There’s a recording I came across one day while browsing the archives of the American Folklife Center. The tape is not old—it was recorded in 1995—but if you didn’t know that, you could guess that it was from any time, really. There’s a slight tape hiss and the West Virginia accents from Kenny and Martha Pettry are thick. They’re talking about berry pies that Kenny’s mother used to make, and he lists them off in a cadence, pausing between each one. “Yea, my mother made pies out of mulberries. Blueberries. Blackberries. Huckleberries.” Then Martha interjects, “I just never did care for no mulberries.” The two talk over each other for a bit and she exclaims, “The mulberry’s the worst berry there ever was!”
Now how could this be true? I was worried, listening to the undoubted berry wisdom of these mountain dwellers. Because though it sounds silly to say, Martha Pettry’s least favorite berry played a crucial role in some of my most foundational experiences. Or, the mulberry was a the grounding force of the one glorious season in which I found myself falling into the rest of my life.
Essay originally appeared on the now-defunct Gilt Taste. Copy available via Internet Archive