Nothing says summer quite like the taste of ripe mulberries, fresh from the tree. Unlike raspberries or blackberries, a tiny central stem sometimes remains on mulberries when you pluck them from the tree. Stemming mulberries is optional, but in dishes where presentation counts, it's best to remove the stems. It's a time-consuming task, however, so recruit the kids.
When picking mulberries, place no more than three or four berry layers in the basket to prevent crushing the delicate fruits at the bottom. Don't worry about the stems at this point but choose berries that are fully ripe, plump and glossy. Dress the kids in old clothing because mulberry juice stains.
Sorting and Stemming
With your harvest in hand, the next step, if you haven't eaten most of the fresh berries, is to sort and wash them. It's easier to remove the stems from the berries when they are dry, and older kids can help with this task. Not all berries will have stems; but when you run across one that does, use your fingernails or a squeeze-type fingernail clipper to pinch the stem off as close to the berry as possible. Place the stemmed berries in a colander and spray them gently with cool water to remove any dust or insects.
Mulberry stems become thin and soft during cooking; but if you're making a mulberry pie, all-fruit jam or mulberry ice cream, the stems can detract from your finished dish. In these recipes, it's best to remove the stems; but if you miss one or two, it's unlikely that anyone will notice.
If you're going to strain the berries, you don't have to remove the stems first. Recipes for mulberry syrup, jellies and juices call for cooking the berries then pouring the liquid through a sieve or cheesecloth to remove all the berry parts. There's no need to remove the stems beforehand when making these recipes. You'll still have to sort and wash the berries, though.
Pick and Eat
Perhaps everyone's favorite way to eat mulberries is right off the tree. For pick-and-eat family fun, choose trees that haven't been sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals. Young children can pick berries from low limbs without climbing on a ladder. For a faster harvest, spread a blanket or large tablecloth beneath the tree and shake the limbs, encouraging the ripe berries to fall. You'll still have to sort through the berries because overripe ones will fall as well as a few leaves.
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