Mad About Mulberries


Here is what mulberries look like up close and personal.

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.

A mulberry.

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.


Surprise! I have a mulberry tree in my yard!

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.

What, indeed.

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.

But what?

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.

Mulberry Pork

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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!

14 Comments

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  1. Ah yes, they do have mulberries in China. Ever hear of mulberry paper? Got one beside my house too. Two of them actually, so now we need a trained monkey to pick them for us. I know the trees here are climbable since our arboreal groundhogs love to sit in the tree and munch on them.

    Oh, what about a mulberry drink like the grape I made? Over ice cream…. *shudder*

    Comment by Bryian — June 10, 2005 #

  2. This is fantastic! We saw berries that looked just like this growing wild during our bike ride last week and didn’t know what they were (so didn’t pick any). Now I’m going back to harvest some. Thanks!

    Comment by sprite — June 10, 2005 #

  3. “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.”

    Sounds like a job for Morganna Froghunter. ;)

    Comment by Judith — June 10, 2005 #

  4. Yes, mulberry paper is beautiful, and is used in all sorts of artwork.

    In addition, of course, silkworms are fed mulberry leaves.

    The Chinese variety is called the “white mulberry;” the one native to the eastern US is the “red mulberry.” There are also “black mulberries,” but they bear fruit late in the summer, not late spring/early summer like the ones we have, Bry.

    Arboreal groundhogs? I wonder if we can train them to carry baskets in their teeth?

    Mulberry flavor might be too delicate to withstand your turbo-yeast treatment, Bry. Maybe if you used the less ripe berries and added a bit of something to kick up the flavor a notch. I don’t know what, but I am sure we can think of something….

    Mulberries are cropping up everywhere, Sprite! Welcome to my blog–nice to see you–feel free to comment or ask questions any time you like. Dialogues are fun here.

    Judith–you know, I was thinking that it would be a perfect job for the Wee Frogstalker! (I shouldn’t call her wee for much longer–she is going to be as tall as me when next I see her–if not taller!)

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — June 10, 2005 #

  5. I noticed the mulberries in the field next to us a while back (I live on the Gulf Coast, so ours are already gone). So I picked as many as I could reach and made muffins with them. Hubby was thrilled since he didn’t know the tree was there.

    So he went with me the next day, and he held the branches down while I picked, and he wanted muffins again (not unusual, he loves muffins).

    But we were tired of getting so few when we could see so many. And no way were we eating the ground berries because the ducks from the mini-farm on the other side apparently spent a lot of time there too LOL

    So I thought about it and decided to bring my cane (I hardly use it anymore, but keep it for the occasional bad day/s). It has a curved handle instead of the ones that are more of a right-angle.

    He used the cane to reach the higher branches and then held them down while I picked. We’ll probably stick to that way since it worked so good.

    I saw a photo at http://www.foragingpictures.com/ that put down a tarp while someone climbed the tree and shook the branches. We might try that, with him climbing of course.

    Oh, and when the blackberries started ripening, he didn’t care about the mulberries anymore. But the blackberries stopped and we were able to get one more batch of mulberries (again in muffins).

    Sherri

    Comment by Anonymous — June 10, 2005 #

  6. I found your blog while searching for farms and farmer’s market in Athens. I’m moving to Athens next month and would love to pick some mulberries for you! Reading your blog has gotten me really excited to live in Athens, as I’m a committed, if amateur, foodie.
    –Courtney

    Comment by Anonymous — June 11, 2005 #

  7. Hey, Sherri–I didn’t even think of shaking the tree until later! ‘Tis no matter–I would have scared the birds away if I had done that, and well, it is much their tree as it is mine! It was kind of neat to be picking berries along with the birds. I got to see them up close–the mulberries made them bold, apparently!

