Wednesday, July 08, 2009

In Praise of Mulberries

Last night, after watering the garden, I laid down in the hammock for a few minutes and then wandered down to the mulberry trees for a little dessert. We're in peak mulberry season and we have four trees that produce copiously. One, in particular, has the tastiest berries of them all and I worked my way up one delightful branch. It is the perfect blend of sweet and tang, just the most delicious berry I've ever tasted -- I loves me all kinds of berries.

The thing is that you'll never buy them in a store. We have friends who have an organic farm about 25 minutes away and every year we help them harvest their blueberries. After a long day of picking we get a percentage for our freezer, which we save for frostier times of year when fresh berries are usually just an unsatisfied longing.

Last year, as we're picking and chatting about varietals and watering and what grows well where, TheWife asked why we don't see mulberries for sale given how wonderful they are. Our hosts just laughed. A few years back, they had a student working an internship on their farm to learn about organic growing practices and when he found a mulberry tree along their long, dirt driveway, he too fell in love with the fruit. He decided that he would pick and sell them at the farmers' market in DC where our friends sell their produce on weekends.

He tried. He failed. The berries just won't last off the tree long enough to get to market. They got mushy and lost their tang. It made me realize how thin of a slice of what grows that we get because our choices are dictated by that market. Fruit is apples, oranges, and bananas; maybe a peach and a plum occasionally. But how much are we missing?

I'd tried carambola before, I thought it tasted like a bland cross between a grape and an apple. Then I tried one at a little fruit stand outside of Everglades National Park ('Robert Is Here' if you are ever in south Florida). Mind blown. Again, what a shame it is that we experience food so badly.

When you think about what school cafeterias did to vegetables or even what comes out of cans, is it any wonder children won't eat them. To be honest, I wouldn't either. The only flavors Americans will tolerate are bland and sweet. It is not only sad, but a big part of the reason we have the obesity epidemic (here's an amazing animated map from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showing how obesity levels have changes across the country since 1985).

What can we do to change the way we experience what we eat?