In the 18th and 19th centuries, a strong desire for silk meant that mulberry trees – food of the silkworm – were planted in almost every Italian garden. Today these ancient, gnarled trees still stand, producing mulberries for sweet summer desserts and preserves.
Mulberries are one of the few foods which will never be commercially viable. Living in a world and a time in which you can buy almost whatever you want, whenever you want, this is rare – and makes their consumption a particularly joyful experience. They can only be picked when completely ripe, at which point they become like plump black grenades, ready to explode and stain fingers, lips, clothing, even toes, a magnificent shade of crimson. As kids my sister and I rarely brought any berries into the house, preferring to consume them crouched barefoot in the grass, avoiding the unripe ones which we were told would get us tummy-aches.
When a mulberry tree produces fruit there is always an abundance to share, particularly as they tend to suddenly burst into fruit overnight and take their owners by surprise. If you have neighbours with mulberry trees, make friends with them and you’re likely to get a basket of these luscious berries one day. I recommend transforming them into homemade mulberry jam, dark, rich and luscious as a full-bodied red wine. Spread on freshly buttered bread, it’s hard to beat – and as good a reason to get to know your neighbours as any.
NB: Mulberries are a naturally low-pectin fruit – the inclusion of apple helps it set.
Makes 2-3 jars
500g ripe mulberries
1 tart green apple
juice of one lemon
1. Wash mulberries well. Trim off the stalks and discard.
2. Wash apple, drain, peel, core and then chop into eights.
3. Place fruit and lemon juice into a large, heavy-based pot.
4. Bring to a boil then simmer until soft, mashing fruit gently.
5. Add sugar and stir over medium heat until sugar has dissolved.
6. Boil for approximately 20 minutes or until gel stage has been achieved.
7. Skim off and discard any foam.
8. Immediately spoon hot jam into clean, sterile jam jars.
9. Remove bubbles, wipe rims and seal.
Recipe by Olivia Mackay, www.scoffandquaff.wordpress.com