Monday, 21 January 2013

Mulberry tree a 'Must Have' ~

I first met one of these trees when house-minding recently, at the same place that had the astonishingly laden red currant bush - what bounty!  It was also my first encounter with the fruit itself.  When mulberries are fully ripe they are such a dark red as to be almost black, and are absolutely delicious: when you put it into your mouth you get a burst of the somewhat winy juice which is so distinctive. 

Here is a dish of freshly picked mulberries with some of the raspberries which were growing alongside the tree.  That's my own home made ice cream which they are sitting in, flavoured with the red currant jam I had just made:

Scrumptious mulberries - the dark fruit, with raspberries from the garden and home-made ice cream

Here is the tree, which I was told is relatively young:

This image taken from underneath it shows how laden it was:

And higher up:

My only regret was that my house minding came to an end before the majority of the fruit had ripened - not that I would want the owners to miss out!  The birds loved them too, but there were plenty for all of us. 

I've never seen this fruit in shops and imagine that this could be because properly ripe fruit bursts so easily staining fingers a vivid red.  It also the stains the inside of the birds who eat it, so when planting this excellent tree make sure it is well clear of your clothes line!

Readers may have have seen my earlier recipe for gooseberry shortcake which I wrote about enthusiastically last November.  I've really got the hang of that now, and of course decided that having a go at making a mulberry one was an urgent necessity!  This was great success being received with rapturous enthusiasm by everyone lucky enough to sample it, so here is the recipe as adapted from that earlier one:

The main part of the cake is a form of short pastry, and is very light and delicious.

Note that the pastry is much more successful if it starts out a little too damp rather than a little too dry.  You can dust additional flour over the pastry as you are working with it to make it just right.

  • Flour, plain / standard: 225 grams / 8 ounces / 2 cups
  • Butter: 125 grams / 4 ounces
  • Baking powder: 1 teaspoon
  • Egg: 2
  • Sugar: 2 dessert spoons
  • Water: up to a quarter of a cup if needed in pastry
This is the filling:
  • Mulberries, fresh and whole - approximately 250 grams / 8 ounces.
  • Sugar to toss them in - I use nearly half a cup / 125 grams.  You might like to start with a third of a cup.
This is a fruit-to-sugar ratio of about 2 to 1 whereas the ratio I use for preserves is 3 to 1.

  • In a medium sized bowl combine the mulberries with the sugar
  • Set these aside while you make the pastry, stirring from time to time to coat the mulberries with the sugar.  The sugar may liquify somewhat.
  • Grate the cold butter, put it in a bowl and then put it back in the fridge if the day is warm and it may have softened while being grated.
  • While you have the butter out take a knob of it and grease the pie tin with it. 
  • Set the oven to heat to 200 degrees Celsius
  • Sift flour and baking powder
  • In a separate bowl beat the eggs and add the sugar to them, then continue to beat until they have  thickened and gone creamy.  Keep aside a few tablespoons of it.
  • Combine the chilled butter with the floury mixture.  I use first a knife and fork, then a serated knife.  Pastry dough should be handled as little as possible to prevent it from becoming tough.
  • Add to it the larger amount of the egg and sugar, using firstly a knife or similar and then kneading it very lightly with the fingertips until the pastry adheres to itself and can be rolled out with a rolling pin.  
  • If the dough doesn't seem damp enough add a small amount of cold water.  I may add up to a quarter of a cup if needed.
  • Note that the pastry is much more successful if it starts out a little too damp rather than a little too dry, and you can dust a little additional flour over the pastry as you are working with it to make it just right.
  • Divide the pastry in two halves; if using a tin for baking make one a little larger than the other.
  • Dust with flour the board or bench surface on which you will be rolling it out, keeping perhaps half a cup of flour to one side in a bowl to continue to dust the dough as you roll and turn it so that it doesn't stick to your working surface.
  • Take the larger half of the pastry dough and roll it into a circle large enough to line your tin.  It can be about half an inch thick although I usually make my pastry thinner.
  • Lift it into the baking tin.  You can either make a proper pie case (with sides) or simply cover the base of your tin leaving enough room around the edges so that the top cover can be pressed down into the base
  • Now use the small amount of egg and sugar that you have set aside to brush the inside of the pastry case, including the upper edges where it will meet the pastry used to cover the top.  This will seal in any liquid from the cooking mulberries so that the base doesn't go soggy.
  • Note that milk brushed onto pastry will also assist edges to join which are pressed together. 
  • Spread onto this pastry case the mulberries and sugar that have been standing to one side
  • Lightly roll out the second round and place it over the top
  • Press the edges of the two layers together with your finger tips, trimming any excess which can then be made into decorative shapes for the lid.
  • Place these decorations on the lid after dipping them in milk 
  • Brush the lid with milk to enhance the golden colour it will turn when baked - if you feel like it
  • Slash the pastry lid with a sharp knife so that steam can escape
  • Place into your heated oven and cook for about 30 minutes.  
Ovens vary considerably so your own judgement will be useful in deciding when your shortcake is fully baked.
    When fully cooked the pastry should be golden and the fruit juicy enough to be starting to ooze.  Ovens vary considerably so use your own judgement to decide when your shortcake is fully baked.

    Once baked to your satisfaction remove your shortcake from the oven and let it stand until it has cooled sufficiently to be lightly handled.  Turn it out onto a serving dish, dust with icing sugar, slice into wedges and serve with whipped cream.

    Having tested this shortcake recipe with both gooseberries and mulberries I am now confident that it would work well with other fruit.
    • It does: I've since made it with raw apricots tossed in exactly the same amount of sugar, and it has been scrumptious both times!
    My other articles about food and working in the kitchen, including the recipes for ice cream and gooseberry shortcake and red currant jam and ices, can all be found via the link below:
    Securing my own source of mulberries is now a priority, which means finding and planting a tree as soon as possible!

    Here are links to two article about mulberry trees:
    The Readers Digest article warns against planting these trees in a small garden as they can grow fairly tall, but I see no reason why they couldn't be pruned to maintain a shorter height.  Having said that it would be sensible to check this point with someone who is knowledgeable.  

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