Tonight I picked mulberries for the first time.
What to say about mulberry picking? I walked up the house at the end of the street. "Local, local, it's the buzz word. Everyone keeps saying to eat local," the man tells me, offering me water or tea. "But where is local? A lot comes from South America, some from African countries, from China, from Europe. Where is Canada?" I nod my head in agreement. Who knows what's in season anymore? Peppers are in season, but the only ones you'll find at the superstores around here at from the U.S.A. What about peas? I see English cucumbers from Ontario, I see onions, potatoes. An apple here or there if you're lucky. But Ontario berries are slim and I rarely see cherries.
Many are under the impression, so it appears, that we don't grow much in Canada. It's kind of absurd how little we know about our own unique culinary landscape. Have you heard of serviceberries, also known as Saskatoon berries? They grow freely in parks. Free food! There's various mushroom varieties, and apple varieties of course. But we grow other things. Chicory, wild rice, other wild edibles. A landscape that produces asparagus, lettuce, pears, apples, plums, apricots, crabapples, mulberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb. I remember growing up in my Nan's backyard and feasting on ripe rhubarb, straight from the garden, eaten without sugar. I remember picking crabapples from her tree and picking out the worms, savoring their tart flesh. I remember running through the cornfields. I remember picking our Halloween pumpkins at a nearby local farm, and buying fresh sweet corn from roadside stops. I know the taste of fresh peppers and the delicious earthiness of a fresh mushroom, and I know what a good potato can do to a person.
We shook the mulberry tree collectively over a couple sheets, trying to get the fruit down. Together we managed to get about five pounds, each taking home a little under half a pound. It's hardly worth it, maybe, to pick mulberries. You don't get much at a time. But I saw the sun set over the ravine, and I managed to forge bonds with perfect strangers over similar interests and convictions. Why were we there? To help out a local charity? To indulge in a few mulberries? I was there because I am dedicated to becoming more connected to my environment and to my food, to learning more about where things come from and how they grow. There's a lot of lessons to be gleaned from nature, I think. And there's something to be said for simple living. I could do without a lot of things. I'd be willing to give it all up. But at the end of the day, I want a future where people are sitting around eating good, local food; I want to live in a present where the local food scene is thriving, and people understand what it means to "eat Canadian". And most importantly, at least to me, I want to appreciate what's on my plate, never take it for granted, and treat the world I live in with respect and gratitude, cherishing each delicious bite and each special moment.