14 June 2009

Eating local: mulberries

The Fredericksburg farmers' market was busy this weekend, full of people happy about the dry, sunny morning and looking to stock up on what fresh produce hadn't been washed away after a week of crazy rainstorms. When I picked up my CSA bag this Saturday, it included a new-to-me offering this time around: mulberries. Fresh-picked, plump, and purple. Mulberries, I've learned, come in red, black, and white varieties and are native to temperate North America and Asia. Nowadays, mulberry trees actually have become a bit common in residential neighborhoods. You may have seen them - they're the ones that drop the messy berries that stain sidewalks and get tracked everywhere.

Once you track down mulberries in the wild or at the market, keep in mind that mulberries spoil quickly. Use them immediately (or refrigerate for a couple of days) - make sure you pick or cut off the stems first. If keeping them longer, freeze them. To freeze, wash and pick over, dry gently, and place on cookie sheet in freezer until hard. Then pack loosely in container for later use (note that the berries may be mushy when thawed).

I just ate a whole bunch raw and found them mild in taste and a little sweet-bitter. They are really fragile and picking off the stems led to red fingertips very quickly. I took to them with my kitchen shears, but honestly I don't think the stems really get in the way too much if you happen to eat them. I also added a few to a glass of vinho verde along with a sprig of fresh mint (also from my CSA bag). The rest are on a cookie sheet in the freezer getting ready for another use...

Other ideas for mulberries:
• Toss them into muffin batter for tasty, seasonal muffins
• Use them in place of blackberries or raspberries in your favorite cobbler or pie recipe
• Mash them with a sprinkling of sugar to add some sweetness and use this syrup on ice cream or as a topping for pound cake or yogurt
• Toss fresh berries into sangria, vodka tonic, or lemonade for a seasonal pick-me-up (great use for frozen berries - it'll keep the drink cool while it adds flavor)
• Or mash them with some fresh herbs (rosemary would be good) into a chutney to serve with local cheese and fresh bread for a summertime appetizer

Putting on my museum curator hat: Mulberry trees were cultivated in the American South in the 18th century in an attempt to establish a silkworm industry (silkworms adore mulberry trees). Colonists were trying to find new money-making ventures that would prove successful in the warm, humid climate of the South. Silkworms, used to harvest silk threads, would have been a major cash crop for the colonists, but sadly the industry was never very successful and the elite had to continue to import expensive Asian and European silks for their clothing and furnishing textiles.


Anonymous said...

So interesting! Our market had Olaliberries and boysenberries for the first time today, but we were already all stocked up on fruit for the week. I may try it next week!

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I have always wondered about mulberries. From your photos, they look a lot like blackberries. Interesting that they grow on trees. I always think of Pop Goes the Weasel- "all around the mulberry bush..."

Janet said...

I like throwing them in an apple crisp!

Catherine said...

A little late to the party here, but playing catchup. Apparently I have a mulberry tree in my backyard that I didn't know about until just now! Got a small bag full in the freezer and ate some raw.

I must say, your CSA seems to have more variety than mine. We've had good stuff, and much variety within the veggies we do get (i.e. there are lots of types of tomatoes and squash and potatoes, but I might only get 4-5 different types of things, and they tend to be the same types of things from week to week).