I don’t know this because I am a font of horticultural knowledge. Rather, I know this because on my way to the library Monday I ran into a very kind fellow called Jeff who was out harvesting mulberries from a tree near my apartment. We got to chatting about food and the co-op and free markets, as well as the intricacies of mulberries. Intrigued and delighted, I convinced Jeff to let me tag along on his next urban foraging expedition.
Apparently, mulberry season is in full swing here in New York city, and will be for about another two weeks. Mulberries are like a sweeter, more oblong, more intense blackberry, with fewer pits (but an edible stem!) and a slight hint of blueberry flavor. In other words, completely delicious. The easy way to identify a mulberry tree is to look for the mess underneath it, along with the sweetish odor of crushed and rotting fruit. Most mulberries are ripe when they’re black (they gradually change from white to red to purple to black) and release easily from the tree. There are quite a few mulberry trees in New York city, mostly planted decades ago.
This is particularly exciting as fresh ripe raspberries are very difficult to come by- I’ve never seen them for sale. This is probably due to the extreme fragility of the fruit; they are far more delicate than the blackberry or raspberry. Consequently they aren’t often used for cooking, though they are delicious eaten out of hand. Joy of Cooking, whose 1973 edition discusses fruits like the litchi and the even more exotic akee, acerola and mangosteen, has only the following to say about mulberries:
The mulberry, despite its close resemblance to members of the Rubus family, is not in the least related. As everyone knows, the leaves of the white-fruited tree make up the traditional diet of the silkworm. Purple-fruited mulberry trees are best suited, in our opinion, for varying the diets – and flexing the muscles – of marauding schoolboys.
Despite the disapproval of Joy of Cooking, Jeff and I set out to harvest mulberries this Wednesday. As we got started, we attracted a lot of attention, and many people stopped by to chat and enjoy the fruit themselves.
This last fellow is Muhammed, a charming builder who saw us harvesting, ate his fill, and lent us a very capable hand. Below is our very high-tech harvesting technique:
After about an hour of thwacking and catching, we had amassed quite the tidy pile of mulberries, from just the one tree. I’m excited about the haul; in addition to just eating them and putting them on ice cream, I’m going to attempt a mulberry compote.
If you spot a mulberry tree, do try some mulberries, as they are intensely delicious. But be careful, as they do stain terribly!
It’s great to see this happening in New York! We’ve got an urban fruit harvesting program up and running this year in Toronto: http://www.notfarfromthetree.org. We harvested a few mulberries, but most of the trees are so huge that we had difficulty picking from them. I have heard of the “thwacking” method but I fear it could do damage to the tree?
I harvested mulberries for the first time this year. I went with experienced friends who had brought several twin sized bed sheets. Their method of harvesting was to lay the sheets on the ground and shake the tree or branch over the sheet. The ripe fruit fell off the branches and onto the (stained) sheet. What an easy way to harvest! I wish the raspberries were as easy… We did make a wonderful jam out of the mulberries.
We have a mess outside with the mulberry trees. How long do they continue dropping the mulberries?
I’m not a mulberry expert, but what I recall from living near them is that the season is pretty short – 2-3 weeks. Wikipedia could probably tell you more, sorry!
Do Mulberrys fall all summer? I have a mess in my back yard with all the berries.
Hi – can you give me the address of that white mulberry tree you refer to in the article? Thanks!
I have a mulberry tree in my driveway and you can make a really easy, yummy pie.
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
3 cups mulberries…mix them up, put them in the bottom pie crust, let sit 15 min or so, dab with 2 TBS butter, put the top crust on, make some slits in the top, paint with milk
put in oven at 400 for 15 min then reduce temp to 350 and bake for another 30 min.. take out, let cool enjoy!! the only prep for the mulberries is to wash them, you don’t need to remove the stems because they soften and bake down.
Have been enjoying this delicious berry for 2 weeks already,wait till you see the mess they make after they pass through a bird.Great for a compote.