Going ’round the Mulberry Bush
My driveway is covered in purple bird shit. So is the walkway up to the front door. So is my car, including the windows; from the driver’s seat, I’m treated to a fine, up-close view of the bird excrement: the usual white preempted by a deep purple, accompanied by a splattering of little seeds.
It’s one of the many charming aspects of living with a fruit-bearing mulberry tree. Our tree isn’t the worst that I’ve seen–no, that horror belongs to my cousin, who has a tremendously large tree over her back deck. Birds don’t deliver the stain-filled payloads in her case; that tree just drops the little, sticky, purple bombs with such alarming frequency that that the deck is strictly off limits. Too easy to track through the house; removing the mulberries from one’s shoes is almost as bad as removing beach tar from your feet.
Of course, her tree is probably 20 feet tall. Mine looks like Sigmund the Sea Monster and probably is better described as the proverbial mulberry bush, being rather short and round. I’ll admit: One neat benefit is presence of the very birds that plague us with purple poop. Some of the coolest birds I’ve seen — red breasted ones, shockingly yellow ones, cute little brown ones — visit the front yard from spring through summer, simply due to that tree. If only they’d reserve their bowel movement for when flying over a neighbors’ house.
I can understand why the birds dig those berries. When the fruit first starts turning that dark purple, indeed I go ’round it — looking for the fresh berries, eating them right off the branches. They taste a lot like blackberries, but brighter. It’s a near-unparalleled pleasure, eating fresh fruit right off the plucking.
But, while satisfying, occasional trips to the front yard for a mulberry are not reason enough to keep this tree. It would be another story if I could easily share the mulberries, but they are pretty fragile, which makes them exceedingly hard to pick, especially in bulk; they tend to burst open and get that sticky, staining stuff all over my hands. I sometimes pick and store these berries for personal use — more to take away potential ammunition for bird bombs than for convenience — but due to the accidental pre-mastication effect, I’d never share them with friends. After just a couple hours, they’re kind of gross.
My strategy was to come up with a way to share them in a less spoilable form. So what interesting things can one do with a mulberry? Pies might be fun, but I am no baker. Jams might work, sure. However, the idea I went with for sharing delicious mulberry flavor was, in my mind, befitting a self-professed beverage enthusiast: infusing a vodka.
Every couple days, with each new wave of ripe berries, I am attempting to mitigate the bird droppings by gathering as many as I can find, at least about a pint, to clean and put in a jar with about two pints of vodka. A small squeeze of lemon juice to preserve flavor, then cover and let sit in a cool, dark place. I’m agitating the mixture twice a day; in about three weeks, maybe a month, I’ll strain with a cheesecloth. Perfect for mixing up a little something special at home (I’m thinking mulberry-spiked lemonade) or putting into little glass flasks for gifts (Father’s Day, anyone?)
In fact, that’s how I’ll be sharing all my backyard bounty this summer (note the jar labeled “sapote.” You want to talk weird fruit? Now there’s a weird fruit).