The Faversham pub. The path is stained with deep red, unsightly blotches below two bushy trees. I look above me to discover a rare treat – a black mulberry tree (or should I say bush?) dripping with deep red, juicy berries.
I find the pub’s gardener Dave Williams picking as many as he can, his arms dripping with juice. “The berries are delicate and rupture easily when picked,” he tells me. I try one and the taste explodes in my mouth. It has a beautiful balance of sweet and sharp flavours with a delicate flowery perfume and would be my berry of choice but they are seldom seen on sale. They are too fragile to transport.
I am intrigued to know what Dave is going to make with his stash. “A Belgium style fruit beer. I ferment barley and add the mulberries at the same time as the hops. I have a micro brewery at home,” he replies.
Dave kindly gives me some of his pickings and a suggestion. “It might be nice to make some mulberry schnapps.” I do and the result is marvellous (see below).
Steven Allison, owner of The Faversham for the past eight years loves the mulberry trees. “They are part of the history of the pub and go back a long way. They are protected by law and we look after them carefully but I don’t mind if people pick them.”
Traditionally mulberries were harvested by nets slung beneath the branches of the trees. As mulberries ripened they fell into the nets and could be collected and used in jellies, mousses, ices and jam or eaten as Elizabeth David suggests with thick cream. I think they might be nice with cheese and a beautifully cured York ham.
Mulberries ripen on the tree in waves and the season lasts from August to September. They are best eaten on the day of picking although I did have success freezing a batch.
Mulberry trees are rare in the UK. There are thought to be about 200 and most of them are in the south of England. I check with Glenn Gorner, natural environment manager at Leeds City Council to see if there are others in Yorkshire.
“There are two at Temple Newsam House, one of which is an original planting dating back to their introduction in the 17th century. In addition there is a famous one in the exercise yard at Wakefield Prison and thought to be the origin of the nursery rhyme Here we go round the mulberry bush a song chanted by prisoners as they danced round the tree. I also know of one in the grounds of the old Acomb Primary School in York,” Glen tells me.
With so many mulberries falling from the tree in The Faversham I wonder if Steve could celebrate this beautiful, rare fruit each year with a Mulberry Day.
“I like the idea of celebrating the mulberries, if Dave’s beer turns out well maybe I will consider it next year.”
This recipe can be made with other berries or fruit including, blackberries, raspberries, plums and damsons.
You will need:
A large jam or Kilner style jar, 500g berries, caster sugar, vodka.
Sterilise the jar by washing in soapy water and drying in the oven (180C/Gas mark 4) for 20 minutes. The amount of sugar, fruit and alcohol should be measured proportionally. Fill a fifth of the jar with sugar, then another fifth with fruit, and finally top up with spirit. Carefully roll the jar to mix ingredients and to help the sugar dissolve. When the jar is filled, seal it tightly and put into a dark place to infuse. The high alcohol content in the spirit will preserve the fruit. The fruit’s colour may fade slightly as the juice is transmitted to the schnapps.
Taste it after a couple of months and add more sugar if you like. Strain the schnapps through a fine sieve into clean, sterilised bottles and label.
Mulberry and lavender cheesecake
250g digestive biscuits, roughly broken, 100g butter or soft margarine, melted, 600g soft cheese, 100g icing sugar, 200ml double cream, 5 drops of culinary lavender essence (or vanilla essence) 400g mulberries, blackberries or bilberries 25g icing sugar Lavender stems
Line a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin with baking parchment. Place the biscuits in a food processor, blend for a minute. Pour in melted butter and blend for a further minute. Transfer the crumbs to the prepared cake tin and press down firmly to create an even layer. Chill in the fridge.
Place the soft cheese, icing sugar and lavender essence in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer. Pour in the cream and continue to beat until the mixture is smooth and thick.
Spoon the cream mixture onto the biscuit base and smooth the top of the cheesecake with a spatula. Leave it in the fridge to set for at least five hours. To un-mould the cheesecake, remove from the fridge and place the tin on top of a can and gradually pull the sides of the tin down. Remove the parchment paper from the base and slip onto a plate.
Purée half of the mulberries in a food processor with 25g icing sugar and add a teaspoon of water. Sieve the purée to remove seeds. Pile remaining mulberries on to the cake and pour over the purée.
Frozen yogurt with mulberries and lemon verbena
400g plain yogurt, 100ml semi-skimmed milk, 30g runny honey,1tsp vanilla essence, 200g mulberries, raspberries or blackberries, a few lemon verbena leaves, rinsed and dried, 1 tbsp caster sugar
Whisk the yogurt, milk, honey and vanilla essence. Transfer to the bowl of an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions until smooth and creamy. If you do not have an ice cream maker, pour the mixture into a rectangular plastic container, put on the lid and freeze. After an hour check the mixture. As it starts to freeze around the edges beat it vigorously with a fork. Repeat until the mixture is frozen, about 2-3 hours.
Place the verbena leaves in a pestle and mortar with the sugar and grind to a paste. Scoop yogurt into bowls, scatter with berries and lemon verbena sugar.