I started a trend. After noticing that the mulberry tree on the corner a couple of blocks away was heavy with fruit, I returned with a container. In the short time spent plucking berries from branches hanging low over the owner’s wrought-iron fence and across the sidewalk, a parade of passersby stopped, gawked, and even joined in. Some were horrified at the very thought of plucking berries from a street corner in Brooklyn: “Mom, what’s that lady doing?” Others had never even noticed the fruit tree growing in their midst: “What’s that, a blueberry tree?”
Then there was the father who launched into a story for his young daughter, about a mulberry tree in the backyard of his childhood brownstone. “Know what I used to do? I’d put a blanket down on the grass and just shake the branches so they’d fall down, and pretty soon I had a whole bucket full. They’re really good on ice cream.” After pulling down a few branches to show her how to pick the sweetest, deepest purple berries, she was a pro, with an armful ready to take home to mom.
The odds of her berries getting home intact were probably low; the odds of her arriving home with purple-stained hands and clothes high. But we shared a few berries and enthused at dad’s idea for ice cream, while I shared with him an improvised recipe for mulberry sauce from last summer’s farm-to-table road trip.
My mulberries? Some made it into a similar sauce, for pork tenderloin (heating berries in the pan drippings with some water, sugar and fresh thyme, reducing it down to a liquid consistency). A few others were muddled into a couple of variations on mulberry-gin cocktails. More on that later. In the meantime, here’s to the joys of urban foraging, from the wild raspberry bushes along the Hudson River to the herbs, greens. and even sassafras root (a basis for root beer) from nearby Prospect Park. Do not be afraid, city dwellers: the worst food -borne illness I’ve ever experienced came from strawberries purchased at the local Safeway.