There is much to admire
in a mulberry tree.
The handsome habit and height.
The luxurious leaves.
The shady canopy.
The concentrated blackberry-esque
burst of inky sweetness.
While you may have a fuzzy notion about mulberry wine, there’s a fairly good chance you haven’t actually spied — up close and personal — a mulberry tree or mulberries. So I find when I walk family and friends through Rosslyn’s orchard this time of year, stopping to point out the ripening fruit. If ripe enough to eat, and lately the mulberries have been perfect, almost everyone who tastes the fruit loves the taste. And yet these delicious tree-grown raspberry impersonators are unfamiliar. I wonder why…
I’d like to revisit this perplexing situation in in the future. But now a look at our three trees and a mindful mulberry meditation of sorts. First let’s stand a while beneath one of the mulberry trees, and lifting our gaze up into the shady foliage, our eyes will begin to spy the mulberries hanging like miniature clusters of grapes.
Although I shared this Instagram post yesterday, most of those photos actually date back a couple of weeks. Now the third and last of our mulberry trees is ripening. And it’s raining. So I harken back to sunnier days.
The first two Hardy Mulberry (Morus nigra) trees ripened roughly concurrently. Their fruit is slightly smaller than the Illinois Everbearing Mulberry (Morus rubra) which we (and the birds!) are harvesting now. Despite some potential color confusion with Morus nigra (aka black mulberry), Morus rubra (aka red mulberry), and Morus alba (aka white mulberry, common mulberry, or silkworm mulberry), both of our varieties are ripe when they appear shiny black. The juice within is actually somewhere between scarlet, violet, and midnight. Lips and fingers quickly stain dramatically and persistently, so don’t expect to sneak a snack without getting caught!
Carley, our year-plus old Labrador retriever manages to stealthily Hoover fallen fruit from the grass, at once an efficient and stain free means of harvesting. I’ve yet to master this technique myself, so my fingertips often belie my gluttony for the rest of the day.
Our mulberry trees are about nine or ten years old at this point, and they’re growing tall enough to actually evoke treeness rather than nursery stock or dwarf stock. As the trees have aged they’ve set heavier and heavier crops of fruit each summer. Given the approximately 15-18′ height of all three trees, the birds are the primary beneficiaries. We harvest what we can reach and leave the rest to our avian neighbors.
When the fruit first emerge from the mulberry flowers, they are green and covered in small black “threads” left from the blooms. These fall off as the mulberries ripen first to white, then pink, then red, then purple, and finally a deep lavendar-black. At this point they are plump, glossy, and 100% ready to eat!
It’s time for my mulberry meditation, but first a gallery (in case the Instagram post isn’t working.)
At the outset I mentioned a mindful mulberry meditation, and I hinted at the vague familiarity that I and others might have with wine fermented from the juice of this beneficent tree. That time has come.
“I put everything I can into the mulberry of my mind and hope that it is going to ferment and make a decent wine. How that process happens, I’m sorry to tell you I can’t describe.”John Hurt
“Huzzah!” I’m grateful indeed to Mr. Hurt for bundling up such creative cleverness. Both bacchanalian and theatrical, Dionysian and persistently mysterious… I’m struck by the many ways this metaphorical explanation approximates the whimsical adventure of redacting Rosslyn. I’ve turned often enough to my own compost and gardening metaphors to obliquely and insufficiently describe my own process. I’m essaying — albeit in unpredictable fits and starts — to distill our wonder-filled fifteen year affair with Rosslyn into the sort of package that might be handed on to others.
What in the world do I mean?
Good question. And if the answer were as good, as tidy and clear, I’d have wrapped up and ventured on to a new quest long ago. I haven’t. Not yet.
However I am feeling closer to clarity, closer to a tidy conclusion in recent years. Even recent months.
There’s much to unpack here (to borrow a euphemism from contemporary talking heads), and I’m doubling down on my resolve to package Rosslyn and pass her on. The property. The experience. The story.
It’s premature to say more now, but know that Susan and I have begun to wonder and daydream about a future in which Rosslyn has been fully fledged. It’s complicated. It’s bittersweet. And it’s still premature.
We’re not quite ready to say goodbye to her yet, far from it actually, so our leave-taking is not imminent. But it’s out there on the horizon, and together we’re brainstorming and beginning the process of letting go, of passing her on. Some day. Concurrently I’m revisiting the images and notes and sketches and letters and poems, allowing them to ferment and hopefully made a decent wine from a decade and a half of life and memories and artifacts.
Before my words wander too far afield, I will close this wayward reflection with my mulberry backstory.
A long, long time ago, at least four decades, maybe more, I first tasted mulberries at an auction. It was midsummer, just like now, and my family was attending an outdoor auction on an old farm that might or might not have been abandoned at the time. I don’t recall for certain, but I suspect the property had been vacant for a while.
I actually don’t remember much about the day except that I came across a grade school classmate who lived in the town nearby. She introduced me to mulberries.
A towering tree stood at the gabled end of an ancient barn, and the ground beneath was covered with fallen fruit. In short order we’d climbed up into the branches to feast on ripe mulberries. We spent the rest of the afternoon high in the mulberry tree savoring (to the point of achy stomachs) the jammy black mulberry deliciousness. With the auctioneer’s singsong soundtrack and enough mulberries to bloat our bellies and stain our clothes, the hours melted deliciously into the sort of nostalgic motherlode that still brings me contentment in midlife.
My decision to plant mulberry trees at Rosslyn half a lifetime later was rooted in that sweet syrupy memory.