Memories of the great mulberry project

I remember the first time my dad noticed the mulberry tree in my back yard. It was a few summers ago, and he excitedly picked up a few of the many, many mulberries scattered across the lawn.

“Look at this! Mulberries!” he said, as he popped them in his mouth.

Mulberries hanging from the tree.

Mulberries hanging from the tree.

 

“Um, are you sure, dad?” I asked. I knew nothing about mulberries and was vaguely worried that he might be eating something that looked like a mulberry but was actually poisonous or something. All I knew was that each June the back corner of my yard became a minefield of berries that dropped from the tree, got squished under our shoes, and made messy stains whenever we accidentally tracked them inside the house.

“Oh, they’re mulberries all right,” my dad said. “I used to pick them all the time when I was a kid.” He popped a few more in his mouth and offered some to me. (And for the record, he did not get sick or poisoned, so he was right — mulberries!)

Mulberries cover the ground in the back yard.

The mulberry minefield in the back yard.

 

After a few more seasons of the backyard mulberry minefield went by, my husband decided last summer that it was a shame we were letting all those free mulberries go to waste. He had a plan: we were going to harvest the mulberries and use them for… something. He wasn’t sure what, exactly, but no matter. The first step was to get them. He’d figure out what to do with them later.

So we marched into the back yard as a family — two grownups and a three-year-old — ready to take on our harvesting project. My husband enjoys coming up with creative ways to solve problems, and he had his harvesting plans all worked out.

There’s a shed underneath the tree, and many of the berries had dropped on its roof. My husband got on top of the shed and cleared away the old, rotting berries that were already there. Then he spread a tarp and shook the tree branches above to get a fresh batch onto the roof.

My husband sweeps berries from the top of the shed.

My husband sweeps berries from the top of the shed into the gutter.

 

He swept the freshly fallen berries from the roof into the shed’s rain gutter…

My husband carefully pushes the mulberries into the gutter.

My husband carefully pushes the mulberries into the gutter.

 

…and used the hose to wash them down…

We turn on the hose to flush the mulberries from the gutter into the bucket waiting below.

We turn on the hose to flush the mulberries from the gutter into the bucket waiting below.

 

…into a large bucket he had rigged up at the bottom of the gutter below.

The berries are washed into a waiting bucket.

The berries are washed into a waiting bucket.

 

We also wanted to get some of the berries from the part of the tree that wasn’t hanging over the shed, so the three of us spread out a tarp on the ground…

We spread a tarp on the ground to catch the mulberries as they fell.

We spread a tarp on the ground to catch the mulberries as they fell.

 

…and shook the branches overhead.

The little girl stretches up to help her dad shake the branches of the mulberry tree.

The little girl stretches up to help her dad shake the branches of the mulberry tree.

 

We put the berries from the tarp and the berries from the shed roof together and rinsed them a few times.

Rinsing the mulberry harvest.

Rinsing the mulberry harvest.

 

Then it was time to sort! We explained to the little girl that the green and red berries (unripe) and the soft, squishy berries (overripe) had to be put aside, and the good berries were put in a large bucket.

A handful of mulberries, some ripe and some not.

Sorting the mulberries: the green and red mulberries are set aside, and the ripe ones go into the bucket.

 

She caught on quickly and sat happily by her dad, sorting with us.

The little girl and her dad sort berries together.

The little girl and her dad sort berries together.

 

My husband shows his mulberry-stained hands.

Messy work.

 

And what did we do with the berries? We decided to try to make mulberry wine.

A bottle of homemade mulberry wine.

One of our bottles of mulberry wine, sealed with paraffin and waiting to be tasted (in a year or two?)

Maybe I’ll bring a bottle to share with my dad when I travel to visit him next time. I’m sure the wine won’t give him the same rush of nostalgia that picking them on a hot summer day and popping them into his mouth did, but maybe he’ll also appreciate his childhood treat in a new form.

And if not, then there’s more for me!