Before I started fishing around for mulberry preserving recipes beyond jam (post here) and wine (post here), I’d never heard of mulberry cordial, or sharab el toot, but then I’m not Lebanese. But I am a Sydneysider and so are a lot of mulberry trees and so are a lot of Lebanese; and so let the fusion begin.
When you search online recipes for mulberry cordial, the preponderance of Lebanese ones for sharab el toot almost demands that it be given a go (my favoured are from Lebanese Sydneysider Fouad Kassab and the UK-based Bethany Khehdy whom he cites). Why Lebanese, you may ask. Well, apparently mulberries were grown in large numbers in Lebanon for leaves feeding silk worms and thence a silk trade to France. The silk trade may have faded, but not the love of the second crop – the berries themselves, and the syrup that they adore from it.
The recipe is fairly simple – juice mulberries one way or another, heat with rather a lot of sugar, and bottle – the greatest variation being in the proportions of the two ingredients. Knowing that my tooth is nowhere near as sweet as a Middle Eastern one, and that honey is a faithful Middle Eastern alternative to sugar (as the once-revered product that sugar rather mundanely replaced), I have omitted the sugar altogether in place of my own honey. I also added lemon juice and a pinch of tartaric acid; perhaps this means that it isn’t even sharab el toot anymore; but I can assure you that it is nonetheless wonderful.
- 2kg Mulberries (becomes about 1kg, or 1 litre, of juice). On an average scrumpable tree, this may be not be achievable in one picking, so you can scale it as needed or freeze batches until the season is over.
- 800g honey
- 3 or 4 lemons, juiced
I have come across two ways of juicing, one with a food mill and the other with a fine mesh bag (which would be a ‘wine bag’ in my kitchen). I went with a food mill. I clipped the green stems so that I could retain the skins for turning some unknown future white fruit wine (probably apple) into a red; but otherwise you could spare yourself the hassle and just chuck the soft mulberries through in batches of about 400g, depending on the size of your food mill. With a food mill, the stuff out the other end then wants a final filter through a fine sieve. In the end I found that I got pretty much half the weight of juice as the original weight of fruit – bearing in mind that I didn’t try too hard to squeeze the most out as I am using the by-product anyway.
A proper Arab sweet tooth sharab el toot is then made simply with the addition of twice that weight again in white sugar, brought to a boil and bottled. For mine, it was just a little under the same weight in honey, plus the juice of three big lemons. Traditional recipes boil this to thicken a little, but I boil only as much as I need to properly sterilise for long storage in a bottle (surely there are some vitamins and the like in here that would diminish with long heat). Which is the next step, swing top bottles boiled to sterilise, filled, back in for a little final steam bath for extra hygiene, and onto the shelf. Refrigerate after opening.
The first thing that I did with my new delicacy was to mix it with some gin and soda and experience a wonderful cross-cultural revelation. The thing in the glass before me, I decided, was Sydney’s answer to sloe gin – a drink that during my few years in England was a forager’s Christmas ambrosia (because that is about when it is ready after an autumn harvest after first frost). Here, where sloes (Prunus spinosa) are rare or absent and would in any case be 6 months different, but where mulberries flourish before the silly season and where British and Lebanese cultures meet (albeit with the latter not nearly as fond of a tipple as the former), that warming traditional drink can now be reborn for me.
And for the Boy, the recently frequently purple mouthed mulberry munching boy, there is a syrup to mix through yoghurt and ice cream. Seriously, I like this stuff, this sharab el toot, this drink not yet dear to Sydneysider’s hearts, but that one day should be.