“All around the mulberry bush, on a cold and frosty morning…”
We don’t have too many cold and frosty mornings this time of year, but we do have a TON of mulberries. When my dear friend Farmer Jaime showed up at my house with a gift of freshly harvested mulberries from her tree, my creative juices started flowing.
Fortunately for lovers of the tart and sweet mulberry, there are a multitude of trees around Fallon--some on public property, some in the yards of friends and neighbors, and one behemoth at Lattin Farms. Most mulberry owners are enthusiastic when people volunteer to help glean ripe fruit from their trees. In truth, the vast majority of mulberries are likely eaten by Churchill County’s bird population, resulting in purple bird poo. So, in order to facilitate the utilization of this highly seasonal fruit by the human residents of our community, I thought I would share a couple of my favorite ways to use mulberries.
Mulberries look like a tiny blackberry, though it is actually a relative of figs and breadfruit. They are sweet, nutrient dense, and have a variety of impressive health benefits--including vitamins C, K1, and E, potassium, iron, and a rich variety of antioxidants. Mulberries in any form (juiced, fresh, dried, extracted, preserved) can help lower cholesterol, reduce cancer risk, and improve blood sugar control. In fact, mulberries have been used in Chinese homeopathic medicine for centuries.
The gallon Ziploc of black mulberries in my kitchen inspired me to make a mulberry shrub. A shrub is a beverage syrup made from equal parts plant, sugar, and vinegar. This combination creates both a tasty drink ingredient and provides a method to preserve seasonal fruit harvests to be enjoyed throughout the year. Fruit vinegars and shrubs were most prolific during the pre-refrigeration years of Victorian England and early Colonial America. During prohibition, the shrub replaced consumption of alcohol-based beverages (for the rule followers) --shrubs endured as cocktail and soda ingredients well into the 20th century. While they fell out of favor in the mid-20th century as sugary soft drinks rose in popularity, the craft cocktail movement resurrected the technique and ingredient about 10 years ago.
Shrubs can be made with truly any combination of fruit, vinegar, and sugar--they also benefit from the addition of other seasoning ingredients. Some of my favorites: Apricots with Demerara Sugar and Apple Cider Vinegar; Strawberries with White Sugar, Black Peppercorns, and White Balsamic Vinegar; Mulberries with White Sugar, Thyme, and a mix of Balsamic and Apple Cider Vinegar.
While there are two techniques to make a shrub (hot method and cold method), I exclusively use the cold method in my kitchen. I prefer the cold method because it is easier to preserve the benefits of naturally fermented “live” vinegars--that being said, if you are in a rush, the hot method yields a shrub syrup that is ready to drink as soon as you are finished.
The basic recipe for a shrub syrup is equal parts fruit, sugar, and vinegar. I recommend starting with a cup of each ingredient. To prepare the shrub syrup with the cold method, you simply smash the fruit up with the sugar until they are well combined in a mason jar or other storage container and add the vinegar. Leave your shrub mix at room temperature for one day, then give it a shake and pop it into the fridge. You can strain the liquid into a cup and top with soda water for a refreshing alcohol-free beverage or use it as an ingredient in a cocktail.
To prepare your shrub with the hot method combine the sugar and fruit in a small saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Cook over medium heat until the fruit is broken down and juicy. Remove from heat and add your vinegars. Strain into a mason jar and refrigerate until you are ready to use.
Mulberry & Thyme Shrub Syrup
- 1 cup fresh mulberries (stems removed as best you can)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 lemon, zested
- ½ c balsamic vinegar
- ½ c apple cider vinegar
- 10 thyme sprigs
- Smash up mulberries with lemon zest and sugar in a mason jar.
- Top with thyme sprigs.
- Pour over both vinegars. Seal the mason jar and shake it until the sugars are dissolved.
- Leave on your countertop for at least 1 day before refrigerating.
- Serve over ice topped with soda water or in a rocks glass with your preferred clear liquor, soda water and a lemon twist.
Kelli Kelly - Slinger of Produce. Slurper of Dumplings. Per- son of the Bean