This is a good thing. It means we get to walk around our work neighborhood on our mid-morning and afternoon constitutionals. We are always on the lookout for urban wildlife and luckily we've found the normal squirrels and birds and not the dreaded giant city rats. But it was after just such an encounter with some raucous birds that led us to a more wonderful discovery - FREE FOOD!
As Jackson and I walked along this row of trees behind our building, we were besieged by a variety of angry birds bursting from the trees. Mouthy starlings, chubby doves, hopping robins all chattering that we were messing with important bird business. It wasn't until that we got up closer to this big tree that I understood what we had interrupted.
A bountiful bird buffet. Berries. But what kind? I can usually identify bush or shrub fruit but tree berries are a bit out of my league. We took a leaf as a example to help in our identification and toddled back to google image search tree berries. Soon the answer presented itself - Mulberries. And while it might look like a berry it's actually defined as a collective fruit but better yet, it's edible to humans. I love finding free fruit. Now all I have to do is pick them.
This seems like a straightforward procedure but what I discovered is that picking mulberries is not as easy as it looks. First there's their size. Roughly the same shape and makeup as a blackberry but smaller with a sturdy stem to the tree. That stem is a bit of an issue. You see while some of the outer lobes of the fruit might be bursting with juicy ripeness, the stem might have other ideas. So if you overly exert pressure on the fruit to dislodge the stem from the branch, you will either bruise the fruit by holding on too tightly or drop the fruit by not holding on tight enough. Hence the white sheet and branch shaking method that brought a rain of mulberries down to earth. All to a chorus of still angry birds, denied their spectacular mulberry dropping paint used with great efficiency to decorate nearby vehicular canvases. Finally I felt I had gathered enough to make something.
Not to mention tattooing my hands with a deep purple stain in the process. But what to make? I was clueless. I don't think I had enough for a pie, maybe just enough for a crumble or crisp. I decided instead to give them away. To offer them up to a local chef. Not just any local chef but the man that put duck tongue tacos on his menu, Michael Smith.
He and his wife Nancy have two restaurants in the Crossroads area of downtown Kansas City, his namesake, Michael Smith and Extra Virgin. I love Extra Virgin for it's generous half prices tapas hours and it's outdoor seating area. Hot, sweaty and fruit stained I offered up my fresh and incredibly local fruit to Chef Smith. He didn't hesitate, suggesting that mulberry jam could be in the works. He asked what price for the fruit and I said I didn't really want money, I wanted to see what he would do with the fruit. He invited me to lunch but I was a mess and still had Jackson and at the moment wanted nothing more than to go home to shower. I took a rain check on lunch.
Poblano mac and cheese? Heaven. A tower of Chickpea fries. Smoky grilled broccollini and burrata? My still stained hands happily sampled it all.
But the best (thank you waiter for suggesting it) was the braised pork cheeks with fava beans and lentils. Crispy, savory pork goodness. Well worth the couple of hours of angry birds and sticky digits. What did Chef Smith end up making with the mulberries? The lucky folks at an event at the Nelson Atkins Museum enjoyed the freshest possible mulberry sauce on duck and helped raise money for a good cause courtesy of Michael Smith and an urban fruit tree.