How sweet it is
Rare mulberries and other produce are the tender fruits of one family's labor
Fact: There is no such thing as a mulberry bush.
Don't believe it? Ask Kevin Lynch of metroMulberry, Palo Alto's local mulberry grower.
Mulberries actually grow on trees. Very large trees. And the berries boast a different kind of sweetness than any other. Not quite as strong or flavorful as a blackberry and not quite as watery or mild as a blueberry.
Kevin's mulberries are as delicious as they are rare, and he and his family grow them in their own backyard, sans fertilizer or pesticides.
The Lynches exude a different kind of sweetness, too. They have lived in Palo Alto for nine years, turning what Kevin called a "rundown piece of junk" house into a lush utopia. The same year they moved, they planted their first mulberry tree out front. Since then, they have planted upwards of 20 more in their backyard, plus plums, apples, blackberries, lemons, black raspberries, apricots and others.
More recently, Kevin created metroMulberry, selling fresh mulberries and other homegrown fruits at the downtown Palo Alto farmers market and to local restaurants, such as Quattro at the Four Seasons Hotel in East Palo Alto and Pampas in Palo Alto.
Kevin, a seventh-grade science teacher, builds and grows everything himself. From the rows of mulberry trees to the outdoor pizza oven to the family's current kitchen remodel, Kevin is completely hands-on.
His wife, Monica, is also a teacher, and their two sons — Osmanthus ("Osi" for short), 10, and Halo, 9, seem precocious, relishing the attention their family's micro-farm has brought them. During a recent visit, Osi itched to show off his berry knowledge, which was undeniably impressive. He and his brother put together a plate displaying each kind of berry that he and his family grow, noting the particulars of each type.
"These are unusually sweet this time," Osi said, pointing to the Illinois Everbearing Mulberries, which were laid out next to the variety of other fruits he and his brother had gathered. Also on display were frozen mulberries drizzled in homemade honey and black raspberries. (Osi was careful to point out that black raspberries are nothing like blackberries).
Picking mulberries for the Lynches seems as much a part of their lives as sleeping or breathing. Even their rapport surrounding the towering plants is breezy and nonchalant.
"Do you have a mulberry stain on you?" Kevin asked his wife as they stood under one of five rows of mulberry trees in their yard.
"Yeah," she said, looking down at her arm and giving a contagious smile.
"Awesome," Kevin said with a chuckle.
Mulberry-juice stains are just a part of being backyard berry growers. Kevin and his family spend hours "tickling" their mulberries down from the branches.
"They are like the prodigal son," Kevin said about each mulberry. "Every time one drops, I get upset."
Monica nodded her head, saying she sometimes goes digging for fallen berries. "It's such a tender business," she said, placing a fresh mulberry into her picking bucket.
The tenderness of mulberries is what makes them impossible to find at supermarkets, Kevin said. The berries practically melt in your mouth as you eat them, as if they were more juice than fruit.
The Lynches' mulberries can be purchased at the farmers market every Saturday in downtown Palo Alto, though they sell out early every week. "I never have enough to sell," Kevin said.
But the berry business is more of a side project for Kevin and his family. They aren't in it for the money. "It's a real social thing," Kevin said about the market. He said the family has made friends with returning customers, other vendors and local chefs who buy their produce.
Involving their sons is another important part of the Lynches' farm. "It's precious," Monica said. "They appreciate the labor."
For her, knowing where their food comes from and understanding the importance of eating locally and organically are invaluable lessons for her children.
And even when selling to chefs at well-known restaurants, Kevin said he appreciates his relationships with them more than the fact that they will pay almost any price for his precious mulberries. He mentioned Nikki Baverso and Marco Fossati, the executive chefs at Pampas and Quattro, respectively, saying he and they are on the same wavelength.
"You just gotta love eating and making food and making people happy," he said.
5 to 10 mulberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 scant pinch of salt
1 shot of triple sec
2 shots vodka and just enough water to help it all move around
Place all ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously to break up the berries for flavor and color. Strain out into each glass, then top with a shot or two of bubbly water. Garnish with a fresh mulberry in each glass.
Leave out the triple sec and vodka to make a non-alcoholic version.
Info: Recipe from metroMulberry's Facebook page. For more information about the company, go to metromulberries.com.
Editorial intern Lauren-Marie Sliter can be reached at email@example.com.