Every other week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: The free fruit that might be right in your backyard.
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If you’ve never picked mulberries before, they very well might be in your own backyard (they’re in mine), or your neighbor’s yard, or your local park. You’re looking for a tree that looks like it's growing elongated blackberries. It’s the tree that leaves angry purple splotches on the ground (and the bottoms of your shoes) and the one that you think is a nuisance—right up until you realize that it’s giving you free fruit.
Mulberries, like blackberries (their doppelgängers) aren’t true berries. But even though mulberries and blackberries look similar, they have quite a few differences: Blackberries (and raspberries) are aggregate fruits, while mulberries are multiple fruits. Mulberries grow on trees, not thorny canes. In fact, mulberries and blackberries aren’t even in the same plant family: Mulberries belong to the Moraceae family and are more closely related to figs.
Ripe mulberries can be white (3, below), light purple (2, below), reddish, or a deep purplish-black. (Keep in mind this means that unripe mulberries come in those lighter shades, too.) And while there are white, red, and black mulberry trees, those names don’t have anything to do with the color of the ripe fruit, as is commonly assumed. As The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink explains, these names refer instead to the tree’s bud scale color in winter.
Mulberries taste most similar to blackberries, but at the same time, they have a flavor all their own. As Hank Shaw, of the James Beard award-winning blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook describes it: “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.” Also, note that white mulberry fruits tend to be sweeter, without the same balance of tartness that the black ones possess.
Mulberries are easy enough to pick by hand—though their thin skin means you might end up with stained fingers. If the tree branches are low enough, you have another option: Spread out a tarp below the tree and shake the branches. The ripe berries will fall right off and you can collect your harvest. You have to give the berries a few baths in bowls of clean water to get rid of leaves and bugs and things, but you’ll still be saving time in the end.
Their thin skin also means that mulberries have a pretty short shelf life once picked, so once they’re in your possession, eat them! But on the plus side, mulberries don’t ripen all at once, so once you find your spot, you can keep returning again and again for multiple hauls. If you can’t find a tree in your neighborhood, try scoring a punnet at your farmers market. This is one type of fruit you won’t find in a grocery store; mulberries are too fragile to travel.
You’ll notice that mulberries have little green stems (1, far above) attached to them. If you'll be mashing up the berries and straining out the seeds, there's no need to bother with de-stemming them. If you're leaving the berries whole, however, you'll need to remove the stems.
You can use mulberries as you would any other berries, but here are 9 ideas to get you started: