When HWMBF (He Who Must Be Fed) decided to plant two ornamental mulberry trees in the front garden, he was more interested in aesthetics than food production. Several years on however these mulberry trees, arguably still ornamental, have developed into freakishly prolific bearers of tiny but intensely sweet, juicy and flavoursome berries.
Thanks to the weeping nature of this variety, picking the fruit requires virtually immersing yourself in the tree, risking severe claustrophobia at best and eye excision at worst. However HWMBF informed me that this year he’d pruned with a purpose. In other words, he’d created an opening for the picker to enter the shrubbery and pick from the inside, as if in a secret cubby house as it were. Great idea, but I’m leaving it to him. Last time he ventured in, he didn’t emerge until some hours later crowned by a leafy toupee, with fingers, arms and hands a fetching shade of purple. Despite his prize of a full container of berries, it seemed like hard won riches to me. The only (and never to be repeated) time I’ve tried it I couldn’t quite steel myself to the total immersion experience and sort of hovered around the outside – round being the operative word as the circular dance required to glean a halfway decent harvest ended up making me dizzy.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the picking exercise, I get to find ways of using the crop and believe me, given the man’s passion for these little berry critters, this is not optional. You might know of some delectable ways of using mulberries as a component of an entrée, main course or salad, but I don’t, so to date I’ve restricted myself to desserts. Although come to think of it, they might team well with some tangy salad greens, creamy goat’s cheese and lightly roasted walnuts (but then what wouldn’t?)
Of course mulberry leaves are manna from heaven to silkworms, so if all else fails maybe I could start up a worm farm enterprise and make my fortune in home-spun silken garments.
To date harvest time has seen me somewhat unimaginatively throwing together various versions of mulberry pies and tarts. The berry part of course is straightforward. You can either do the berries alone or combine them with their perfect partner, apple. If the latter, the apples need to be cooked to just tender beforehand with the addition of sugar to taste. The mulberries need only minimal cooking to bring out the juice and unless you want a really sweet filling, don’t need the addition of sugar. Pastry is the challenging part of the equation (at least for me), which is why I usually resort to ready-made, especially now that there’s such a great and delicious range available from Careme Pastry.
While not thinking at all about mulberries one day, I stumbled upon a recipe for Brown Butter Tart Crust, which for the uninitiated is the answer to the pastry idiot’s prayer. It requires no kneading, no chilling, no rolling and is so easy the dog could make it (if he could reach high enough to turn on the oven). It was published in Saveur Magazine and is the creation of Paule Caillat (who runs Promenades Gourmandes, an organisation that conducts cooking classes and gourmet walking tours of Paris – nice work if you can get it).
Essentially all you do is heat butter, water, sugar and vegetable oil in a bowl in the oven until browned around the edges, mix in flour and hey presto it’s ready to press into a tin and bake. The result is a golden, crisp, nutty flavoured shell that can be filled with whatever. It’s ideal for small tarts but I’ve used it for normal sized ones and it’s perfect with a cream base topped with fruit. If you’re going straight to the fruit or any other very liquidy filling, it’s probably best eaten at once, otherwise wait to fill the pastry until you’re ready to serve to avoid it going soggy.
Here’s the recipe.
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter cubed
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup plain flour
- Heat oven to 200 degrees
- Stir butter, water, vegetable oil, sugar and salt together in a heatproof bowl
- Bake until butter is bubbling and lightly brown at the edges (about 20 mins)
- Remove from oven
- Stir in flour until dough comes together
- Press dough into bottom and up sides of tart or pie dish
- Prick dough all over with fork
- Bake until cooked through (10-12 minutes)
- Let cool then fill with your desired filling
When I’ve got time and am feeling industrious I make the pie below, using Careme ready-cooked pastry and this recipe from Allrecipes. It’s worth the effort as it looks pretty and gains you lots of appreciation from the berry pickers and eaters.
by Anne Green