For many years, my only knowledge of mulberries was the nursery rhyme about children dancing around a mulberry bush.
The mulberry was kind of a mythical fruit for me, something that existed only in fairy tales, not in the real world. It was not until I was in my twenties that I encountered an actual mulberry tree loaded with ripe fruit. One taste of those divine berries, I realized what a delicious treat I’d been missing out on. If you’re like I used to be and know little about the mulberry, here’s an introduction to this delicacy.
To start, mulberries grow on a tree, not a bush. The first time you see a mulberry fruit, you might think you are looking at a blackberry with a bunch of tiny purple-black spheres stuck together into one compound fruit. But this resemblance is superficial—mulberries differ from blackberries. Mulberry tree branches are completely thornless without the prickly spikes that make harvesting wild blackberries such a challenge. Another difference is that while blackberry fruits are full of tiny hard seeds, mulberries have no detectable seeds, they’re just fruit all the way through.
Mulberries taste sweet and juicy, with lots of delicate fruity notes. Most varieties turn purple-black at maturity, and these types generally have a sweet flavor, with just a touch of tartness that gives a nice balance to their sweetness.
As delicate as they are delicious
These purple-black mulberries tend to be loved right from the first taste—this isn’t a fruit that you have to learn to like. There are also some mulberry varieties with fruits that are whitish at maturity. The flavor of these is also sweet and fruity, but lacking in any tartness. Opinions of the white-fruited varieties vary—some people enjoy them, while others find the lack of any tartness to balance the sweet gives the berries a cloying sugary taste.
Children generally love both types of mulberries, and they’ll eat these healthy treats in quantity. This is a great fruit for kids. Years ago, when friends of mine gave birth to a daughter, we planted a mulberry tree in their yard in the baby’s honor. As the little girl grew, so did her tree, becoming more and more productive, providing more berries for her to eat each year.
You’ll rapidly realize when picking the darker-fruited mulberries that these are extremely delicate fruits. Your fingertips quickly get stained purple-red from the intensely pigmented mulberry juice squirting onto your fingers. (Some children–and adults–take advantage of this to decorate themselves, painting their faces and arms with mulberry juice while on the hunt for these sweet treats!)
Mulberries’ delicate nature is why you’re unlikely to see them in grocery stores—they’re simply too fragile to handle packaging and shipping. This is a berry that’s best enjoyed straight off the tree and into the mouth. Mulberries also go well in smoothies, jams, and pies– anywhere you’d use your favorite berry. Freezing these fruits is a way to prolong their availability.
Where to find mulberries
Wherever you live, chances are you’ll find a mulberry tree that will thrive. Mulberry trees are adaptable to wildly different climate zones. There are a number of species and varieties of mulberry and forms of it grow all the way from the sunny tropics to northern lands with long, frozen winters. Mulberry trees ripen their sweet fruits alongside mango trees in Thailand, as well as next to spruce trees and sugar maples as far north as the Canadian Maritime provinces.
Not every mulberry tree makes good berries. Some trees are male and never produce any fruits. Some trees produce berries so small they’re not worth much as an edible. If you can’t find any good fruiting mulberry trees to forage from in your area, don’t despair: you can plant one, and it will grow and bear fruit in just a few years. You might find good fruiting types at a trusted local nursery. If not take a look at mail-order nurseries specializing in edibles. Avoid plants labeled simply “mulberry,” because it may not be a good fruiting type. You want to get a named-variety mulberry that has been selected for good fruit production. Some varieties adapted for Southeastern Massachusetts are ‘Illinois Everbearing’, ‘Gerardi Dwarf’, ‘Kokuso’, and ‘Oscars’.
If you’re planting a dark-fruited type, make sure to plant your mulberry tree where falling fruits won’t stain a driveway, car, or patio (yours––or a neighbor’s.) Mulberry trees like lots of water and are tolerant of wet feet, so if there’s a low, damp spot on your property which gets at least a few hours of direct sun during summer, that’s an ideal spot for a mulberry tree. This is a tree that grows fast and fruits quickly, so if you give it good conditions, in just two or three years, you can be foraging your own sweet home-grown mulberries.
If you have mulberries on hand, use them to make a refreshing mulberry shrub.
Craig Hepworth is a tropical fruit fanatic. He now lives in central Florida and posts online about his fruit-growing adventures as Florida Fruit Geek. He has an enthusiastic following. This story comes to us from Edible South Shore.