of the fruit, and for as long as the bounty continues I put it on cereal, over ice cream and into fruit smoothies. And when time permits, I’ve made enough mulberry jam to keep that taste of summer through the rest of the year.
Isn’t my mulberry tree another example of how we can fail to value what’s right in front of us? When I see the grocery asking $6 per half pint of early raspberries, I don’t mind putting up with a few weeks of purple footprints in exchange for the thrill of picking my own breakfast anytime I like.
I chose Mulberry Jam as the title of my weblog to remind me to appreciate what’s in my own front yard. The sensuality of ordinary life is something I am grateful for every day. If you check back here now and then, you’ll find entries about food, gardening and probably a few anecdotes about my husband and my cats. My words may be of no interest to anyone but me (and maybe my mother). But writing is kind of like planting a tree: you put it out there and hope someone else finds value in it later. I’m certainly glad someone planted that mulberry for me. Even if that someone was a bird.
2 Qts. mulberries (include some fruit that are not quite ripe, as they’ll have more pectin)
1 package powdered pectin
6 cups sugar
1/2 medium lemon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Squeeze the lemon half, reserving 1 T. lemon juice. Remove pulp and white membrane from the peel and slice thinly into strips. Combine peel and baking soda in a small pan with just enough water to cover and simmer for five minutes. Drain peel and set aside.
Combine mulberries, reserved lemon juice, lemon peel and pectin in a large pot. Bring slowly to a boil. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.
Ladle jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Put two-piece caps on jars and process in a hot water canner for ten minutes. Makes about eight half pints.