Thursday, June 25, 2015

How I learned to appreciate mulberries

Deep dark mulberries
Istanbul – a vibrant and beautiful city that never seems to sleeps. On days where dark clouds conveniently block the scorching summer sun-rays, I can walk aimlessly among Sultanmehmet area for hours as a camera-wielding, souvenir-seeking tourist, stopping every two hours for a delicious yet cheap doner (meat wrap). But, human nature, well at least my nature, often craves what it currently doesn’t have. Walking among a sea of tourists on concrete pavements makes me nostalgic about my solidary morning runs back in the mountains of Kertmec. One thing I miss the most about being in Kertmec is being able to learn about new fruits, vegetables and cooking ingredients almost everyday. My experience with mulberries - a fruit that I came to know a lot about- is one example.

Mulberry fruits - my pre-breakfast snack

On some mornings when I got to sleep in, I would wake up around 6:30 am to the piercing roar of cockatoos. They remind me of the constantly nagging wife I never had. After brushing my teeth half-awake with ice-cold water, my attention suddenly diverted to my hunger. Have you ever seen some scenes in Chinese martial art movies, where the poisoned and dying Kung Fu master desperately needs the antidote in literally next 30 second to prevent uncontrollable internal bleeding? Well, that’s what my morning hunger feels like – eat now or have a shitty rest of the day. Unfortunately, my hosts usually eat their breakfasts around 8:30, and there is no freaking way I will have the neither patience nor self-discipline to wait for 2 hours. So, I started running down about a quarter of a mile down the mountain towards a big mulberry tree. I would have the fructose-filled buffet on unwashed mulberries straight out from the tree, to a point where my face, lips, shirts and hands were badly stained with purplish red dyes from squashed mulberries. I would look like a zombie who just came back from a feeding frenzy. The idea of eating wild berries alone at the crack of dawn on top of a mountain has never actually crossed my mind, but I thoroughly enjoyed every second of my solitude, and every sweet bite of mulberries.

Some mulberries are gorgeously pearl white,

Scrumptious white mulberries

I am the type who fell in love quickly, and I instantaneously became almost obsessed with mulberries. I wanted to learn, find and taste more of those fragrant berries, and I was in the right place at the right time with right people. The person who shares similar fascination with mulberries happened to be my very host. We would drive around the city, on top of the mountains, around the beach just to find different varieties of mulberry trees. Some bear white berries, some faint purple, and some deep dark black. Many times my host and I would look undeniably weird, cutting branches from wild mulberry trees and piling them up at the back of his jeep for grafting later (His garden has a special mulberry tree that has been grafted with five different mulberry varieties). I swear to god I actually ate about 2 lbs. of mulberries in one day, and convinced that I have finally mulberries out of my system.
Ruby red and deep dark mulberries

Ruby red mulberries

Now, in Istanbul, I often came across small markets that sell wimpy looking mulberries, often attracting unaware tourists with curiosity. On several occasions, I had to stop my urge to scream everyone to stop buying these sad-looking berries, and how they should go to Kertmec area and taste right from the trees (I am actually notorious for letting other tourists know when they are buying over-priced yet low quality products). But, then again, one man’s obsession is another person’s oblivion, and I decided not to be obnoxious by keeping myself quiet. I will think of my mulberry-hoarding experience in Kertmec whenever I see those fragile fruits.

A neighborhood grandma generously giving us a branch of her mulberry tree for grafting

The gloves of the grandma. Still wet exterior indicated that she has just finished working. It is amazing how an eighty-year-old can be active better than I ever can.
Hoarding up the branches for grating

Finally grafted

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