The mulberry tree flowers almost simultaneously as the mango. i.e. around second-or third week of February but fruits much before the ‘sunshine fruit’. By mid-March, the pale red fruit turns deep black and is ready to be plucked. Delay picking them up you may lose them to the birds, a favourite among the two-footed winged creature.
All day long birds frequent the mulberry chirping, snapping at the fruit and then flying away. But it’s in the evening when the sun is homebound they arrive in swarms, like the commuters in Mumbai trying to board the suburban locals. And leave after having their dessert.
Chattering, chirping their tiny wings flapping they descend on the thin branches, choosing their position they tear away the fruit with their beaks while letting many to drop on the ground. Like choosy shoppers who wouldn’t buy a good-looking tomato or apple, the birds they rarely pick the fallen fruits believing in the philosophy of ‘let others have it too’, leaving it for the insects.
Mulberry, known as tooti in Marathi and shahtoot (King Mulberry) in Hindi, has a cousin which is green in colour and is grown in the Northern parts of India. Once grown abundantly you could find them sold in dona (cups made of leaves) in the village market but getting a glimpse of the fruit nowadays has become a rarity.
An excellent shade tree, my friend SS tells me that during the summer months he often found his landowner uncle sprawled on his khat (string charpoy) under a shahtoot tree in his native village, close to Jaipur. Visiting farmers from the neighbouring bera (hutments on agricultural land) sat underneath for a chat while the pet dog slept.
Picking the fruits can be a laborious task and it’s advised to spread a sheet below and shake the tree vigorously. Adivasis in Jharkhand, a friend tell me, use medicated mosquito nets given by State’s health officials to collect jamun and mulberry instead of sleeping under them.
Shahtoots are good for health and have the same benefits as other mulberries, being rich in antioxidants; flavonoids and what researchers believe are anti-cancer agents.
Last Sunday I brought home nearly 2kgs of mulberry home and by evening wifey turned them into jam. Though it was her maiden attempt she succeeded. The next morning it was the turn of the smoothie while overnight the fruit stayed in the fridge.
Did you know that you can also get multiple crops by pruning immediately after your first crop? I had a crop in October and again enjoying one in March.