“Would you like to go for mulberries,” asked Hamid in our way out of a friend's house after a night of poetry reading. We used to get together often for what we called the “sh'er zendeh daari.” Everyone brought a book of poems they liked and we took turns reading and talking about our favorite passages. As soon as the weather wormed up a little, someone would make sure there was plenty of hot tea, shirini (sweets) and fruits to last through the night. We would sit around a hoze (pond) or under the trees after dinner and bask in the warmth of friends, reading poetry as we absorbed the chill in the early spring air with each sip of our hot tea and shirini.
The dark blue blanket of pre-dawn light, had given way to a foggy mist in the air as we walked toward his jeep. No one wanted this night with its lingering sweet glow to end, and going for mulberry picking on the side of the road in the outskirts of the city excited us all!
While we were trying to fit everyone in the jeep, Farhad brought a bed sheet from his house and we left for Vakilabad, still trying to find a place to sit in a crowded car. We ended up on each other's lap and had to shift our bodies around each time he had to change gear.
Mulberries are best in early morning as they are still cool from the night air and before the sun drenches them. They are best shaken off the tree with gentle encouragement into a clean sheet and eaten on the spot. Their delicate form and sweet texture can not withstand a journey home . We picked an old tree with many majestic bending branches, heavy with deep red mulberries. Each branch offering its fruit gratuitously, after a short drive out of the city. One of the guys climbed up the tree and with a light and loving touch shook some of the branches while the rest of us held on to corners of the sheet beneath the tree. We could just taste each mulberry as we watched them fall onto the sheet and all over us.
By now, the blue sky above us had a few colorful shades of yellow and orange added to its splendor and the misty feeling of pre-dawn chill had given way to a cozy warm sensation. We sat by the stream running by the side of the road, enjoying the cool, sweet and juicy mulberries as we watched the refreshing water of the stream sing the mysteries of life on its way to an unknown destination. Looking beyond the trees, on a clearing on the grass, I could see the marks and designs of another memorable adventure a few months earlier, when Hamid and I had set the stream and snow on fire under the watchful eye of the moon!
The early morning traffic of truck loads of fresh fruits and vegetables to the city had broken our tranquil over-indulgence on plump and honey-sweet mulberries. We knew a little place in Vakilabad with the creamiest sarshir (double cream), maast (yogurt) and doogh (yogurt drink) , the debshest tea, and the freshest bread off the oven. Mashtee Ali was surprised to see so many of us get out of the jeep and as always, happy to serve us with his best. We asked him to set up a few nimkats and bring us doogh, tea and bread that was soaked overnight in fresh milk, with a crust of cream on top. We walked around and watched Mashtee Ali and his paado (helper), bringing out colorful carpets and gilims and spreading them on the nimkats placed under the old chenar (plane) trees.
The sun was almost up and we could feel its loving touch on our backs through the leaves, gently moving in the breeze as we sat down to feast on a magnificent assortment of Mashtee Ali's best.
The lingering sweet after taste of mulberries, the cooling effect of a glass of tangy doogh, the debshness of labdooz and labsooz tea, creamy sarshir and fresh hot bread on a lovely spring day, at home, in a beautiful countryside cafe in a company of friends and loved ones, is a dream I would love to live once more.
About the author
xAle (pronounced khaa-leh, maternal aunt in Persian) is an old timer who grew up in Iran when words such as mirAb, mAyeh khamir, Ab-anbAr and hAvan were part of daily life. Through stories and remembrances of old days, she will be sharing with us part of our past.
* Also by xAle:
– Sunflowers: Love
– Nobar: Fruits
* Cover stories
* Who's who