Beneath the mulberry tree

Yesterday afternoon, I was walking with my sister through the streets of Somerville near her Boston Ave. apartment when we noticed a rain of berries falling from the sky. We crouched down to examine the fruit on the sidewalk.

In color, shape, and size they resembled a blackberry, but when crushed lacked the sweet smell and boasted instead a dark, purple stain. Looking up, we saw that every bough of the neighborhood tree was laden with berries—some black, some red, and some white in various stages of ripeness.

We returned home to do some research, eager to find out the name behind the strange fruit. After reading through page upon page about edible fruit, we found the answer: our tree was a black mulberry.

Mulberry is an old fashioned fruit, remembered in the children's rhyme and folk recipes for berry cordial or sugared preserves. Despite its importance as a food for pies, jams, and livestock feed in earlier centuries, it seems to have fallen out of favor in the era of the grocery store and convenience mart. I had never encountered a mulberry in a recipe or at the market before that afternoon, let alone tasted one.

Intrigued by the prospect of a first stolen bite, we headed back to the grass beneath the tree to try a piece of fallen fruit. The flesh crushed easily against the tongue, with a taste somewhat reminiscent of a watered down blueberry or grape with a hint of citrus tang.

We couldn't eat more than a few; most of it had been ground into the sidewalk, and it was someone else's property after all. I wondered at the waste of it all—pounds of berries strewn unwanted across the walkway, with hungry mothers and grandfathers and children strolling over them by the hundreds. I pictured a time when a white sheet might be spread beneath the branches, collecting the block's worth of pies and jam.

Were the tree mine to care for, I hope I'd do the same. Perhaps one day I will. In the meantime, here's an old cobbler recipe for those of you with a mulberry of your own.


Serves 8

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together 8 cups mulberries and 1 and 1/2 cups sugar. Let sit and in a separate bowl mix together 3 cups whole wheat flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 4 tablespoons sugar. Cut in 1 and 1/2 sticks butter with a pastry knife. Add 3/4 to 1 cup whole milk until it forms a sticky biscuit dough. Pour berries and sugar over the bottom of a large Pyrex pan and top with dollops of dough. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until dough is golden. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.


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