Mulberries. Until recently, a mere mention this tree would get me going. I hate mulberry trees. They’ll conquer your yard and are nearly impossible to kill. Mulberries can send out suckers in all directions, sprouting new trees even if you chop down the main trunk. What’s worse, those that do fruit produce boring, low-acid fruit not worth eating.
Such was my belief for years. I had a mulberry problem in my yard when I lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and it was about that time when I got it into my head that the berries were no good. I can’t exactly remember why, other than I must have eaten some very, very ripe fruit.
One day, years back, I walked around a little park near my house. I’d been there before, and had not noticed much worth remembering; a few good oaks, but that was it. This time I heard starlings congregated in a corner of the park. They were on a tree.
It was a mulberry tree, and it was loaded with berries. What the hell, I thought. I was in mid-walk and it couldn’t hurt to pick a few for a trail snack.
Now there is this great episode of “The Simpsons” where they flash back to when Homer and the town drunk, Barney Gumble, were in high school. Barney did not drink at all then, and was set to attend Harvard University. Homer brought over some beer. Barney demurred. Finally, Homer convinces him to drink one. Barney’s eyes light up. He shouts, “Where have you been all my life?” and finishes the rest of the six-pack.
I felt like Barney. These mulberries weren’t at all insipid. No, they were tart and sweet and irresistible. And I am betting no one knows that this tree exists, tucked in a quiet corner of a little park.
Ever get one of those “I’ve been here before” moments? That’s what happened to me as I was eating those mulberries. Unlike most of my deja vu moments, however, I can remember the details of this one: When I was a boy, I used to play in the woods behind my elementary school in New Jersey, and right at the edge of those woods stood a mulberry tree. Put me there right now and I can walk you right to it, if the tree still lives.
Looking back I am sure lots of people knew this mulberry, but at the time it felt like the secret larder for me and my friends — in between “playing Army” or somesuch, we would gorge ourselves on mulberries, which I remember being ripe right as school was ending in late June.
The day after my discovery, I returned to the park with a plastic container and picked three cups of mulberries in about 10 minutes. I also saw that there would be more ripe in a few days. Mulberries don’t all ripen at once, and they ripen from a light crimson to a deep purple with reddish undertones. Mulberries are always redder than blackberries.
Mulberry trees are easy to recognize: They are the only thing in North America that looks like a “blackberry tree.” The trees have a light-colored bark and lightly serrated leaves with prominent, light-green veins.
There are several varieties of mulberry in the United States, including a native American mulberry. Colonists brought over the Chinese white mulberry centuries ago because we thought it might be a good idea to try to raise silkworms, which love these mulberries. Sadly, the worms all died. The trees did not. And by all accounts, the fruit of the white mulberry does indeed suck — no acid at all. I have never eaten one, however, so tell me if your experience is different.
(Like this recipe? I make a damn good gooseberry sorbet, too.)
As you might imagine, mulberries are super high in Vitamin C, reasonably good for iron, potassium and Vitamin K, plus they’ll give you a little fiber, too. Mulberries are also high in resveratrol, the substance present in red wine that experts say helps fight cancer. But who eats berries for the vitamins? We eat them because they taste good. Or at least I do.
My initial urge was to just eat these berries in a bowl, with cream. Berries and cream is my favorite breakfast in the world. But that wouldn’t make for much of a blog post, would it? So I thought about something to do with the berries. They seemed a little acidic — go figure, given my prejudicial thoughts about mulberries — for ice cream, so I decided on mulberry sorbet.
I often spike my sorbets with some alcohol to improve the texture, so I added some homemade elderberry liqueur to the mix. It was really good.
Mulberries have a flavor all their own. Flavors and textures are tough for me to describe, but I’ll try: Mulberries are denser and a little chewier than blackberries, which they most resemble. They are not as tart as blackberries, and my main flavor impression is a kind of high sweetness, like an alto to blackberry’s baritone. If blackberries are a cabernet sauvignon, mulberries are a pinot noir.
There are lots of other things I could do besides mulberry sorbet. I probably could do a mulberry ice cream. A mulberry sauce for venison or hare would be excellent, too. Do you have a favorite use for mulberries?
Mulberry or Blackberry Sorbet
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 5 cups mulberries or blackberries
- 2 tablespoons cassis or Port
- If you are using mulberries, pick off all the green stems from the berries.
- Bring the sugar and water to a boil over medium heat. Let it simmer gently for 3-4 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it cool a bit.
- Meanwhile, Put the berries in a blender. Pour the syrup over them while it is warm but not hot. Buzz into a puree.
- Push the berries through a fine-meshed sieve set over a bowl using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon; this removes a lot of the seeds and stems.
- Pour the liquor into the bowl with the pureed berries and chill in the fridge for an hour or so.
- Pour into your ice cream maker and follow its directions.
Suggestions for making without an ice cream maker? Thanks!
What if I cannot use alcohol due to keeping my honey sober? Any recommendations? My neighbor just brought me a bucketful…
Hank Shaw says
Julie: Just skip it. You will need to be a little more attentive to the freezing process. One trick is to move around the sorbet as it freezes, about every 30 minutes. That will make the ice crystals smaller and will make for a better sorbet that will not be overly icy.
