Gjelina Group Goes to the Market: Mulberries
"Similar to its sibling the fig, the mulberry has a subtle savoriness to it."
By Grace Geller, Farm Liaison
According to Chinese legend, in the 27th century BC, Princess Si Ling-Chi was sitting at the base of a tree enjoying a hot cup of tea when a delicate cocoon fell into her cup. When she attempted to remove the pod, a long iridescent string began unraveling in her hand. Along with the beautiful thread, Si Ling-Chi found a small worm that seemed to have been previously munching on the large leaves above her. The tree she was sitting underneath was a mulberry tree and the small worm in her hand, a silkworm! If we are to believe this story, Si Ling-Chi may very well have been the first ever sericulturist, because instead of screaming and flinging the caterpillar out of her teacup, she instructed her gardeners to plant fields of mulberry trees and the rich relationship between the mulberry tree and silk farmers began!
As you may have concluded from the previous story, the mulberry leaf is the sole source of sustenance for silkworms. However, this tree provides a culinary treat for humans as well, the mulberry. Contrary to what the name would suggest, the mulberry is not a berry at all. While the fruit body looks similar to a stretched out blackberry, the mulberry is actually a child of the Moraceae family and is more closely related to a fig than anything you would find in the berry section. This relationship begins to make a bit more sense when you taste the mulberry. Similar to its sibling the fig, the mulberry has a subtle savoriness to it. The traditional sought after berry-like sweetness is there but so is something that feels hard to describe. I have heard “woody”, “wine-like” and even “mysterious.” To me, they taste like if a blackberry was blended with a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, soft but deep in flavor.
Mulberries have a unique fruiting behavior and thrive on having a community of trees around them. The mulberry tree can be either dioecious or monoecious, meaning that they can be male-bearing, female-bearing or have both genders! The female-bearing trees require the pollen from the male-bearing trees in order to fruit. However, a mulberry tree can change genders multiple times in its lifespan and can take on different roles of fruiting and pollinating throughout its life. Some describe the mulberry tree to be a “misbehaving breed” due to its unpredictability, personally I love seeing nature have a will of its own!
There are 3 houses of varieties of mulberries; red, black and white. At Gjelina, we prefer the Pakistan mulberry, which is a black mulberry variant with great flavor and a relatively soft stem. The trees tend to be very heavy bearers and drop their thin-skinned fruits quickly when they reach peak ripeness. This process has led many a watchful harvester to resort to the conservative collection method of laying large tarps under the tree and gently shaking the branches, creating a heavy rainfall of the ripe fruit. Mulberry trees are generally hearty and thrive in multiple different growing zones. So there may be a fruiting tree near you! One of the easiest ways to spot the tree is the beautiful maroon staining the berries leave on the ground if they have been stepped on. So keep your eyes peeled, and a tarp ready!
Mulberries are starting to sneak their way into farmers markets. Likely, you will not find many at your local grocer as the berry is quite delicate and doesn’t travel well. Which is just another reason we feel so lucky to be able to feature it on our menus here. Currently, we have dressed our classic Panna Cotta at Gjelina with a mulberry topping and feature local mulberries on our breakfast fruit plate. Come try it for yourself and please, “mull” over how you would describe the flavor!