The first time I tried a mulberry, I was walking my dog through Brooklyn, New York. A woman I knew simply as the “Chad-the-Rad” woman (that’s what she called my dog, Chaddy) asked me if I wanted to try one of the dark red berries she held in her hand, motioning that she had just picked them from a nearby tree. When a stranger offers you food from her hand on the streets of New York, common sense might tell you to say “Thanks, but no thanks.” After checking out the big, fat berries she held, though, my gut said to try one.
I popped a plump, round berry in my mouth, bit down, and prayed I hadn’t made a life-threatening mistake. The berry’s sweet, juicy flesh exploded as I crunched down on its little seeds…it was wonderful. “What is this?” I asked, astounded that something so good could be grown on the streets of New York–and for free. “A Brooklyn mulberry,” she declared with a smile.
Every spring thereafter, I’ve waited for Brooklyn mulberry trees to bear fruit. The borough is loaded with them. I’d spot a tree, stop, reach up, start picking, and occasionally draw the attention of an inquisitive passerby. “What are you eating?” the person would ask, and then he or she would have to decide: trust this stranger with her hand held out, offering fruit, or let common sense prevail? Seems people can’t resist. Upon experiencing the sudden bolt of sweetness they ask “What are those?” And thus the secret of the Brooklyn mulberry tree is passed along.
I recently moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and it turns out my new neighborhood is filled with mulberry trees, too. There are mulberries on sidewalks, cars, underfoot. I’ve been collecting bags of them for homemade smoothies but have often wondered what to do with the surplus. (My mulberry muffins turned out miserably.) Fortunately, someone else has wondered the same.
Hank Shaw, of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook (a blog that celebrates hunting, fishing, and foraging in a humorous, conversational way), recently wrote up his exploits with mulberries, which he describes as “…an alto to blackberry’s baritone. If blackberries are a cabernet sauvignon, mulberries are a pinot noir.” The recipes he’s come up with for his mulberries sound great–there’s a mulberry compote and fabulous-looking sorbet. While I don’t have an ice cream maker to actually make the sorbet, I can’t wait to try out the mulberry syrup the sorbet calls for, mixed into seltzer water (mulberry soda!) or (even better) Champagne.
Check out his recipes! If you have any of your own to share, please do. In the meantime, I’ll be stocking up on mulberries and (despite my Manhattan residency) introducing my new neighbors to what will always be to me, the Brooklyn mulberry tree.