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Feature Thu Jul 10 2008

Foraging for Mulberries

The tiny latina lady approached me with an incredulous grin on her face, whipping her headphones off. "Oh my God! I only thought Mexicans did that!"

As I laughed, I dumped another handful of juicy mulberries into the plastic container I'd brought. It was nearly full. Time to go home and bake a cake.

I've been doing a lot of walking lately, following the river. A few week ago, I noticed that the mulberries were coming into season. And because I like a deal, I figured I'd pick some and see what happened. My first step? The Google. I found the Web site for NYC-based urban forager "Wildman" Steve Brill. I'd heard about this dude before, so I knew I could trust his advice.

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Brill walked me through the three types of mulberries I'd already found by the river: red, white and pink. Red mulberries, when ripe, look a lot like blackberries. White mulberries are a bit confusing, at first. They look similar to unripe mulberries of any variety, but have less of the green hue associated with unripe berries. Pink mulberries are a cross between red and white. Mulberries ripen in late spring and early summer (they're almost peaked as of now, but you can still find lots of fruit) and are ready to pick when they come easily off the branch. If you have to tug on the berry, forget it and move on.

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Brill also advises to use them quickly. But I'm greedy and can't possibly cram in all the anthocyanin-packed fruit into my mouth that I pick every other day. I've been freezing them by the quart bag-full for use come winter, but also using them in baked goods.

In addition to munching on the free fruit, I've also had a lot of fun conversations with folks in my neighborhood. People walking dogs who've asked in kind of a suspicious tone just what I'm doing, standing on a bridge over the river with my head buried up in the trees. Little kids have asked if they can help, always squeezing the fruit too hard and staining their hands purple. I'm not really comfortable talking with strangers. At all. But the mulberries have finally given me something to say.

And on with the recipes!

MULBERRY CRUMBLE

Filling:
5 cups of mulberries (or a mix of mulberries and other seasonal berries)
2-3 tbsp. of arrowroot powder (or flour, if you don't have arrowroot)
1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar (depending on the sweetness of the fruit, your preferences)

Gently wash the mulberries. Don't worry about the stems. Leave them on, nobody's going to die. Tumble the sugar and arrowroot through the berries. If they look really soupy, add more arrowroot.

Topping:
(Based on the "Sweet Crumble Topping" recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, p. 870)

8 tbsp. butter or margarine
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 chopped walnuts (for the omega 3!)
Juice from one lemon
Zest from 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 cup of whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
Smidgen of salt

Starting with the sugar and butter, dump all of the ingredients into a food processor and pulse for like 10 seconds. It's called "mulberry crumble" for a reason.

In a buttered, eight-inch square glass baking dish, pour in your mulberries and then top with the crumble. Bake it in a 350 degree oven until the crumble topping is golden brown.


AWESOME MULBERRY-VANILLA CAKE
(Based on The Vegan Chef's vanilla cake recipe)

1 1/3 cups of sugar
1/2 cup margarine
3 cups unbleached flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
2 cups soy milk
1 tbsp. high-quality balsamic vinegar (I like Oakwood Grocery's Fig Balsamic)
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (I prefer Penzey's)
1 tsp. almond extract
2 cups of mulberries

The first thing you do, put the vinegar in the soy milk and whisk it up. It gets super-thick and adds awesomeness. Next, cream the sugar and the butter in one bowl. In another, do the dry ingredients. Add the dry to the wet, alternating with your super-thick, vaguely brown soy milk-balsamic jazz. Fold it slowly. Then add the extracts. Beat for another two minutes on medium.

Use a bundt pan for this one. It's lovely. Add half the batter, then add the mulberries. Then add the rest of the batter. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. The berries tend to add a lot of moisture so look more for a golden-brown top than a perfect clean toothpick test.

You can either top this cake with a glaze, confectioner's sugar, or a cup or two of mulberries that you've cooked down and strained. Whatever does it for you.

Taj / July 14, 2008 8:16 PM

hey, i'm glad to see a kindered spirit out there doing this as well..i love these- 'been picking them for past 2 summers...i wish i had a ladder though- the i can just get so many getting on my toes...lincoln park by the pond has quite a few trees.

Mandy / July 18, 2008 10:27 AM

I love this story! My childhood best friend and I used to walk around our neighborhood endlessly during long summer days. We always stopped multiple times to gorge ourselves on mulberries growing in a vacant lot down the block. Good memories!

Savonna / January 26, 2014 2:29 PM

Hi. For about a month I have been searching grocers in the chicagoland area where I can buy mulberries. Do you know of any which would sell them. Also where and which bridge did you pick them. Thanks

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