Great! Thanks so much for the reply!
I have Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking”. He has fruit v sugar v water tables for desired result: granita, med sweet fruit ice, sweet water ice and sweet fruit ice, the last is basically sorbet. I’d post it if I could! Blackberry Sweet fruit ice calls for 1 ½ c fruit puree, 11 Tbsp sugar and 2 Tbsp water. Blackberry Sweet water ice Calls for 1c puree, 12 Tbsp sugar (6 Tbsp for med sweet), 2Tbsp lemon juice, ½ c water. Maybe you Or your readers can play! Have fun!
I’ve been a mulberry fanatic since I was a small boy. My babysitter was an elderly lady and we discovered 3 big mulberries producing massive amounts of fruit, so we spent a lot of time through the coming weeks making jam and jelly. I loved that spot! Until the city cut the trees down, that is. Anyhow, I like them in cobblers, pies, smoothies, cereal topping, jam and jelly, and I have found them to be great when used for a sauce. I’ve had great success cooking cottontails (garden trespassers!)with a mulberry sauce. My friends raved about it, and I took pleasure in cooking the garden bandit with some of the produce he had been eating!
After many decades of trying every kind of berry I could find, mulberries are my absolute favorite for their high flavored tart-plus-sweet combination. Only the white and the red varieties can grow in my climate, but those names are not necessarily descriptive of their fruit as some of the “white” have lavender colored berries, and my “reds” have berries that are black when ripe. I have tasted very sweet white fruit in Kansas, and it is like candy without any tartness. These berries have such a high sugar content that they dry where they fall without spoiling. I think the dried berries would be good in desserts where you could add something tart to balance them.
The fully ripe “red” mulberries of my Illinois Everbearing trees are the best I’ve tasted (I’ve heard “black” varieties can be better but since they don’t grow here and they’re too soft to ship . . . ). A couple of years ago, though, I planted a variety called Kokosu. It has a striking appearance with huge tropical looking leaves and limbs that grow straight outward then curve up quite a distance from the trunk. Doesn’t look like any mulberry I’ve ever seen before. When it fruited, the berries were an interesting light purple color, but the taste was, as you described, sweet and bland. If that was the only mulberry I ever tasted, I sure wouldn’t have bothered to plant any more trees! I suspect you just ran across one of the not-so-great varieties that might have originally been brought to the country to grow silkworm forage–nobody cared how their fruit tasted!
I spread a sheet on the ground under red mulberry trees and very gently shake the branches by reaching up with a shepherd’s crook. Then roll the berries to one edge by lifting up the cloth, and dump them into a large flat container. The key is shake “very, very gently” or you will get a lot of unripe berries. Enjoy!
Mulberries are one of my favorite fruits ever. The instant I saw this recipe my mouth started watering. When summer comes around I will surely try this!
In my opinion and keeping mind that each of us have different tastes: Purple mulberries are my favorite–I’ve been eating the since childhoodd. White mulberries are meltingly sweet, delicate berries. I find the red mulberries rather tart, although they are sweet when fully ripe, which takes quite a while compared to the white and purple mulberries. Purple mulberries, when they are fully ripe, and incredibly delicate and sweet.
Dianne Heard says
I had planted two mulberry tress afew years ago. This year they are not talk but full full f berries. What can I make with these that they will not go to waste?
Sandra Osbourn says
When my son was 3, we made mulberry pancake syrup fr Father’sDay breakfast.
Thanks love the sorbet. Begbto differ on white mulberries. When ripe the are sweet and delish. My grandmother had both black and white mulberries in the middle East. Both yum!
There is a variety of mulberry called Girardi dwarf that grows to a large bush. Mine is about 7 feet tall and produces a lot of the black mulberries.
Mullberries are just coming on for us in Salmon Arm, BC, canada. We are pressure canning a few gallons, just the berries nothing added. And also doing a few gallons of mulberry and apple cider, using acid blend and the like to balance the flavour. Sorbet recipe looks great!
Just had to mention, cassis is made with blackcurrant, not blackberry. If you like Lambic beers, there is a cassis Lambic that is delicious!
wild berry filled summers exploring what later became moraine hills state park. and back home in the chicago suburbs the alleys had plenty of raspberries and rhubarb. most of the parks have mulberry trees as well. my kids are eating off of the same one i gorged on in the park across the street fifty years ago.
mom was right about bringing them home for a rinsing; we never thought about the pesticides the mosquito abatement district sprayed all over the trees. eh, la. endocrine problems/ the sins of our fathers…
In Arizona about 40+ – years we had a black mulberry in the front of the house and a white on the side. The trees were huge and the berries were gigantic.
I remember one berry would completely hide a 50 cent piece.
And I remember how much I loved them.
A few days ago I discovered a tree here in Redding, Ca. The taste took me right back to those trees. Albeit this trees berries wouldn’t cover a dime. So much smaller but, oh my goodness, the flavor.