"Here we go 'round the mulberry bush," is a children's song. Turns out, mulberries don't grow on bushes at all. They grow on trees — many of which can be found throughout the city. The berry has a short season, running from late May to the end of June, making for a month of ripe, free fruit. If you can find it.
Ava Chin, who writes the Urban Forager posts for The New York Times' City Room blog, says that the easiest way to spot a ripe mulberry tree is to simply look at the pavement under it. The dropping fruit makes the area look like a deep purple crime scene, and she describes the smell as like being inside a wine bottle. The fruit itself is like a sweeter, less tart blackberry. While word-of-mouth and an observant eye are the age-old ways of finding wild fruit in the city, we live in the internet era: So here's a map of fruit trees in the city.
Longtime Fort Greene resident Andrew Hsiao had a mulberry tree on his block and didn't realize a few years ago. "I've been aware of this tree for the [20 years] I've lived on my block," he says. "The problem is, for many years, I just thought of it as a nuisance. I thought of it as this huge tree that dropped these squishy black things that stuck to the bottoms of my shoes and turned the sidewalk into this purplish-black mess. I had no idea it was a mulberry tree and that this stuff was yummy, edible fruit."
Both Chin and Hsiao prefer to eat the fruit straight off the tree — Chin admits that she rarely gets much of it home before it gets consumed — but for those who want their fruit in the form of a dessert, here's a recipe from well-known forager "Wildman" Steve Brill. There's also more information on identifying different varieties of mulberry trees on his website.
From "Wildman" Steve Brill's The Wild Vegan Cookbook
- 6 cups mulberries (any species)
- 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
- 2 tablespoons kudzu or arrowroot
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh wild spearmint or other mint
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 teaspoon liquid stevia or 2 tablespoons honey, barley malt, or rice syrup
- 2 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup corn oil or flaxseed oil
- 1 cup shelled raw pistachio nuts or other nuts, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. To make the fruit layer: combine the fruit layer ingredients in a bowl and then pour the mixture into a 3-quart casserole dish.
3. To make the crumble topping: combine the crumble topping ingredients except the cinnamon. Press the crumble mixture on top of the fruit layer. Sprinkle the cinnamon on top.
4. Bake for 40 minutes.
Serve hot or cold.