August 28, 2010

What are those miniature blackberries growing on a 40 foot tall tree anyway?

During the first week here in California in our little apartment; one of our favorite places to spend time was on the balcony. The trees where so close that we could have reached out and grabbed them if it wasn’t for the bug netting that completely enclosed the balcony from any outside unwelcomed visitors, i.e. wasps and bees. It seemed to us that the bug netting; although we could see out clearly, must have been almost like a two way mirror to the birds and the squirrels, as they would come within a foot from us while perching in the branches of the trees.

This, of course, delighted both of us. We felt as though we had our very own private nature arboretum. We could sit for hours watching the squirrels play in the trees, while occasionally stopping to munch on the little berries. However, with the bug netting enclosure, we felt, at times, that we were the ones in a cage, and they were actually watching us.

Back to the tree. This tree with its liitle berries fascinated both of us. Neither one of us had ever seen such a tree.

My best friend Deni stopped by for a visit and the three os us spent a great deal of time out on the balcony; visiting and enjoying God’s creation. She noticed got to witness the squirrels in the trees and commented on the berries as well; but, without her glasses, she seemed to think they looked more like blueberries. We told her that the actually looked more like little blackberries and then the conversation turned to other things and she departed for home.

The next day, as we were leaving the apartment, Michael noticed that some of the lower branches, near the bottom of the stairs, contained plenty of ripe berries. He remarked, “Hey, let’ bring one over to Deni’ house, so that she can see the berry close-up. He pulled on off the tree and placed it in a bottle cap. As this was a spontaneous, unplanned trip, we did not find Deni home upon our arrival. So, we left the little bottle cap on her kitchen counter.

Before leaving, I told Michael, “Knowing Deni as well as I do, I think I better leave a note”. I took a post-it note from the desk and simply wrote, “DO NOT EAT!” Deni can through caution to the wind at times when it comes to experimenting with the unknown. I on the other hand, am too caution at times; but, I have not yet died from the ingestion of an unknown wild plant food.

Deni called later that day and left a message saying, “Wow, is that one of the berries from the big tall tree? Up close, it does look more like a blackberry—Oh, and don’t worry, although I was tempted, I didn’t eat it.”

Well, that got us thinking, “What kind of a tree is this? Are those berries actually edible? If the squirrels and birds eat them, they must not be poisonous.” So, I goggled, “Tree with miniature black berries?” and the first hit in the search was a post from someone else who was asking the same question. Well, come to find out, that tree is a fruiting mulberry tree. And, yes, the berries are edible. I was amazed. I had heard of mulberry bushes. In fact, as children, we used to sing a song, “Here we go around the mulberry bush” every time we were in the car with grandma and she was getting on or off a freeway entrance that looped around. However, I had never heard of a Mulberry tree and here we had one right outside our apartment.

We researched mulberry trees and recipes for mulberries. That evening we decided to “go-a-harvesting”. The berries were in different stages of development- light green, light pink, red, and, of course, black ones being the ripest. Because of their size and the limited number of black ripe berries, we did not come away with a bushel. Instead we ended up with maybe a cup of mulberries to work with.

That night for dinner we had oatmeal mulberry pancakes, topped with fresh mulberry syrup. That was just the beginning. That was what sparked our interest in exploring the rest of the wilderness area which we now call “The Secret Garden”. And yes, the mulberry tree, with its tiny berries was just the beginning of the wonders that we would find in this most enchanting place.

More to come...

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