Berry Confused

In my younger years, the exchange of Spring and Summer always became concrete by way of longer days, louder trilling of birds as they hummed a collective song about the rise of a new season, and the twinkling of fireflies as they shyly swayed to the cool breeze at dusk. Honeysuckles waited for the hush of the night to sneak tendrils of sweet floral notes down the street to my house. 

It's that same bush where I experienced my first picking of small, but ripened berries. It was late spring, and my mother was walking me to school as she always did each morning for six years. At the end of our street I noticed the stain of violet on the concrete, then looked up at the source and saw thin branches embellished with leaves stretched towards me, offering their berries as a gift of nature, a welcoming gift of the new season. The early morning sunlight strained through the intertwined branches as I picked my first berry. The soft clusters rolled beneath my fingers, malleable to my press and curiosity. My interest followed until I finally placed the berry in my mouth and felt the burst of sweetness across my tastebuds. The fruity flavor coated my tongue like a well-worn blanket perfect for summertime. It was not tart at all. It tasted wonderfully warm, as if the berries captured the early sunlight to rouse my young palate. 

The next day we came back with a little ziplog baggie and collected the ripest berries for me to eat either to or at school, not only from the tree at the end of the street, but from trees at the corner of the busy street intersection. I had a little less than half left once I entered school. My fingers were stained a deep reddish purple, as if I colored with an inky Jazzberry Jam crayon. For years after I would stop to occasionally pick some berries if they hung low enough, relishing in the fruit that none of my peers seemed to want.

When I was a teenager and adamant about growing my own fruit tree (my mother and grandmother cultivated their own vibrant vegetable garden, so I had to prove my own green thumb), I had my parents buy me a blackberry bush barely grown out of its roots. We planted it in the back, next to my grandmother's butternut squash and my mother's eggplant, and for the rest of spring I watered the tree and awaited summer's harvest.

blackberry tart
Farmers' Market Find

When the first berry emerged, I eagerly picked it and popped it into my mouth, ready to taste the same sweetness as I had previous summers. It was then that I realized that I had mistakenly purchased blackberries when I thought they were the same berries I had been picking as a child. The tartness settled beneath the sweetness, and though the blackberries plumped to be ripe and sweeter, they were not the same berries I remember being so sweet. Similar in shape and size, I had thought the berries I excitedly grew were what I tasted when I was younger, as I had never eaten a blackberry prior to my planting it. 

Google helped me learn that it was mulberries I picked, not blackberries. Mulberries that grew from trees, not bushes, were red, not blue, had way less seeds than blackberries, and were sweeter. The differences now are easily distinguishable, but as a child I had thought both were one in the same. Eventually the blackberry bush grew too bushy and thorny, and whenever I went outside to pick berries it had seemed that birds and bugs got to them first. It died and I never grew another bush, perhaps out of a failed attempt at growing my favorite berry tree.

I've never loved blackberries. They, like raspberries, are always too seedy for my taste to eat as a freshly picked fruit. But pureed or cooked through, they're perfect jams or fruit fillings. Or blackberry sorbet, which is something I will try later this summer. I don't like too much texture getting in the way of the fruit flavor, but the flavor itself is sweet and flavorful, a wonderful accompaniment to summer. 

Though I'm not a big fan of blackberries, I did make tartlets that feature their subtle sweetness. The berries are locally grown, big and plump with juice and flavor. Embedded on a smooth canvas of creamy honey mascarpone and encased in a crisp tart shell, the tarts are good for capturing what it means for it to finally be summer. 

The mulberries have gone with the final edge of spring. On my morning walks to work I made sure to stop and pluck the ripest berries from the branches, testing the weight of sweetness and childhood memories on my tongue, letting it all stick to my throat and stain my fingers with the hope that this summer will merit new memories, but most importantly, more berries.

blackberry tart