I was probably about 6 the first time I encountered mulberries. We pulled into the parking lot of our town’s fitness center for my weekly swimming lesson. We had an outdoor pool but I was too delicate to be plunged into the icy cold water. A warm, over chlorinated pool was the only way I’d learn to swim. As my mom negotiated a parking space, I peered out the window at two middle-aged Spanish women standing on ladders in the middle of the lot. The ground below them was stained bright purple and they stretched to pick berries off the tree above, barely out of their reach. They had buckets filled to the brim with deep purple berries and occasionally would pop one into their mouths. I remember asking my mother what they were doing, but I don’t recall much of the conversation as we scurried into the building, late as usual. But that scene still plays vividly in my mind today and it was then I realized that there were plants you could eat not grown in a traditional farm or garden.
A few years later, we moved to a new town and my new school had the same kind of tree. It was bit shorter and easy enough for an 8-year-old to climb and collect berries without help of a ladder, but certainly the same thing. I learned it was a mulberry tree with edible berries, a bit like blackberries but milder and more green tasting. We would occasionally snack on them after school, waiting for our parents to pick us up. It is a taste I sometimes have trouble describing but one that I can recognize anywhere.
When we moved to Brooklyn, I immediately recognized the mulberry tree just a few houses down. The branches were a bit high and I wasn’t nearly as brave to prop a ladder in the middle of the street. So I looked at them longingly, every June as the sidewalk turned purple and the birds had their feast. When I started canning, I yearned to make mulberry jam. This year I found the courage. If there was a tree on my block there had to be others in Brooklyn and hopefully at easier picking levels. I searched the internet for any mention of the trees. I discovered two promising spots–Gateway Triangle in Clinton Hill and South Portland right by Fort Greene Park. Containers in hand I was set.
The reaction to my urban foraging was drastically different in each neighborhood. At Gateway Triangle I was on a major street, right next to a bus stop. As I pulled the berries down, they’d stain my hands and splatter against my skin, coloring me purple as they did the sidewalk (note to self–wear dark-colored long sleeves next time!). I can’t imagine what I looked like, stretching for the branches just out of my reach. Some stepped around me, eying me suspiciously, some ignored me and those with children seemed to pull them just a little bit closer. In Fort Greene, being near the edge of the park, I got more curiosity than fear. Some stopped to talk, some were familiar with mulberries, others fascinated and one extremely tall teenager offered to help (if only he had showed up sometime before I was picking my last berry). Walking home, speckled purple with hands of a leper, I laughed to myself realizing I’ve become the crazy lady that harvests from her neighbors’ yards. And I’m only 30–just imagine what 60 will look like…
Foraged Mulberry Jam (Makes 2 cups)
- 4 c ripe mulberries
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 3/4 c sugar
- 2 tsp pectin
In a medium saucepan heat berries, lemon juice and 1/2 c sugar over medium heat. Slowly bring berries to a boil, crushing slightly with the back of a wooden spoon as you go to release their juices. Meanwhile, in a small jar stir together remaining sugar and pectin. Stir into boiling fruit, making sure pectin has completely dissolved. Reduce heat and let simmer until it thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Ladle into hot, sterile half-pint or 40z jars leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
- Wild Foraging (measuringspoons.wordpress.com)
- Jam Season is Here – Lavender Strawberry Jam (bklynlocavore.com)
- Merry multicolored mulberries (parkpaths.wordpress.com)
- All Around the Mulberry Tea (sewaneeherbarium.wordpress.com)
I love mulberries, it’s really a shame so many people actually remove the tree’s because they look at the berries falling on the ground as a nuisance. I had a listing in my neighborhood the house was vacant and in the backyard was a huge mulberry tree and grape vines. I loved doing open houses there because when they were in season I came home with great produce. Your jam looks so good, I know those mulberry stained hands all too well.
That’s a great benefit–sell a house and profit from the produce while doing so!
I’ve been trying to figure out what these were for weeks! My neighborhood in uptown Manhattan, Inwood, has sooo many mulberry trees. The ground is completely stained in front of my building! Now I know, and thanks to you I now can put all of these lovely mulberry trees to use!
You’re very welcome! One woman stopped me while collecting and seemed concerned how I knew this tree was the real thing. I just showed her my hands and explained that there is nothing else that stains everything like mulberries do. Are they low to the ground? If there’s too many to handle, I might have to come up there and get some myself. 🙂
That jam looks so yummy! Homemade is the best!
Thanks! I’m sad to only have 4 jars–they’re highly coveted but I’m saving them all for myself.
Ooh nice! My friend growing up had mulberry trees in her backyard. Reminds me of youth!
I know…I’m regretting I waited so long. Not much left 😦
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You have me wondering if there are any mulberry trees in the Boston area. I will definitely keep my eyes peeled, as well as the next time I’m in New York!
I’m sure there are. We have pretty similar climates. Our berries ripened and fell by the middle of July. I find they’re difficult to spot after they’ve bloomed unless you really pay attention to the leaves, but in season it’s impossible to miss the crimson stained sidewalks. Thanks for stopping by!
Seen your post at SITS and love that my first day back after over a year of not blogging it is for a canning recipe! I just got my first canning pot yesterday, and if I ever run into a mulberry tree, would love to try this recipe out!!
Thanks for stopping by Chanda! Congrats on getting back to blogging and even more importantly getting your first canning pot! I highly recommend the mulberries when you can find them, but any berry works great. I think the first jam I made was raspberry. So easy and couldn’t get enough of it!
Wonderful recipe for a jam for my boyfriend! He will love this with some homemade bread!
Haha, the homemade bread is the part I generally fail at. But at least my local bakeries know they have a steady customer!
Gorgeous and happy SITS to you!
Thanks so much, Poppy. And thanks for stopping by!
We’ve got a mulberry tree in the backyard! Usually the birds get all the berries, but this makes me want to do something else with them!!
OMG, that’s like berry gold! So jealous. Go for the jam, or a crisp, or even right off the tree.
Love the blog….love making jams and jellies…a girl after my own heart… 🙂
Thanks so much for stopping by and the kind words. I hope you’ll stick around to see more!
I love mulberries! : ) We just picked some the other day. I never thought of making jam with them. Delicious!
Haha, how purple were your hands? Pretty much anything you’d do with blackberries or raspberries, you can do with mulberries. Enjoy them!