The Berry Tree (aka Mulberries)

14 Aug No Comments Tamara Culinary, Garden

I pass by our ancient mulberry tree several times a day as I walk to and from the garden to water everything. Right now it is literally pregnant with fat, black, juicy berries – and if last year is any indication, we should have mulberries through the end of August.  Last summer – our first at Reverie — the tree surprised me with its fruit.  I had never encountered a berry tree (as opposed to a berry bush or vine) and we all wondered what in the world this berry tree could be.  Luckily my parents were raised in the country so they recognized it for what it is. Eventually I googled it as well and found out the botanical name is Morus nigra.

We are fortunate in that the forest canopy has grown up around the mulberry tree, partially shading it, and perhaps keeping it a bit shorter than mulberry trees usually are. Which means every time I walk by I can easily pluck a few berries and pop them in my mouth.  The explosion of flavor is pretty astonishing and oddly difficult to describe.  Sweet, yes, and a bit tangy, yes, but there is something else too. Mulberries, at least *our* mulberries – I’m not familiar with any other mulberries — have a depth of flavor that is somehow richer and more full-bodied than say a blackberry or a raspberry.  I sound like I’m describing wine, but it is definitely similar to the experience of tasting a complex red wine, even though it doesn’t have the same flavor at all.

click photo to enlarge
 

Because we have so very many berries, with hundreds more ripening every day, I’ve had the luxury of being able to experiment with them without fear that I was wasting them or spending a lot of money on fruit that would be inedible after I was finished with it.  I’ve been told – although I have not independently verified this – that mulberries can be $10 or more a basket if you are lucky enough to find them at a farmers market. They are highly perishable so you don’t find them often. I personally have never seen them for sale.

One of my more successful experiments was a pistachio cake I made for our recent Wine and Stars event.  I cooked three pounds or so of mulberries down with a bit of sugar (not much) for several hours, then strained the berries to render the juice and a bit of berry puree.  Then, I reduced it further to create a thick mulberry syrup. Talk about decadent.  At the end I had maybe 1 cup of mulberry syrup.  I served wedges of the pistachio cake topped with whipped cream, a drizzle of mulberry syrup, and three mulberries.  The berries were of course picked just a few hours before we served the cake.  That is the benefit of living and working at the place where we grow our food–the food we serve is usually mere hours or even minutes out of the garden.

Pistachio Cake

Adapted from Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon
by Claudia Roden
 
The nice thing about this cake is that it is gluten-free, which is a must for Reverie’s menus since we always have at least one guest who is gluten-free, and usually several. 
 
Serves 10 – 12

      • 5 eggs, separated
      • 1 cup superfine sugar
      • 1 ½ cups unsalted pistachios, ground finely
      • 1/3 cups pistachios, chopped very coarsely 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a pale cream, then add the ground pistachios and mix very well.  Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold them in gently.  Pour into a greased and floured nonstick cake pan (I used a 10 inch pan and used gluten-free oat flour to keep it gluten-free), and sprinkle the coarsely chopped pistachios on top.  Bake for 45 minutes. 

Let the cake cool on a wire rack, then turn out onto a serving dish with the side that has the chopped pistachios on top.  Slice into wedges, and top with freshly whipped cream sweetened with a bit of powdered sugar, a drizzle of mulberry syrup (see above for how to make it), and fresh mulberries. If you don’t have mulberries I’m sure this would be delicious with blackberries too. 

Note: I had to order unsalted, hulled pistachios from Amazon since I couldn’t find them in a store, especially out in the country where we are.  Then I ground them finely in a food processor.