The black mulberry (Morus nigra) is a tree that I grew up with. A big one right down the back of the garden would yield so heavily in spring that as kids we would throw them at each other in pitched playfights, emerging peppered with dark purple fruit stains that could take days to fade. For this I like mulberries. For being the most abundant berry to forage in Sydney and for coming out in Spring instead of Autumn, I love them. Spring fruiting is no small asset here, where many of the more common ‘traditional’ Autumn fruiters simply don’t work as well as they might with our February to March that can be hot, humid, unreliably watered and plagued by rot and dreaded fruit fly (Bactrocera tryoni).
Another of Spring’s great fruits around here is the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), and together they tell a story of Sydney and fruit consumption: Were we to eat locally appropriately, mulberry and loquat would mean more to us than apples or pears, but largely because they store and transport too badly for market they are now mostly garden anachronisms; when most of the people in a city cannot tell you what two of its most ideally suited fruits taste like, you know that they have embraced the idea that fruit grows on supermarket shelves.
In the park next door to our flat there is a wilding mulberry that like too many self-sown ones, produces stingy little fruit on a straggly tree. From this one I still take a few, if just because it is there. Around the corner, there is one that hangs over a fence showering the footpath with much better fruit. From this I will take a couple of harvests adding up to a perhaps a kilo. Another couple at the community garden I tend to leave alone because they are pretty heavily picked by other members and I’m happy to leave them to it – largely because I know the whereabouts of the ‘mother lode’. This comprises three trees planted clearly for being a productive cultivar with big fruit, planted a long time ago, and fruiting very well. They are maintained in a place that is for all intents and purposes public, but nonetheless tucked quietly behind some buildings next to some private parking and hardly known about.
Because it was introduced to me by someone who might not want the spot advertised, I won’t say where the mother lode is. But in this, the information age, the internet can probably serve you better anyway, with one of many online collaborative community urban food plant maps. Based on GoogleMaps, anyone can upload the location of anything from mulberries to a good patch of weeds. For Sydney there is the ‘Scrumpers Delight Map’, and there are others out there (e.g. Christchurch, Perth and a whole lot in the US); in any case, because they exist to be found online, they can be. They make the whole old-school process of searching, trial and error and often guarded secrecy suddenly a lot easier.
Although mulberries don’t store or transport too well – one of the reasons that they probably aren’t in Coles or Woolies – this doesn’t matter much when you’ve picked them yourself. I tend to start the season with eating the ones that make it home looking best fresh and freezing the rest of each haul, stockpiling until the end of the season and a couple of big sessions of making jams and mulberry wine. I keep a bucket and a stepladder in the car for the month of October and stop by a tree when I can to build up the store. This year, we also made a weekend morning of it; meeting at the mother lode with the family who introduced me to it, the kids and a picnic. 5 or so kilos of fruit, some mulberry-stained children, and a catch-up later, it is home for nap time and jam making. I will try to add a few posts on successful uses as the seasons goes on.
Mulberry jam post here.
Mulberry cordial post (sharab el toot) here.
Mulberry wine post here