I have always wanted a mulberry (Morus spp). I mean, not always, but the desire for a mulberry is so deeply ingrained in my gardening history that I can’t remember when, or why, it took root. My indispensable Evernote database has mulberry-related entries back to 2011, so let’s assume it was then.
When we moved into this garden, I included a mulberry in a batch of fruit trees that I ordered far too early on – I had nowhere to put them at the time. They’re all still in pots, and may have to be permanently grown in pots. My first mulberry, which is ‘Charlton House’, arrived in the spring of 2015. As you can see, it has just started leafing out. A mulberry tree in the ground can fruit for hundreds of years; it’s one of those trees that you can plant for your descendants. You can see a very old one in the garden of the house where artist Thomas Gainsborough was born. At the time of his birth, in 1727, the tree was already 100 years old. Mine hasn’t fruited yet; it may be some years yet before it does.
Which was why I was excited, earlier this year, to see Suttons’ new introduction – a dwarf mulberry, ‘Charlotte Russe’, which should fruit in its first year. I ordered one of the first wave of plants (now sold out – if you order now you can get yours in September). It arrived at the end of February, a teeny weeny, precious thing. To begin with, I didn’t want it to go outside. I mollycoddled it on a windowsill.
It flowered a couple of weeks later. Mulberry flowers are amazing things, alien looking, or perhaps like tiny sea anemones, waving their tendrils in the air. ‘Charlotte Russe’ is self-fertile, but it occurred to me then that my little tree should really go outside. I hardened my heart, and hardened it off. It survived a slight mishap where it blew over (after which I potted it on), and is now sitting on the arbour. In this dry weather it is sitting in a tray to catch drips of water, alongside my new (and equally precious!) acquisitions from Edulis.
The flowers have dried, and I find myself peering at them, wondering how they will transform into fruits. The mulberry is a multiple (or collective) fruit. The clusters of flowers are called an inflorescence; each inflorescence matures into an infructescence. The Botanist in the Kitchen has pictures of the various stages of development of mulberry fruits (and figs, which are also multiple fruits).
So, it seems as though I may be on track for a mulberry harvest this year. It’s only a little tree, so we can’t expect barrels (maybe a punnet or two). How does one use a mulberry? I think, to begin with, it will simply be a case of smooshing them into my mouth, which will be my first ever encounter with a mulberry fruit. I have no idea what they taste like, so that will be a mini adventure.
But in the years to come, when my mulberry harvests are more bountiful, I can try some of the recipes I have been collecting over the years. Mulberries are not a commonly-available fruit in the UK (they’re too fragile to survive transportation), and it’s easy to go through life without encountering one, unless you grow your own. Elsewhere in the world things are different, and thanks to the wonder of the internet we can share in that expertise.
The first thing you need to know, when searching for ways to use your mulberry harvest, is that your searches will be dominated by a certain handbag manufacturer. In case you are not aware, you can add modifiers to Google searches that allow you to filter out unwanted results. I suggest -handbag and/or -fashion in this case. (It doesn’t work for Ecosia searches, btw.)
The second thing you need to know is that the Arabic word for mulberry is Toot. So there are lots of wonderful recipes out there from the Middle East, where mulberries are common, with names that sound slightly ludicrous to English ears. My favourite, so far, is Mulberry and Milk Pudding – Tootiyeh wMuhallabiyeh. Taste of Beirut also has a lovely (and simple-looking) recipe for Mulberry Drink, Sharab el-toot, which is basically a high-fibre syrup/cordial. Turmeric and Saffron has a Persian recipe for Marzipan Mulberries, a sweet often served for Persian new year, Nowruz.
It’s possible to make Mulberry Leaf Tea, Toot Chai. Unlike normal tea leaves, which are fermented before they can be brewed, mulberry leaves just need to be dried, which can be done at home. Here are some instructions on how to make mulberry tea.
And you can use mulberry leaves as wrappers, e.g. for Lamb Stuffed Mulberry Leaves or Stuffed Mulberry Leaves with Chicken, so perhaps my poor ‘Charlton House’ will come in useful this year, after all 😉
For something more quintessentially British, you can simply drown your mulberries in cream, or use them as part of a Summer Pudding, a dessert that was common in our house when I was a child (although never made with mulberries) and for which I developed an eternal hatred. Sarah Raven has also shared recipes for mulberry bakewell tart and mulberry gin/vodka, so I think all our bases are covered!
It’s odd that mulberries aren’t grown more, and known more, in the UK. They were introduced here by the Romans, and there’s a tree in Stratford-upon-Avon that was, reputedly, planted by Shakespeare. During Tudor times they were prized for their succulent berries, and Henry VIII ordered a mulberry tree for his Chelsea manor.
In 1608 King James I planted a Mulberry Garden in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, with the idea of kick-starting a British silk industry. The venture failed, and the trees were eventually grubbed up. But one of James I’s original plantings survived at Charlton House, from which a scion was quite recently planted in the west section of Buckingham Palace Garden.
Are you lucky enough to have a mulberry in your garden? How do you use the fruits?
This post was produced in association with Suttons, but (as ever) the ethnobotanical musings are my own!