I saw a magnificent thing on the way home from yoga class: the biggest, grandest, most heavily fruit bearing mulberry tree I’ve ever seen in my life.
I am known to pick a berry, climbing from branch to branch in public parks in the nation’s capital. Sometimes I’ll show up somewhere with a grubby, purple-stained handful of berries, bugs and all. Sometimes I get quite a haul, as I did this time reusing my lunch containers, and take the berries home to rinse, cure with sugar and flour overnight, and then bake into a pie.
The process of picking berries is as much the payoff as the pie. It’s calming, deliberate, and meditative — not unlike rock climbing because of its requirement of easy focus. Each berry gained is also a little victory and reward, and watching my haul grow larger and larger fills me with pride.
I also have a particular fondness for mulberry trees and dream of one day having a little mulberry orchard. Thai forest nun Mae Chee Kaew had an orchard in her middle age that she used to grow silkworms. It was on a particularly favorable plot of land, and when a revered forest monk agreed to build a monastery in her village, she sacrificed her cottage industry (her livelihood) and offered her mulberry plot. This is how she was able to continue a meditation practice that had been cut short in her teens, even though she showed tremendous promise, and was part and parcel of a life story full of suffering and sadness — but then eventually Enlightenment.
This Tuesday evening, it was about 90 degrees, I was wearing my work clothes, and had my laptop and yoga mat in my backpack. I looked down at a recent acquisition (bright yellow $120 Cole Haan peep-toe wedges, my first grown up shoes) and wondered if picking mulberries was such a good idea.
But this is the crux of urban foraging, and perhaps foraging in general: When you see them, you must pick. Tomorrow, they may not be there. And what other obstacles might present themselves, keeping you from a delicious bounty?
So I strained to stay upright in my wedges and not slide down a hill or fall on my face — the most obvious marker of a mulberry tree is a sidewalk covered in purple goo, wind fallen berries mashed by passersby who see only nuisance where I see delight.
Soon, my fingertips were stained purple and I had a travel coffee mug and a snack container full of berries. I took them home and rinsed them, combined them with rhubarb from the farmers market, and set them to cure in the fridge in a bowl with 1c flour and 1/4c raw sugar. And now, I am eating mulberry-blueberry-rhubarb pie for breakfast. Nom nom.