One delight of childhood summers on an Oklahoma farm was the mulberry bush just beyond the front porch. I ate where I stood, the juice staining my face and running vivid down my arms, and wondered why my mom always knew what I had been doing.

The first spring we lived in this house, we discovered that the branches spilling low over our back fence were laden with dark, glistening fruit: it’s a mulberry tree. I adore the taste and abominate the mess–and since I object more strongly to stains than my mom did, the kids are forbidden to pick themselves, lest every stitch of clothing they own be ruined. We have a new rule at our house: if you are 6, 4, or 2, mulberries are eaten from a bowl, with a spoon.

I picked these on Saturday morning. They were so perfectly ripe that anything but the lightest touch brought down a shower of berries, splashing brilliant purple on my shirt and face and ankles.

The boys ate them with purple lips, and with bibs.

They taste like summer.

E (disheveled from a morning of hard play) clamored for them, took one dainty taste, and gave me this face: “I don’t yike dem.”

That left more for the rest of us.

The toll: I have purple spots on my face, and this is what my picking hand looked like after thorough washing. And that is why this is currently a Mama-job only.

But a white bowl full of berries is worth it.

*** P.S.: Don’t worry–someday I will dress my kids in old clothes and let them pick their own mulberries. But this was not that day. With three young ones close in age who are still dependent on me for a lot of help, some days it’s overwhelming just to get out the door, let alone change clothes before going out and then have a bath afterwards. And a lot of mulberries go unpicked because I don’t have time or energy to get to them; in this case I decided it was better to pick the berries for them and let them enjoy the eating than to not pick and eat at all. But yes, someday (maybe when they’re a little older?) we will all get some old clothes nice and stained eating our mulberries straight from the tree.