    Hello, Courtney! Glad to meet you–so you are moving to Athens? That is great–if you need help settling in, let me know. And you are welcome to pick mulberries at my tree any time–though in a month or so, we will have blackberries. And like Sherri’s husband–I prefer those. Our entire yard on two sides is bordered by hedgerow that is made up in large part with wild blackberry bushes. (Much of the rest of it is multiflora rose and honeysuckle. Everything is blooming now so it smells glorious outside.)

    Anyway, if you want to meet up after you get here, let me know–we can meet at the farmer’s market!

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — June 11, 2005 #

  8. I’m so glad I stopped in to read this. It’s hard not to muse about mulberries when the trees are doing their best to turn the surrounding area a squishy purple. Around here, they seem to go to waste, sadly – I never see anyone eating them, which always depresses me. The birds, though – well, at least the birds are happy. I’m going to have to go traipsing about the neighborhood and collect some tomorrow. Speaking of bountiful harvests, you should see my cherry tree!

    Comment by Kate — June 11, 2005 #

  9. I have such fond memories of climbing our mulberry trees in NY with my siblings and picking scads for my Mom to make syrup. It was fairly healthy because it needed almost no sugar. She used it to pour over pancakes and ice cream, mix with water for a cool summer drink, in BBQ sauce, to substitute for plum sauce, and in a vinagrette. As kids, we loved the color, especially in winter. It made those hours canning in the hot kitchen worthwhile. Thanks for the photo.

    Comment by Laurel — June 12, 2005 #

  10. Hey, Kate! I am glad you posted–I couldn’t remember the url to your livejournal.

    Most people probably don’t realize that the berries are edible. Most people are so divorced from nature, that they have no idea what is safe to eat out of the wild.

    I’d love to see your cherry tree–is it laden with fruit? Sour cherries are the best–I will have to buy some more from the orchard out in Pataskala again this year and maybe make some jelly. I froze the ones from last summer for pie.

    Nice to hear from you, Laurel. The color of mulberry juice is gorgeous–I bet the syrup your Mom made was fabulous. Glad to bring back good memories for you!

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — June 12, 2005 #

  11. We harvest our mulberries with a sheet and some hooks – the hooks are to shake the branches and the sheets to catch the windfall. Then, we pick through the berries and leave the wormy ones for the birds.

    The rest get made into mulberry wine, syrup, jelly, barbecue sauce, cran-mulberry sauce, pie filling, and “ketchup”.

    Comment by Noddy — June 13, 2005 #

  12. I’m a bit behind on my reading, but couldn’t resist responding. We planted a mulberry tree in our yard specifically for the birds. (Of course, Don is now getting all territorial about it, because he doesn’t get seem to get ANY berries.)

    Anyway, our tree is full of cedar waxwings. It’s the only time I get to see these beautiful birds up close and personal. Other birds which like to hang out and eat berries include goldfinches, cardinals, robins, and bluebirds. The tree is close to our pool, so I hang out there with my binoculars and watch all kinds of bird behavior.

    BTW – how come nobody has mentioned mulberry wine? Although I’ve heard of it, I’ve never tasted it.

    Comment by Sonja — June 15, 2005 #

  13. I haven’t seen any cedar waxwings yet, but cardinals and titmice love the tree in our front yard.

    I’ll have to come out and share the pool with you and birdwatch, too, this summer!

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — June 16, 2005 #

  14. You never know how much interest a post will generate.

    I had no idea that writing about a mulberry tree would awaken such experiences and memories from my readers; this excites me, because it tells me that there are more folks out there who wild-gather, or who seek out unusual comestibles than I thought.

    Mulberry wine would be good, Sonja–but I know you make cordials. How about a mulberry cordial? If you cannot get enough from your tree because of the birds, come out to my place next spring and get some–the birds leave plenty to share.

    (Sonja is another Athens resident who grows lots of her own food and practices kitchen wizardry by making cordials, while her husband, Don, raises bees and brews mead and other alcoholic potables.)

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — June 17, 2005 #

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