You don’t need to look up at the trees to find mulberries. You need to look down. The ripe fruits, which look somewhat like blackberries, fall onto the ground. And fall and fall…they stain sidewalks and make homeowners curse the fruit tree that came with their property.
Don’t curse them: eat them. Mulberries are delicious in jams, pies, ice cream, and muffins. Some folks think they are bland raw, but I like them and enjoy them as an interesting salad topping (especially if the dressing includes a little orange juice or sherry vinegar or honey). You can ferment mulberries into a tasty “country style” (a.k.a. made from fruit other than grapes) wine.
Okay, so how do you know if that blackberry-like fruit that just fell on your head was a mulberry?
For starters, if it fell on your head, it ain’t a blackberry. There are “red” (M. rubra), and “white” (M. alba) mulberries in BK. The red ones are actually a dark purplish color when ripe. Fully ripe white mulberries often have a pinkish, blush color. The multiple fruits do look somewhat like the aggregate fruits of the blackberry plant (Rubus species). But no, Virginia, there is no such thing as a blackberry tree (blackberries grow on prickly canes, not trees).
Look at the leaves on the tree. Mulberry tree leaves are often polymorphic, a cool though geeky word meaning that you may find many leaf shapes on the same tree (typically multi-lobed, 2-lobed or “mitten” shaped, and simple with no lobes). There is another tree in Brooklyn that is polymorphic, and that is sassafras. But mulberry leaves have pointy teeth along the margins whereas sassafras has smooth leaf margins.
One of the reasons you won’t often see mulberries for sale commercially is that the berries don’t all ripen at the same time, which makes them impossible to harvest mechanically. This trait can be a plus for foragers because it extends the harvesting season, i.e. you aren’t going to miss your chance at mulberries this year if you don’t get out there in time to collect the first ripe ones.
The easiest way to harvest mulberries is to lay down a sheet or other drop cloth and shake the branches. The ripe fruits will fall off, leaving the yet-to-ripen berries behind. If the tree is tall, a hooked cane can be useful for reaching the lower branches.
I’ve got a sweet arrangement with a neighbor on Degraw. He’s not interested in harvesting from his frontyard mulberry tree. Years ago I asked him if he minded if I collected the fruit that was falling onto the pavement in front of his house. Since then, every year he texts to let me know when his mulberries are starting to fall.
Mulberry trees grow in almost every Brooklyn park and numerous front yards, including next to brownstone stoops. They are in season from late-May through June.
Mulberries freeze well, and they are good, raisin-style, when dehydrated.
Mulberries are also terrific pie fodder:
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- Combine the sugar, flour, and mulberries, stirring very gently to combine (you don’t want to break up the fruit too much).
- Place the bottom pie crust in a pie dish. Spread the mulberry mixture on top. Dot with the butter.
- Cover the mulberries with the top pie crust. Crimp the two pie crust edges together to seal them. Use the tip of a sharp knife to cut slits in the upper crust. Brush the upper crust with the milk. Let the pie rest in your refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Bake the pie in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350F and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Remove your mulberry pie from oven and let it sit on wire rack to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving (it will be too runny if you skip the cooling off period). Whipped cream or ice cream is always good on mulberry pie (okay, on any pie).