Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Try It! Mulberries

Last weekend, Mr. Nature Geek and I decided to take a long walk at one of our favorite birding spots in the Philadelphia area, John Heniz National Wildlife Refuge. This is a great spot for birding all year, as the different seasons bring completely different birds to the refuge. In the summer, nesting warblers, wrens, and orioles abound, along with tree and barn swallows. In the winter, the refuge becomes a hot spot for migrating waterfowl, including northern shovelers, ruddy ducks, scaups, northern pintails, and teals. In late spring, however, there is another thing that draws us to hike the trails at John Heinz: the mulberry trees are in season!

For the most part, you'll find 3 species of mulberries in the United States: red, black, and white. The black mulberry, an import from West Asia, is mostly found in gardens and cultivated areas. In wild places, you'll typically find the native (yeay!) red mulberry and the exotic (boo!) white mulberry. The photo at the left features the native red mulberry, which hails from right here in the eastern United States. And if you ask Mr. Nature Geek and I, this native has fruit far superior than that old Chinese white mulberry anyway! The fruit of the white mulberry is very sweet, but bland, while the red mulberry has a delicious tartness to it, especially if you eat the berries that are a little less ripe (the ones that are more red). 

If there are mulberry trees around and they are ready for the picking, it's easy to know because the ground looks like this:
When mulberries are ripe, all you pretty much have to do is just look at them and they fall off the tree. The slightest touch will send them tumbling to the ground. 

Upon coming across a ripe red mulberry tree, Mr. Nature Geek and I will eat every ripe berry we can get our hands on. (There was plenty left to be shared with the wildlife too if you are worried, as mulberry trees can reach 40' tall and your average Nature Geek is a mere 5'3".)  This weekend as we gorged ourselves, many other visitors passed us by, but not a single one asked what we were doing or asked to sample the delicious fruit! I found this fact quite troubling. Today you hear so much hype about "natural", "preservative free", and "no GMO" when it comes to our foods and here was the most natural food you could get, lining the miles of trails! In my opinion there is not much of a better way to reconnect with our roots of living off the land than eating the sun-ripened fruits of a wild tree. Mr. Nature Geek and I love our tradition of visiting our favorite mulberry spots at this time of year and filling up on delicious wild fruit. 

This weekend as you are hopefully hiking the trails of your favorite park, be on the lookout for a red mulberry tree. If you find one, chow down! And if you do a good job, by the end of the day, you'll literally be caught red-handed after having a great and delicious experience. 

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