We tried our first mulberries at a family barbecue on a sweltering summer day. There was a sprawling black mulberry tree by the garden wall, crooked and aged. It looked like something out of a fairy story. Enveloped below its heart-shaped leaves were fruits so ripe they were falling off the branches and smooshing on the paving stones below. One taste of the whiskered berries was enough to keep us sneaking back to the enormous tree at every opportunity to snaffle as many as we could before the day was out. The flavour is difficult to pinpoint. The ripe ones remind us of blackcurrant Wine Gums, and the less mature berries are similar to tangy, red grapes. Mulberries bleed magenta juice almost as soon as they are touched, so it didn’t take us long to stain our fingers and spatter our clothes. It looked like we had both had an unfortunate moment of clumsiness with a glass of red wine. But it was well worth it.
Since then, we have held mulberries in the highest of esteem. Not just because they taste amazing, but also because they are so rare to come by. The fruits aren’t usually available to buy in shops, and they aren’t grown as commonly as other berries (perhaps because the trees can take up to 9 years to start fruiting properly). Coming across a mulberry tree is a special treat and we started going out of our way to find them. We also bought one of our own and kept it in a pot on the patio of our London garden.
When we moved to Somerset, potted mulberry in hand, we were incredibly excited to find two mulberry trees already in the little orchard. A young, black mulberry tree, that is now just starting to produce its first fruit. And a handsome, well-established red mulberry tree, that produces copious amounts of smaller, lengthier mulberries, which are loved by the chickens. The berries all ripen at different times, so we do a regular picking from the trees over a period of several weeks, to make the most of the harvest.
Perhaps the best way to eat mulberries is just as they are, straight from the tree. No adornment needed. But whenever we are able to get hold of a couple of cupfuls in one go, we love to infuse them in some vinegar and capture their essence in a bottle for the kitchen cupboard. The vinegar makes a lovely tangy, sweet dressing for peppery salad leaves; and can be turned into a refreshing drink if drizzled into some iced sparkling mineral water and garnished with a slice of lime. It also pairs really well with goats cheese (see recipe below).
Adapted from Pam Corbin's raspberry vinegar recipe from the River Cottage Preserves Handbook Number 2. We made this vinegar with foraged black mulberries last year and homegrown red mulberries this year. Both work well.
- 500 g mulberries
- 300 ml apple cider vinegar
- granulated white sugar
Put the mulberries and vinegar in a bowl. Cover and leave for four-five days (stirring gently once a day during this time). Pour the mixture through some muslin cloth or a jelly bag suspended over a jug, and squeeze the bag gently to get as much of the juice out of the mulberries as possible. Measure the resulting liquid and add 225g of sugar for every 300ml of fruit vinegar. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and bring gently to the boil. Boil for 8-10 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to cool before pouring into sterilised bottles. The mulberry vinegar should keep for about a year.
Mulberry, Goats Cheese, Rocket Leaf and Fennel Toasts
These make for some very tasty nibbles to accompany pre-dinner drinks. The combination of syrupy mulberry vinegar, aniseed fennel, peppery rocket and smooth, tangy goat's cheese works beautifully. We use a mild, soft goats cheese for this. Chevre Blanc, Abergavenny or, if you can find it, Ragstone (a delicious, thinly-rinded log made with unpasturised raw milk) all work well here.
- 4 medium slices of sourdough bread
- 125 g soft, mild goats cheese
- a small handful of rocket leaves
- a few baby bronze fennel fronds
- mulberry vinegar, for drizzling
- freshly ground black pepper
Lightly toast the bread on each side and let cool.
Crush and spread a few thin slices of the goats cheese onto each piece of toast. Arrange a medley of rocket leaves and fennel fronds on top. Liberally drizzle the mulberry vinegar over the leaves and finish with a couple of cracks of freshly ground black pepper.
Cut the toasts into uneven, bitesize pieces before serving (a pizza cutter works well for this).