Sunday, June 9, 2013


Nearly ten years ago, when I lived in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood, I discovered mulberries. Actually, my dog, Kerouac, discovered them. There was a row of mulberry trees towering over the sidewalk a street or two from our house. Early summer, Kerouac got so excited about the purple covered sidewalks, I couldn't drag him away from there... when I was finally able to get him away, his white muzzle was stained purple and sometimes he would get the hiccups, he'd have eaten so many berries. The trees were so tall: at least 60 feet above the sidewalk, and the ripe berries fell to the ground and smashed when they did... but they were sweet, and irresistible to the dog...

Fast forward to 2011, here in Hutton. There is a bush next to one of our lilac bushes that burst into flower, and as the late spring progressed, I kept waiting for it to burst into blooms... but one day Kerouac went crazy underneath it, and when he looked up at me, wagging, his face was stained purple, I realized we had mulberries. The tree was more of a twenty-foot tall shrub, but still, the same berries I remembered. I harvested the berries by hand that year, eating a lot of them as I pulled them off the branches. I put them in yogurt, and I made a free-form tart out of them, but didn't feel I had utilized them as well as I could have. I also discovered the berries rather late in the season.

Last year, we had no mulberries because of a late freeze that killed them all. It was part of a very sad year for fruit here at Three Persimmon Farm... where the only fruit we had were the persimmons harvested in the fall. But this spring has been wet, cool., and honestly, rather glorious. The pear tree and both apple trees are laden with ripening fruit. And the branches of the mulberry bush (or tree) are hanging down, full of ripening sweet berries. 

Yesterday around noon, I took an old sheet and lay it underneath a section of mulberry branches and then shook the branches as dozens and hundreds of ripe fruit fell onto the sheet. Ten minutes of work yielded over 3 quarts of berries. I picked through them and washed them, and then made a mulberry cobbler recipe I found online... It turned out perfect: a crisp and sweet crust (made even better because our vegetable shortening had gone bad so I had to use lard) and underneath, two cups of whole mulberries mixed with cornstarch and sugar that had congealed into a lovely semi-sweet custard. It may be the best cobbler I've ever made.

This afternoon I used the rest of the berries to make mulberry preserves. I used Pomona's Universal Pectin, agave nectar, lime juice, and mulberries... And I do think it is the best preserve or jam I have made... If you haven't had mulberries, you don't quite know how wonderful they are. They are not as sweet as blackberries, but look similar: tight rather seeded berries that ripen to a luscious reddish-black. They attract a lot of bugs: spiders and little tiny winged bugs that probably just add to their protein content. The berries have a hint of sweetness, but overwhelmingly taste earthy, almost almond-like. I feel like their flavor is a truly unique, and fading, flavor... Yet another old-fashioned taste that I have fallen in love with, along with ground cherries and persimmons... The preserves I made are delicious, if I say so myself, with the nutty, yet sweet flavor of the berries surrounded by a bright citrus flavor form the limes and agave. I will be making more of these preserves this week, as this is only the first of several harvests from the mulberry bush... 

Even though the garden isn't completely planted, at least we are able to harvest other things from the garden... and it feels like this is only the beginning of a great year of harvests and food from the garden.

Below are pictures : First, the mulberry bush. Second a single mulberry in my hand. Third, yesterday's cobbler. Fourth: the mulberries after running them through the food mill. Fifth the mulberry preserves ready to be jarred. Sixth: the finished product, waiting to be enjoyed...

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