Fruit is a forage favorite of many people, birds and animals. The birds sure do their part to propagate the plants they like. Just one look at vehicles in the parking lot will tell you that mulberries are ripe!
The leaves are a favorite of livestock and are also used by humans. The ripe fruit is used in pies, cobblers, wines, jelly and jam, drinks and teas. The stems will all but disappear and are safe to eat.
Unlike what is sung in the popular children’s song, mulberries grow on trees, not bushes. Mulberries are part of the genus Morus in the family Moraceae. (and I bet you just sang at least part of that song!) They grow wild and under cultivation in temperate regions of the world. There is no poisonous look-alike. The trees can grow up to 75 feet tall, depending on the species. Most of them I encounter here only make it up to maybe 20 to 30 feet tall.
The leaves are alternate, simple and have serrated edges; have three main shapes, one without lobes, one lobed on one side (looks like a mitten), and one with a lobe on both sides. Immature shoots tend to have more lobed leaves than mature trees. There is said to be three varieties of mulberry trees found in the United States. Paper Mulberry was native to Japan and India and was once used to make paper and cloth in a lengthy process. The most common variety, called Red Mulberry, which has fruits that ripen to a black color, is native to Eastern North America. The white variety, once called Russian Mulberry, with berries that ripen to a light purplish-white, was brought here from Asia in the late 1800s for the silkworm trade. The white fruit is milder flavored than other varieties.
The ripe fruits are very high in potassium. Mulberry plants contain significant amounts of resveratrol, the compound found in red wine which has been found to be anti-aging, anticancer, blood-sugar lowering, and other heart healthy properties. The fruits should be harvested when it matures to the correct color and can be easily picked from the tree with little resistance, practically falling off the tree when touched. The fruit does not keep well and should be used within a few days and stored in the refrigerator. Fruits can also be preserved for later use.
One of my favorite uses for the fruit is in the following recipe. (Almost any fruit can be substituted for the mulberries):
2 cups whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
1½ cups sugar
4 eggs yolks
8 oz. cream cheese
6 cups mulberries, fresh or frozen (thawed)
Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar. In a saucepan set on medium heat, bring the milk and cream just to the boiling point. Slowly pour a small amount of the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks to temper. After the egg mixture has warmed (tempered), pour the rest over the egg yolks and sugar. Stir well and return all of this liquid back into the saucepan. Cook over medium until the cream thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
Remove from heat and whisk in the cream cheese until completely melted and incorporated. Cool to room temperature then cover and refrigerate until cold. Process in an ice cream freezer until it has reached the soft serve stage and almost doubled in size. At this point, you can fold in the mulberries. To prepare the mulberries for additions, you can simply mash them or whirl them in the food processer. This will leave a slightly grainy, icy texture to the finished ice cream. For a creamier finished product, thicken the berries as for pie or jam before folding into ice cream mix. Serve ice cream at this point, or pack with new ice in the ice cream freezer and allow to harden.
This recipe may be a little bit of work but well worth the finished product ~ especially if you love cheesecake!