Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Other People’s Fruit

Today I have another guest post from my husband, who, as you will see, is slowly (but surely) being infected with the gardening/homesteading virus. Here's what he's been up to lately.

I was tracking down where heavy rain run-off goes when it leaves our property. What I found was a mini-river in my next door neighbor’s back yard. As I walked downstream I also discovered ripe mulberries in my neighbor’s tree. Here was mature fruit that if left un-harvested would merely become dinner for the local birds. Mulberries are often planted near other more desirable fruits as the birds go after the mulberries first.

So I began harvesting the unwanted berries thinking they would be tasty treats for our three chickens. After spending time harvesting around two pints of berries I began thinking far more selfishly. Why relinquish them to birds that go bonkers for flavorless wild strawberries when mulberries would make a nice treat for humans? So I gathered some wild strawberries, gave a strawberry thrill to our hens, and took the mulberries inside for cleaning.

I was interested in making some jam or even thick syrup. Confession time: On a recent business trip I met a friend at an IHOP just before flying out. It was a convenient location for the both of us; certainly not a culinary pinnacle. But in their defense they do serve tea in teapots. So they get props for that. But the point is that they offer a high-fructose, artificially flavored (courtesy of our flavor chemist industry), berry-ish syrup. I wanted home-made pancakes with real berry syrup. And now, presented with the opportunity, I pulled out the pectin and began something I have never done before…make jam from berries.

I love this type of cooking where there is ambiguity and winging-it is the order of the day. So I read the directions on the pectin packet then embarked on some exploratory cooking. Berries have no natural pectin unlike other fruits. So adding is necessary to get it to gel. I more or less used the recommended amount of sugar and, on the advice of my wife, added lemon juice. The lemon juice really brought out the fruit flavor and added the brightness of citrus.

The instructions for my quick method indicated that after adding the pectin a period of 24 hours was needed for proper setting. I was only prepared to wait about 8 hours until breakfast rolled around. The result was less jam than thick syrup on its way to jam. This was perfect for pancakes. Mulberries tend to have less flavor than other berries. But the jam syrup on pancakes was well received by all.

At the 24 hour mark the jam syrup had not set any more than at the 8 hour mark. But I had achieved something I’d never done. Delayed gratification of stuffing ripe berries straight into my mouth, turning it into jam syrup and scratching the pancake itch with someone else’s unwanted fruit. It was a satisfying feeling.

So now I keep an eye out for unappreciated fruit that could become my treasure. All this for nothing more than some enjoyable harvesting and cooking. I’ve already found another stand of mulberries on their way to ripeness. Perhaps this time I’ll get full-on jam with a bit more pectin. Other people’s fruit…hurrah!

Kate again: I really like the flavor profile of this gleaned treat. It's sort of spicy and dark, with hints of cinnamon and fig. A nice thing to have on hand when a sweet craving strikes. My husband's other guest post can be found here: Homemade Sled Report.


Drew Shiel said...

I made blackberry jam a couple of years ago, for the first time since I was, uh, 16 or so. Not sure if I overboiled it, or if blackberries have a lot of pectin already, but it set like tyre rubber!

Next time - hopefully this year - I'll try again with less boiling.

Maureen said...

We have a freezer full (ok, about 35 quarts) of grapefruit and orange juice (not to mention the lemon ice cubes) squeezed from fruit that our neighbors and a couple friends were just letting rot on the tree. Yippee!

ps. love your blog

Sadge said...

I got no apples from my trees last year but a tree in the old part of town was loaded, with apples just rotting on the ground. So we gleaned boxfuls off that tree (and took some apples into the lawyers office where the tree is). I just made a batch of muffins from the last of those apples, stored in our cellar all winter, and still have enough applesauce to last me until fall.

Meadowlark said...

Hurray for the attempt!!!!!

We don't have mulberries out here. We do have marionberries (blackberries on steroids) though. Can't wait for the season!

crowson2000 said...

We have muscadines on and around our land, and my dad has a couple of fig trees and pear trees that he never uses the fruit off of. I think I'll be trying my hand at jam making again as well, though my last attempt went like yours. It was more syrup, less jam...

Wendy said...

We made hard apple cider a few years ago using apples from our neighbor's tree :).

But, I'm curious, how you managed to get your husband to do a post, Kate? I want your secret ;).

Anonymous said...

