Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mulberries Galore! (Part I - Mulberry Jam)

Mulberry Jam

Mulberries, despite what the children's song would like you to believe, don't grow on a bush. They grow on a tree--a tree that can become huge. Some people see mulberry trees as a pest, something they'd like to get rid of, because when birds eat mulberries, it turns their poop purple. Charming, right? But I'm not convinced that purple birdcrap is any worse than white birdcrap.

The town where I live has a ton of mulberry trees in the parks and they're all heavy with fruit right now. The other day, I went mulberry-foraging with Annie. We expected to collect maybe a pint of mulberries and if we'd been working alone, that would've probably been about right. However, together we were able to collect a half gallon of mulberries in about two hours (mostly spent wandering around seeking mulberry trees with branches low enough we could reach). Teamwork made this easier. One of us would grab a branch and pull it down (thus pulling other branches into reach). We'd strip the branch of ripe (black and dark red) mulberries and then start in on another branch.
Because mulberries are delicate, usually the best bet is to take a large towel or sheet and just shake the tree -- the ripe berries drop onto the blanket for easy collection. We, however, didn't have a large sheet with us (oh well) and our foraging resulted in purple fingers (and a few close calls with poison ivy) for both of us.

Annie talked about putting her mulberries over ice cream (yum!) and I decided to make mine into jam -- especially since we'd already made plans to collect more berries later in the week. I looked at recipes online. Either they called for a TON of sugar, or none at all. Since you should add some sort of acid to jams (i.e. - lemon juice or lime juice) you plan to preserve, I wanted some sugar added -- just enough to balance to acid. I wasn't planning to can my jam -- or even make freezer jam -- because I wasn't making enough, but I do believe in practicing safe preserving methods whenever possible.
The recipe I developed lets the flavor of the berries come through, is slightly tart, and just sweet enough. If you like super-sweet jams (or you prefer jellies without all that texture-y goodness) there are recipes online that looked wonderful. I let my jam cook about 30 minutes over medium-low heat and it firmed up more as it cooled.

Mulberry Jam (low sugar)
1 quart ripe mulberries, soaked and rinsed 3x
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice

In a large saucepan over medium heat, add all ingredients together. Stir occasionally and allow the mixture to come to a high simmer/low boil. Cook, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until the mixture reaches the desired consistency. Yields approximately 10-12 ounces.

You could certainly can this jam with a pressure canner, or a water bath, make freezer jam (or, like me, put it in the refrigerator and use it in the next few days).

Mulberry Jam on a NutThin

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