One recent evening my husband and I were reminiscing about our childhood summers and the things we remember most fondly about them. For him, it was their family cabin in Idaho where the smell of the fresh-cooked fish they caught from local streams and the fresh berries they foraged bring back very happy memories. For me, besides the ocean and suntan lotion, it was the smell and taste of fresh local New Jersey produce: fresh, sweet, juicy strawberries that we picked at a friend’s farm on our hands and knees, the first taste of a ripe Jersey tomato, and the silver queen corn that dripped down our chins as we chomped on the hot cobs.
My maternal aunts and uncles fondly recalled the summer ritual of gathering mulberries from the tree at Cousin Saliedda’s house. As soon as the berries were ripe, Saliedda called the family over to help harvest the fruit. The family spread a big sheet on the ground at the base of the tree and the children, using sticks, knocked the tree until the berries fell onto the sheet. The berries were sweet and delicious. I am not sure what was left by the time the children had eaten their share, but once the fruit was gathered everyone was invited into the house for Saliedda’s famously tender, light homemade fettuccine with marinara sauce. Happy memories.
Eventually, the mulberry tree died and so did Cousin Saliedda. No one thought to write down Saliedda’s recipe for the tender pasta. Growing up, I had heard the story of the mulberry tree from my aunts and uncles but no one I knew had a tree, so I was not familiar with the intense and rich mulberry flavor that my relatives were so fond of. Now, as an adult, I am fortunate enough to live where there are a number of mulberry trees. You can tell they are ripe in June and July as there are berries and stained sidewalks at the base of the tree. My husband and I have been gathering both white and black mulberries. We particularly love the black mulberries for their blueberry-blackberry, complex earthy-grape overtones. We have been making this mulberry syrup and love the sweet, rich flavor. It is delicious on pancakes or waffles, and great with biscuits. It’s good poured over vanilla ice cream or used in panna cotta. It also is lovely as a cool and refreshing drink on hot summer days. Fill a glass with club soda and ice, stir in 1-2 Tablespoons of mulberry syrup, and enjoy!
Black Mulberry Syrup
9 c. black mulberries, rinsed
4 c. water
4 c. mulberry juice from the boiled berries
5 c. sugar
1 (3 oz.) pouch liquid pectin
7 (half-pint) jars that have been sterilized in the dishwasher
Begin by rinsing and carefully picking through the mulberries to remove any leaves or small twigs. Place fruit in a 5-quart stock pot. Add 4 c. water and bring to a boil. Use a potato masher to mash the berries to release their juice. Boil for 15-20 minutes. Pour hot berry mixture into a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup. Let juice drain. You want 4 cups of juice. If you have less, pour 1/2-3/4 cup of boiling water through the sieved fruit to make enough mulberry juice. It will take 30 minutes to sieve all the juice. While the berries are draining, fill a water bath canner with water and bring to a boil. Place lids in a small pot of water and bring to a boil. Rinse out the 5-quart pot and pour the 4 cups of juice back into the cleaned pot. Add the sugar and bring to a hard rolling boil, stirring constantly. This will take about 10 minutes. Hard boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and slowly add the liquid pectin, stirring constantly until the pectin dissolves. Pour syrup into the jars, leaving a 1/2″ space at the top. Wipe the rims with a damp paper towel and screw on lids. Water bath for 10 minutes at low altitude or 15 minutes at high altitude. Makes 7 (1/2 pint) jars.