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Now humble as the ripest mulberry

If you walk around Chicago now and see sidewalks stained purple, look up: You’ve found a mulberry tree in season.

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Ripe mulberry and mulberries-in-waiting in tree (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)

“Thy stout heart
Now humble as the ripest mulberry
That will not hold the handling”

Coriolanus, Shakespeare

If you walk around Chicago now and see sidewalks stained purple, look up: You’ve found a mulberry tree in season.

Ripe mulberry with stem (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)

If a nearly black berry is within reach, gently tug it with your fingertips. If it’s truly ripe it will fall willingly into your hand. Congratulations: You are now an urban forager.

You can share your find online, since some people out there believe we only have two lonely fruit trees in the entire city, both mulberry. No need for guerilla grafting of mulberry trees, we have plenty. Some might say we have too many.

Handful of mulberries (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)

A soft stem extends through the berry, but it’s all actually edible. You’ll barely notice the seeds, tiny and crunchy like poppyseeds.

Bowlful of mulberries (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)

If you’re lucky, you’ll have found an old tree, who’s soaked the sun for years, possibly 101. For Arbor Day 1911, schoolkids planted half a million Russian mulberry trees in front yards, backyards, schoolyards, and small parks—thanks to J.H. Prost, the evangelizing Chicago city forester.

The warm mulberry aroma will be intoxicating; their taste, hopefully delicately sweet. The juice will stain your hands. They will not hold the handling.

Mulberry stained hand (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)

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