I grew up on a farm with a mulberry tree; maybe there was more than one. Shaking the mulberry tree was a family affair. Mom or Dad would strike the trunk of the tree with the pole we used to prop up the clothesline when the clothes were hung out to dry. We'd all hold an old mulberry-stained sheet to catch the falling berries, and some of them would splat on us. We'd pick out the unripe berries, leaves and twigs before taking the berries to the kitchen. Mom usually canned them with rhubarb or strawberries, as mulberries are quite bland by themselves. She told us many times that during the Depression and drought, the neighbors would come to gather mulberries from the mulberry trees on her parents' farm. It was the only fruit some of those neighbors ate during those hard times.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm going to follow your thinking this fall! Last year I found an area along the road near a swampy kind of area, next to a house that was, and still is for sale. No one lives there. I don't know who owns the land (maybe the town). But there were quite a few concord garpes growing in there! We picked a handfull last year and realized how amazing they were. We watched all fall and no one gathered them. So I think I'll go down this fall to that same place and have a go at them. :)

Margaret's Ramblings said...

I have just read your lovely post. I hope you don't think it too cheeky but I wondered if I could ask you to link your page to a Friday post I do. The aim of the posts, called 'Buddy's Friday', is to help families that are suffering in today's economic climate by showing them there are ways of doing things well that may be frugal but are definately not cheap and nasty - they are usually of more value and most of all fun. Once again I hope you don't mind that I have asked you.


Kate said...

Thanks for all the comments, everyone. My husband appreciates them all.

Drew, I don't think blackberries have any pectin. Perhaps you were a little heavy handed when adding it. In any case, you could probably warm it up to melt it a bit and then pour it over ice cream!

Maureen, Good for you for your gleaning efforts. I often end up with lemon juice in the freezer. Sometimes I make a batch of lemon curd in the middle of winter. It's positively decadent over some shortbread!

Sadge, aren't neighborhood fruit trees the best? I plan to do more varied things with our apples this year. I'd like to dehydrate some to add to my oatmeal over the winter, and just try storing some in the cellar as well.

Meadowlark - I love, love, love blackberries/marionberries. I know they can be invasive and are often considered a weed. I wish for weeds such as that though.

Jason, muscadines sound really interesting. And with jam, as with all things, we live and learn.

Wendy, I never ask him to post. But I do mention it whenever something he's doing would make a good blog post. He's not as averse to writing as many engineers.

Anon, the mulberries around us are far too big to shake. There's a huge one just over the fence line to the north of my garden. It overhangs our property line by at least 20 feet. The others are smaller, but still too large for our puny shaking to have any effect.

Thanks for sharing the Depression era stories. I always appreciate hearing them.

sensible vermonter, I encourage you to forage and glean wherever you can. We know the neighbors these trees belong to, and we know they don't mind us gathering the fruit. But I would exercise caution and courtesy if there's any room for doubt. Some people will put up signs announcing that the fruit is up for grabs. Others are happy to let you have the fruit if you only ask.

Margaret, I don't mind you asking at all, but please explain a bit more. You want me to link this article to your post? Which one? And in what way? Don't be shy about clarifying, please!

Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

Anyone know anything about transplanting mulberries? I have had a hard time finding any to plant locally but know of a place I can dig a small one up. I am thinking of planting it inside the chicken run so any fruit I don't get to goes to the girls.

Olivia said...

Two suggestions:

1) Was your pectin fresh? Outdated pectin will not set fruit.

2) You say you "more or less" added the correct amount of sugar. If you are off one way or the other this can also cause problems with the gelling.

Oldtimers just added sugar to the berries and boiled it down until a small amount dropped off a spoon onto a cold saucer would gell - then it was "done."

Kate said...

Olivia, the pectin was fresh. He was just light-handed with it. He later warmed it up and added some more. Now it's on the slightly stiff side, but we're still enjoying it.

Kate said...

Rick, I'm sorry, I don't know much about transplanting mulberries. I wish I did. We have plenty of saplings around here. But judging by the size of the full grown trees, we don't have room for them. This variety, at least, is no bush; it's a shade tree. I like the idea of the self serve mulberries for the chooks though.

Chile said...

Try drying some of the mulberries, too, for a tasty snack. I bought dried mulberries from the Middle Eastern store in my neighborhood and they were wonderful.

Kate said...

Chile, I like that idea. Thanks for the suggestion!