Mulberries–even if you don’t know them, you *know* them. They’re fruit of the tree that grows like a weed in Pennsylvania, making itself at home in vacant lots, near rivers and streams, and along trails. And the fruit–a little bit sweet and a little bit tart–is dropping everywhere around Western Pennsylvania this time of year. For commentator Jennifer Szweda Jordan, these native berries are more than just a quick snack.
The mulberry trees at this time of year remind me of the book of Genesis. This is the line: “And out of the ground, the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.”
It’s like the Garden of Eden, free fruit for all. But I’m on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail on Pittsburgh’s South Side, moments from urbanism.
LISTEN: “The Bounty of Mulberry Trees is a Sign of Divine Providence”
This is my favorite spot for harvesting mulberries. Right now, the delicate berries have turned from chartreuse to blackish purple, from sour to sweet. I always stop to eat my share — okay, probably more than my share. I have what feels like a quiet communion with the trees in this public space where joggers and cyclists pass by.
There’s a plethora of food here for the taking. Yet many of the joggers who run past the trees will finish their workout without giving this a thought. Maybe they’ll even go to the grocery store to buy dried mulberries, which have now entered the market as a superfood. No judgment. I buy those, too.
After all, the mulberries on the Mon Trail are completely inefficient. They’re out for just a short time. They don’t travel well. Their flesh breaks at the touch, leaving hands and chin stained after eating. But still, I don’t understand why more people don’t seize the moment and stop for this annual and ephemeral treat.
I have fond memories of coming here with a friend who shared my appreciation for mulberries. We brought plastic yogurt containers and tried to fill them. It’s not an easy task because of their tiny size and propensity to dissolve almost immediately into juice, leaving ever more room in the containers.
I can’t recall what we talked about while we weaved in and out of the stands of trees to pluck their fruits. But I know it was one of my favorite days in the history of our friendship. I know we smiled a lot that day at nature’s generosity.
When I worked here at The Allegheny Front full-time, I took interns mulberry picking as a sort of retreat. This trail along the Monongahela River is close to the show’s office. I recall that one intern shared her challenges in discerning her future path as we walked. She opened up in a way you don’t always get in a setting filled with computers and desks.
This week as I ran on the trail, I saw patches of mulberries mashed on the concrete — a telltale sign that the time is right to pick the fruits. I arranged my workout so I’d turn around at the right point to do a walking cool down among the trees with the most plentiful fruit.
I was delighted to see one family doing the same. A boy filmed his mom in a white Muslim hijab headscarf and dress while she picked mulberries. I wanted to talk with them but I chose to let them enjoy their sacred time in the trees.
To me, the bounty of the mulberry trees is a sign of divine providence. A sign that even here, where steel mills once stood, and no matter what damage is being done to the environment right now, nature, for the moment, continues to offer her fruit.
Note: Jennifer Szweda Jordan is the former host of The Allegheny Front.