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      Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.


      Showing posts with label mulberries. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label mulberries. Show all posts

      Monday, June 20, 2011

      what's ripe this week?



      Pyramus and Thisbe lived in ancient Babylonia. Their houses shared a wall, and being neighbors, Pyramus and Thisbe knew each other from around the neighborhood. Despite the fact that their parents were enemies (or perhaps because), they fell in love.

      From the moment the young lovers declared their intentions, they were forbidden to see each other. They could only communicate by speaking through a crack in the wall that joined their houses. Secretly, Pyramus and Thisbe arranged to meet at midnight, by a spring at the foot of a white mulberry tree outside the city.

      Thisbe arrived first, and as she waited, a lion came to drink from the spring. The lion was fresh from the kill, covered with blood. Thisbe ran away, and unnoticed, her veil fell to the ground. The lion picked up the veil in its bloody jaws, then dropped it to drink, and moved on.


      When Pyramus arrived, he saw the bloody veil and the lion’s footprints and jumped to the worst possible conclusion. He blamed himself for Thisbe’s death, grabbed his sword, and plunged it into his heart. His blood flew high into the air, onto the mulberry fruit, turning it from white to red. More blood flowed into the earth and was taken up by the roots of the tree, turning the remainder of the berries red.

      Soon, Thisbe circled back to the tree. She wondered if she was in the right place, because the berries had changed color, from white to red. When she saw Pyramus, she grabbed his sword, plunged it into her own heart, and with her dying breath swore they would be buried together and that the mulberry tree would henceforth bear red fruit as a tribute to their ill-fated love.

      It’s a messy, bloody story and mulberries are a messy fruit. It’s not unusual to recognize a mulberry by the splattered fruit covering the ground under the tree. When I see a splotchy sidewalk like this, my heart skips a beat. Why? Because smushed berries on the sidewalk below mean tasty berries up above.


      There are several different kinds of mulberries: black, white, and red. All mulberry fruit start out white. Ripe red mulberries are almost black. Confused? Don’t let that keep you from picking. A mulberry is ripe when it falls off the tree at the slightest touch, no matter what color it is. If you have to tug it off the branch, it’s not ready.


      Mulberry fruit look a little like blackberries, but slimmer and smaller. The easiest and fastest way to gather fruit is to spread a sheet or tarp under a tree and shake the branches. But since most of my mulberries come from public parks, I resort to a slower method. I pick with a rolling motion, barely pulling on the fruit. Gently turn the fruit between two fingers; if it doesn’t come off with the slightest pressure, I leave it for next time. You can harvest mulberries for 3-4 weeks, since the fruit doesn’t ripen all at once.


      Red mulberries (Morus rubra) are native to the eastern U.S. White mulberries (Morus alba) were brought here from China as food for silkworms; the worms failed but the tree remains. Some people consider the white mulberry invasive, but when a tree is as generous and delicious as this one, I cut it a little slack. White mulberry trees may have different shaped leaves on the same tree, which is pretty unusual in the tree world. The black mulberry (Morus nigra) is European; in the U.S. it’s hardy only to zone 7.

      As often happens when I forage in the city, people stop and watch. They want to ask what I’m doing, but they feel a little shy. (That’s how I know they’re tourists. New Yorkers either don’t care or aren’t shy.) I usually offer the spectators a few berries, but only the bravest accept. Do they seriously think I’d poison them on the streets of New York City? Do I look crazy?

      I don’t mind when they refuse. It means more berries for me.

      Mulberry Pudding
      -Two cups mulberry pulp, liquified in a blender (Any type of mulberry is fine, but the red mulberries make a deeply colored pudding that looks as rich as it tastes.)
      -Three Tbs. instant tapioca
      -1/3 cup sugar
      Combine the above ingredients and let them sit for five minutes.
      In a saucepan, bring the mixture to a boil that can’t be stirred down, then remove from the heat and allow to cool for 20 minutes.
      Pour into serving bowls. This pudding can be served warm or cold, whichever you prefer. Try it with a little whipped cream and a few whole mulberries on top.

      Sunday, October 4, 2009

      fruity booze...a special autumn cocktail

      Look around you...summer is over.

      I love fall: the vibrant foliage, the refreshing temperatures, the anticipation that heavy, sweaty garden work will soon be over. And so I raise a glass to Autumn in New York with this very special cocktail.

      The recipe for the basic booze comes from 66 Square Feet (an excellent NYC garden blog, btw). I was immediately inspired to start a batch of my own, albeit with a slightly different agglomeration of fruits:
      -mulberries (foraged in Central Park)
      -red, black, and white currants (from my CSA fruit share)
      -gooseberries (from my own bush!) N.B. Gooseberries are a VERY easy fruit to grow in containers. They'll take light shade and are rarely bothered by pests, perhaps because of their thorny armor.

      3 lbs of fruit requires 1.5 lbs. of sugar. I layered the fruit and sugar in a VERY large jar, then poured in vodka to cover. Of course the sugar all washed down to the bottom of the jar, but I swirled it around every time I remembered and trusted that all would be well.

      After 5 weeks of macerating, it was time to taste. I was curious about Marie's suggestion to mix the fruity booze with gin. It's vodka, after all, and since when do vodka and gin mix well? Um...since now.

      2 parts fruity booze
      1 part gin (I used Bombay Sapphire. The cucumber flavor of Hendricks wouldn't be right here.)
      1 part seltzer
      1 part fresh lime juice
      over generous ice

      I can't begin to describe how delicious this was. Sweet, yes, but the tartness of the berries balanced the sugar. And the color is OTW. Of course I love that it's not a flavor combination you'll find in a local bar. The best things are always homemade and this seasonal cocktail is no exception.


      I put aside 4 small bottles for gifts (if they survive through to the holiday season) and I'm saving the vodka soaked fruit for an experiment with drunken jelly, perhaps next weekend.


      So what to call it? Autumn Breeze, September Slammer, Fall Foliage Fizz? I'd love to hear your suggestions. Cheers!

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