Saturday, July 5, 2008

The last of the mulberry cobbler

On a long morning walk a few weeks ago, I discovered a mulberry tree growing at the rear of St. John's churchyard cemetary on Portland Street. The tree actually grows inside the cemetary fence, but drooping branches make fruit available to anyone passing by.

By the shape of the leaves, the mulberry is either a black mulberry or a white mulberry, both of which are native to Asia, and were imported into this country to use the leaves as feed in an attempt at colonial-era silkmaking. The white mulberry is now considered a pest tree and an invasive species, and was identified as such in a very interesting article about weeds, greenhouse gases and invasive species a few weeks ago in the New York Times Magazine. The red mulberry is native to this part of the country, but apparently relatively rare.

The mulberry is apparently high in vitamins C and K, iron, riboflavin, magnesium and potassium. They taste good too.

I remember eating mulberries as a kid in New Britain. The tree was near my cousin's house, and we could climb and eat until our hands were purple and our stomachs ached.

Eating a handful of berries from the tree on Portland Street reminded me of their distinct taste. They look like a blackberry, but their taste is more complex.

I thought the berries would make a great pie.

So, I took Aidan and Dermot to the churchyard to do some picking and eating. They ate, for sure, but the branches were too high for them to do much picking. I picked for nearly an hour, and still didn't have enough to fill a pie crust. At that point, Aidan barked his knee on a headstone, and, with six hands sticky and stained purple we headed home.

Easy enough to eat one at a time, cleaning for use in pie was painful. Each berry comes off the tree with its stem intact - a single, thin, sharp needle that is difficult to extract, and painful to ingest. An hour later I had the berries clean. If I was making jelly, a simple straining would have separated the useful fruit from the stems. But for pie, a simple straining would have been disastrous, from a texture standpoint.

I didn't have enough fruit to fill a crust, so on July 4, I combined the mulberries with some fresh blueberries and made a sweet-crust cobbler for a backyard cookout. My innate pie-sense was correct.

The cobbler was a hit. The mulberries added just enough complexity of sweet and sour to liven up the usual bland and predictable blueberriness of blueberries, especially cultivated blueberries.

I'm not sure I'll ever take the time to pick and clean enough mulberries for a pie, but the resulting clamor for seconds is some encouragement.

I love to eat and cook with found fruit. There are many abandoned apple and cherry trees around town, and I was much disturbed when Stonehenge nurseries took down two old variety apple trees on the grounds of the Russell House so that the field could more easily be cut with power mowers. The groundspeople at Wesleyan, upon hearing my complaint, declared that the trees were damaged. I picked apples from them for six years, and there was nothing wrong with them. The fruit was not often aesthetially pleasing, but the trees were laden, and the apples made great pie.

BTW, the plum trees on the Western border of Union Park (South Green) are heavy with fruit, but when they turn sweet you'll be competing with the Greek and Italian women who I often encounter picking bags full of fruit. The competition can be fierce, but I'm usually a good foot taller, so the higher-hanging fruit is mine. There is also an old apple tree in the park with remarkably good fruit.


Anonymous said...

The all-natural found cobbler sounds just a little too healthful. As we are a family of carnivores, I urge those with large, hard-to-please with salad and berries progeny, to serve a dangerously deliciously Meat Cake at your next festive gathering!The following recipe can be successfully modified to Meat Cupcakes!

Middletown Eye said...

All natural, my ass. Not everyone who lives in the Village District is so circumspect about what they eat. The crust if filled with lard and butter. The sugar is white, I'm afraid to say. But it all tastes so good. BTW, I'm all for meat pies, but I've never liked cupcakes, meat or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Hold it right there, Gentle Villager. No need to take offense where none was intended. And what have you got against cupcakes? Perhaps they are favored by Non Villagers? Is Honorary Villager status ever bestowed upon the worthy?

Izzi Greenberg said...

OK, back to the fruit, you two. I, too love "found fruit" and have lamented the loss of some amazing fruit trees over the last few years. Alice Kast, who lived in NEAC, made incredible canned plums from those plums on the green. I wish I had gotten her recipe before she left. I think it was pretty simple, though, so I bet it could be duplicated easy enough. Did you find any recipes for white mulberries? We have a tree near our house and I've always wondered what to do with them.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

I suspect that any good berry recipe is applicable. I've got a few old cookbooks, and I ought to check them out.

Mulberry pie, muffins, jelly, cobbler. I think it'd all work.

But beware the stem.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

This one sounds good, though I've never come across a nectarine tree, abandoned or otherwise, in Middletown city limits. What's an ollalieberry, anyway?

Nectarine Mulberry Pie

2 c Mulberries, ollalieberries, blackberries
3/4 c Sugar
3 tb Cornstarch
1 c Water
2 1/2 c Nectarines -- sliced, ripe
1 Pie crust (9 inch) -- Baked

Rinse berries and drain dry on absorbent towels. In a 1-1/2 quart pan, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add 1 cup of the berries and the water. Cook, stirring often, over medium-high heat until mixture comes to a full boil, 5 to 7 minutes.

Distribute nectaries and remaining berries in an even layer in pastry; spoon hot berry mixture over fruit. Chill until glaze is set.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

To answer myself:

The olallieberry (pronounced oh-la-leh, sometimes spelled ollalieberry, olallaberry, olalliberry, ollalaberry or ollaliberry) is a cross between the loganberry and the youngberry, each of which is itself a cross between blackberry and another berry (raspberry and dewberry, respectively).

The original cross was made in 1935 by George F. Waldo with the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, who ran the cooperative blackberry breeding program between the USDA-ARS and Oregon State University cooperative breeding program. Selected in 1937 and tested in Oregon, Washington and California as "Oregon 609", it was renamed "Olallie" and released in 1950. While primarily developed in Oregon, it has never been very productive there and is therefore primarily grown in California.

Formally named "Olallie", it has usually been marketed as olallieberry, just as "Marion" is sold as marionberry.

"Olallie" means berry in the Chinook Jargon.

Olallieberries are tart and very popular in pies in Southern California. The season is very short and some pie restaurants do not advertise having fresh olallieberry pie available, as the entire stock sells out via word of mouth. The best times, if not the only times, to order an olallieberry pie in these restaurants are the first two to three weeks of June. In coastal areas of Northern California, the olallieberry season lasts from mid-June to mid-July. More recently, olallieberries have become available frozen, making them buyable most of the year. Olallie Lake in Oregon's Cascade mountains is named after the Chinook term due to the abundance of berries in that area.

And now I'm officially obsessed. I've got to get me some.

Anonymous said...

Oregon is a nice place to visit but on the more practical side , a visit to pick raspberries or whatever they have at Lyman Orchards may be a good substitute. OK,OK. Ride your bike to and from the Village District...Is there a cleverk way to make a smoothie while bicycling?

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Oh, I see, the Village District is now a source of derision, eh? Somehow because I live close to downtown in a historic house, it also means I'm a vegan who only uses alternative transportation (as if there's anything wrong with that). While I wish both were true in my case, I'm unfortunately not that disciplined. But if Village District now is equivalent to "tree hugger" or "radical," or "effete Intellectual," I'll embrace the insult, and wish that I could consider the source, but alas, it's anonymous.

Anonymous said...

It is easy to be a critic, especially an anonymous one... Let's end this taking of pot shots at Villagers by saying how admirable and hard-working a group they are! As izzi said, "Back to the fruit..."