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Mulberry season is so short and so prolific, of all the things I am tempted to make jam from, mulberries are it.  But even mulberries don’t make it these days.

Once upon a time I used to make jam, when I was in my twenties, when I was doing 16 hours a day of physical work, when I was breastfeeding.  Several slices of bread loaded up with jam for breakfast, and another couple to finish off lunch.

But then my kids got to jam-eating age and trying to keep the sugar down and get them to really appreciate the more subtle tastes of fresh fruit, and filling the pantry up with home-made jam seemed a bit contradictory.  I’d make it, then go crook at them for eating it. And without breastfeeding or 16 hours of physical work to peel off the calories,  I lost my sweet tooth, and my partner banned his, so jam tended to just sit decoratively on the shelf for years.

So I stopped making it.

We are lucky.  In our climate there is seasonal fresh fruit available year round.  For a few weeks, mulberries are in everything. The birds get most of them but still there are unlimited amounts.  Then mulberry season is over, but just as the mulberries finish the blueberries start, then it’s on to the early stonefruit, then the grapes and mangoes and lychees and kiwis.  Then the passionfruit, apples and pears, then the mandarins and oranges.

Luckily I didn’t make any marmalade while citrus season was on. Otherwise I’d have to think about not letting it go to waste, rather than put mulberry not-jam on my toast.

The Recipe:

To get a nice variety of texture – whole chunks of mulberry in reduced mulberry syrup – you just need to cook the mulberries for different lengths of time.

Put a small pot on the stove with just a teaspoon of water and a little squeeze of lemon juice to start it off. Pinch the stem off and add mulberries one by one, giving it a stir every so often.  Add a teaspoon of sugar for each half cup of mulberries, just to get it turning jammy. As they cook, the mulberries will release juice, and at the same time evaporate off water.  So the amount of liquid should stay fairly constant and low.   Stop when you have enough or you run out of mulberries. The purple will wear off your fingers in a few hours, but don’t try this in a white shirt.

It will keep in the fridge for a while.  I really don’t know how long.  I’ve never tested it beyond a few days. But it is fast to make so I tend to just make what I need.

To make the yoghurt cream cheese, just leave some yoghurt (I use my homemade skim milk yoghurt) to strain through a fine cloth in the fridge overnight.  In the morning you will have yoghurt cream cheese in the cloth and an almost clear liquid strained out.  Transfer it to a clean jar and it will keep in the fridge for several days.

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I love mulberries. If you were following my Muesli Bar Challenge recipes this time last year, you’ll know why. Besides being a super-food, they’re one of the few berry fruits that grow well this far north and fill that berry-fruit spot in the seasonal fruit calendar.

Sadly for me, everything else around here likes mulberries too. I’ve been meaning for years now to try taking enough cuttings in spring to create a veritable forest of mulberries, to try beating the wildlife by growing more than they can eat. (This is not a strategy that has ever worked for me, but I’m ever the optimist!)

This year all the conditions have come together. The mulberry tree is just starting to bud up, it is cool and overcast and a roots and perennials planting day, we passed a willow tree on the way home and I gathered some willow cuttings for rooting hormones, and I have a nice batch of potting mix that is mostly creek sand ready to pot them in. Couldn’t get better conditions.

I’ve taken lots of finger thick cuttings, using a very sharp knife to cut at an angle just below a bud. I’ve dipped the bottom of the cuttings in a bucket in which I’ve been steeping the willow cuttings – willow is a rich source of rooting hormones. I’ve filled pots with a potting mix that is mostly creek sand with a bit of mowed old cow pats to hold moisture, poked holes with a stick (not the mulberry cuttings) and planted them with a couple of buds below ground.

With a bit of luck, I will hopefully have dozens of mulberry trees to plant out in a few months, and in a year or two maybe enough mulberries for us and the birds.  I can dream!

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This is  number 28 in my Muesli Bar Challenge series. For those of you who are new to the site,  the Challenge is a school year’s worth of lunch box treats that fit the Witches Kitchen definition of healthy and ethical,  that are easy enough to be a real option, and that my school age reviewers prefer to the overpackaged junk food marketed as suitable for kids’ lunch boxes.

Mulberries are right in season up here, and like most foods with that deep colour, they’re full of antioxidants and phyto-nutrients.  They’re also rich in iron and a good range of vitamins and minerals.  Chocolate is also a good source of anti-oxidants and when it isn’t combined with fake fats and too much sugar, it’sactually good for you!

The Recipe:

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Put a good cup of fresh mulberries in a small pot with 4 dessertspoons of raw sugar.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. You don’t want jam – you want slightly broken up mulberries in a small amount of syrupy juice.

Meanwhile, beat together:

  • 1½ cups of wholemeal self-raising flour
  • 3 dessertspoons of brown sugar
  • 4 dessertspoons of grape seed, macadamia or other mild flavoured oil
  • 4 dessertspoons of cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla essence
  • pinch salt
  • ¼ cup plain low fat yoghurt

Gently fold the mulberries into the cake batter, mixing just enough to spread them through it with swirls of the juice. Spoon the mix into cupcake papers.  Bake in a moderate oven for around 25 minutes until they bounce back when pressed.  (The usual straw test is a bit unreliable with these because of the pockets of mulberry.)

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Sadly fresh mulberries won’t survive a trip to school.  Which is a pity, because they’re right in season and hugely healthy – a real super food.  Most foods with that deep colour are rich sources of anti-oxidants, which are protective against lots of diseases including cancer, inflammation, diabetes, and infections.  Mulberries are also an excellent source of iron which guards against anemia and helps the blood carry enough oxygen for active kids. They also have lots of minerals and plenty of vitamins.

These little tarts use a strong egg custard to encase the mulberries and give them enough lunch box stamina.  The eggs are also a superfood, high in protein and choline, which is brain food.

So they meet the Muesli Bar Challenge criteria for healthy and ethical and robust enough to survive a school lunch box.  This is the first in the series for Term 4.  I’m away from home for a few days, so these were tested in grown-ups lunch boxes. (Sorry kids – home in time for next week!)

The Recipe:

Makes 12 tartlets.

The Pastry:

In the food processor, put

  • 1½ cups of wholemeal plain flour,
  • 3 dessertspoons of butter
  • 2 dessertspoons of brown sugar

Blend for a minute until it resembles breadcrumbs.  (Or you can just mix the flour and sugar and rub the butter in with your finger tips). Add just enough cold water to make a soft dough.  Add it  carefully, spoonful at a time.

Sprinkle flour on your benchtop and roll it out quite thin. I use a saucer to cut 10 cm circles and put each in a cup of a greased 12 cup muffin tray.

Fill each case with fresh mulberries, stems trimmed.  You will fit about 4 or 5 mulberries in each, depending on size. You can fill them very full – the mulberries sink as they cook.

The Custard:

You can re-use your food processor, or just beat together:

  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 dessertspoons of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla esssence
  • 4 teaspoons of cornflour (cornstarch to US cooks)

Pour the custard over the mulberries in the tart shells.  You can fill them quite full.

Bake in a medium oven for half an hour or so until the pastry is browned and the custard set.

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