Moving into a house is a voyage of discovery. Living in a thirty-something odd year old house for the first couple of months is like an archeological dig–you are always finding things. Stuff you didn’t know was there, and there is a surprise around every corner. You never know what you will find.
That is exciting. It is like two or three months or so of Christmas, especially when it comes to inheriting someone else’s yard and garden. Gifts just pop up out of the ground in a most delightful fashion every day.
Or they fall out of the sky and plonk one on the head.
That is how I discovered the mulberries.
I was walking down the driveway to cross the road and get the mail when something dropped out of a tree and plopped on top of my head.
I thought that I might have been hit by a fly-by dropping, but no, it rolled and then plunked onto the pavement right in front of my toes, then rolled down the slight incline. I watched it and saw that it was a reddish-purple berry and that many of its brethren had been squashed upon our driveway. Purple splotches stained the entire bottom half of the driveway. I picked up the wee fruit and blinked.
I looked up, and saw a fruit-laden branch arching gracefully over the drive, just a foot or two above my head, toothy leaves dancing in the breeze.
Further up the tree, a female cardinal was dining on the berries. She saw me looking up at her and flew away.
“Mulberries!” I did a little jig of happiness and reached up and picked a couple of them. The deep purple, almost black fully ripe ones were quite sweet, almost to the point of being insipid, but the reddish ones that were the exact color of the crayon entitled, “mulberry” in the old 64 box of Crayolas I grew up with were tart and sweet and firm and juicy. I picked a small handful and boogied inside to share them with Zak.
In the meantime, I forgot about the mail, but really, who gives a damned for bills and credit card offers when you have mulberries?
Zak obediently opened his mouth when I commanded and chewed the dark purple berry I popped in thoughtfully. “Kinda overly sweet,” he commented. He opened his mouth to say something else, and I tossed in one of the slightly underripe ones. He bit into it and his eyes flew open as the tartness played tag with his tastebuds.
“That,” he said as he swallowed, “Is more like it.”
I gave him the last one I had and smiled as he ate it.
“So, what are you going to do with them?” he asked.
I had no bloody idea.
But, of course, one does not refuse a gift so gladly given by Mother Nature as a mulberry tree right there in the front yard at the end of your driveway. So, I had to do something.
I really didn’t want to go clambering up the tree in order to pick enough to make a tart or a pie; for one thing, my tree clambering skills are a bit on the nonexistant side these days, what with being creaky in the knees and whatnot. So, sweets were out. Salad was a possiblity, but I didn’t want salad.
What I wanted to cook and what I had planned to cook was Chinese food. Something to do with pork sirloin chops (from Bluescreek Farm, of course) that I had thawed, with some Shanghai bok choi and maybe some carrots. That was what I was planning on.
And says I to myself, “You know, they grow mulberries in China, don’t they?”
And a light went on in my head and I decided to do a sweet pork recipe with mulberries.
A quick search online showed that it likely wasn’t a traditional Cantonese practice to put some mulberries in a pork stir-fry, but that has never stopped me before. I did read, however, that mulberries were used as a liver tonic in traditional Chinese food cures, and that was good enough for me to give it a go.
So, I grabbed a bowl and went out and filled it with mulberries. I picked most of them off the two branches that I could reach, and some unblemished ones off the ground.
It seems that in the American South, farmers used to let hogs forage off of mulberries in the woods. It was a “harvest free” crop, because you just let the trees drop them, and the hogs wander along and gobble them up. It makes the pig’s meat apparently sweet and tender. Since there were no hogs about to eat up the berries, I took their place, and picked some up.
Chickens apparently like them, too, which stands to reason; I noticed as I was picking that there were nuthatches, titmice and cardinals all flitting up in the higher branches, eating berries with great merriment. Birds are very into mulberries, so I left lots of fruit on the ground for the doves and grackles and other ground-feeding avians.
So, I dashed inside and rinsed them, and plucked off the thread-like stems, which meant I stained my fingers with the lovely reddish purple juice, then fell to cutting and slicing while the rice cooker burbled in the corner, billowing forth periodic clouds of jasmine-rice scented steam.
Here is how I made the dish:
Mulberry Pork, just off the stove, still filled with wok hay–the essence or breath of the wok. I preferred the underripe berries in this dish–when I make it again, I will use only the sourer red ones.
1 pound lean pork, thinly sliced into strips about 1″ long and 1/2″ wide
2 tablespoons Shao Hsing wine
1/2 teaspoon thin soy sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons peanut oil for stir frying
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 1/2″ chunk fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
3 scallions, white part thinly sliced
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup carrots peeled and sliced on the bias
1/2 cups Shanghai bok choi, trimmed and cut into 1″ slices
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon rice vinegar (optional–if you use mostly half-ripe mulberries, you won’t need it)
1 cup rinsed, stemmed mulberries
Toss pork with wine and soy sauce and cornstarch. Allow to marinate at room temperature for twenty minutes or so while you cut vegetables.
Heat wok until smoking on high heat. Add oil and allow to heat thirty seconds more, or until oil shimmers from convection. Add garlic, ginger and scallions, and stir and fry for about forty-five seconds to a minute, until very fragrant and golden. Add a few grindings of black pepper.
Add pork, arrange so it is all in one layer on the bottom of wok, and let sit and brown for about thirty-five to forty seconds. (If there is liquid standing in the marinating bowl, reserve it for later in the cooking process.) Stir fry vigorously until most of the outside is no longer pink. Add carrots and stir fry about a minute.
Add bok choi, and stir-fry until it begins to brighten in color and wilt ever so slightly. Add salt, sugar, broth and vinegar, and stir fry until liquid thickens into a sauce that clings to everything.
Add mulberries, and stir and fry for about forty five seconds more.
Serve with steamed rice and green tea with jasmine.
It turned out well, but I wish that I would have had some fresh water chestnuts to add to it. The crunch and sweetness would have been superb.
All in all, I think it was successful.
Next year, when I know that there will be mulberries, I think that I will attempt a mulberry sorbet. Maybe I can talk someone who is more adept at tree climbing than I am to take a basket up in their teeth and fetch us down enough berries to do something along those lines. That could be fun!
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.