Mulberries. Mulberry Cake.

the first of the mulberries.

I first ate a mulberry two summers ago after discovering what I thought to be a tree full of them growing in a public park.  Any prior knowledge I had of mulberries centered around the Dr. Seuss book And To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, which in my mind was one of the earliest books I read myself.  I don't recall that book contained the eating or description of the mulberry, which is a less seedy, blackberryish berry that grows either on trees or bushes depending I assume on the maintenance of the plants and the locations they are found.   What I do know now is that a fat, thumb-sized, perfectly ripe mulberry has no comparison in the berry world.

The first taste of mulberry for me (after confirming with someone who knew what a mulberry was), wasn't really so sweet.  Mulberries must be falling-off-the-tree ripe, and deep black - at least the varieties that I've seen here should be deep black.  The reddish ones, or ones that need some coercion to detach from their tree, are sour or tart; they are seedy and not that pleasant.  Last year's severe drought is blamed for just about everything bad in the Wisconsin food world of 2012... and what few mulberries I saw were tiny and I suspect gobbled up by the birds.  But this year:  sweet success.   The clutch of public trees I had my sights on were prolific this year, still bearing as I check up on them every few days or so, ripening slowly as if to provide me desserts just as I need them.

mulberry cake

I made the first full pint of berries we found into a tiny batch of jam, a single jar that I've been enjoying on toast about every other day.  But when we checked the tree Monday and many more berries had ripened, I thought I should really celebrate by making a cake.  I never need prompting to make a cake... but it helps that I had recently made one of my favorite summertime cakes ever - Dorie Greenspan's Dimply Plum Cake.  Except the two pieces I gave some visiting friends, I ate that whole cake myself, and then had to refrain from making another. 

I made only a few well suited changes to Dorie's impeccable original recipe, chiefly adding coconut oil instead of another type of vegetable oil.  Coconut oil and butter work together to provide an amazing texture, almost bordering on a softer version of shortbread.  Playing around with the spices is only half the fun too.  This cake is so endlessly adaptable, you could really do any kind of fruit, nut, or berry I would think. 

mulberry cake (batter)


If you are a raw batter taster, as I am, I would heartily encourage you to taste this batter.  It is billowy, silky, and downright indescribably delicious.  I tried to think of just one spice that could complement the flavor of mulberry, and settled in on nutmeg.  It could be that a nutmeg heavy cake I had made for a Daring Baker challenge was lingering in my mind, and I grated in a good amount of it due to the happy memory of enjoying it.  I'd see no reason why you couldn't fold the berries into the cake batter instead of arranging them on top, but I wanted to keep the spirit of Dorie's cake, and let the berries dimple the top.  The cake is best served with just a bit of barely sweet whipped cream, and additional mulberries.

Mulberry Cake (adapted from Dorie Greenspan)
  • 1 1/2 c. AP flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • about 1 t. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 5 T. (2 1/2 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 c. (packed) light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 c. melted coconut oil
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 t. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c. ripe mulberries (you can snip off their stems if you like, but I went for rustic and left them attached...)
Preheat oven to 350.  Butter and flour an 8 inch round pan, I used a springform pan.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.  In a large bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the sugar, and beat another 3 minutes until fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, and beat a full minute after each addition.  With the mixer on medium speed, blend in the coconut oil, lemon zest, and vanilla.  Dorie says "the batter will look smooth and creamy, almost satiny", which is so apt I need to include her description.  Taste it.  It's wonderful.  Finally, add the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.  Before transferring the batter to the baking pan, use a spatula to be sure you've incorporated any dry spots.

Smooth the batter into the prepared pan, and decorate the top with the mulberries.  Bake for about 40 minutes until the top is nicely browned and a tester comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge before unmolding it.  Cool it right side up.  Store the cake at room temperature for 2 days (it's moist, so will mold if you try to push it further), or coax another 2 days of longevity by storage in the fridge.  The texture changes under refrigeration, which isn't bad, but you may wish to allow your slices to come back to room temperature before eating them.

mulberry cake

After the discovery of what mulberries looked like, I identified trees in nearly every park we frequented.  Some trees are so big, I'd need a ladder and a friend to help glean.  But fortunately, the best glut of berries to be found is right in my own neighborhood, and is low enough to reach - even for my kiddo.  Just this week, we noticed another similarly sized tree hiding in plain sight, not far from the first... more than plenty for fresh eating and playing around with.  Not much makes me happier than seeing my picky eater stained purple from picking and eating berries and excited to look for more.  He even liked my cake, and now that he's finished off the last of the fresh mint ice cream (which is the best recipe ever, by the way), he may even help me to eat it.  If I'll share it, that is.

mulberry cake

Ramps Today, Three Ways.

ramps, dirt.

Late this morning, I packed a little spade, a plastic bag and my Husband and headed for the woods. Last week was so incredibly busy, that I didn't have time to go pluck a few of the hundreds of ramps I spotted the week before. It's been rainy here for the past 3 days, and the forest floor felt spongy. I felt grateful to shovel up the the dark earth carefully surrounding a few of the ramps; I felt strange to be digging in a common area, the ground foreign and surprisingly healthy - fresh with that loamy, dirty smell that before today I thought only really existed in the country.

I brought home my haul, which was on the light side because Spring is fading and I was cautious not to over dig. I'm not sure I can ever get over the prettiness of ramps, their ribbony tops and rose-legged midsections, their gleaming white bulbs that smell cleanly pungent.

ramps, no dirt

This is the first time I've ever foraged for ramps, and I didn't really go out in the woods this Spring looking for them. But there they were, laughing at me that I had just bought a little bunch at the store for $2.50, hiding in plain sight amongst the trilliums and Jack-in-the-Pulpits and other tiny, flowering Spring things that I recognized and pointed out to my family. When I saw the bounty of the forest just steps from my house, I vowed that I would experiment a little more with this wild leek and today I did.

ramp sorrel pesto

My neighbor across the street planted some things in the back of her house a few years ago in a garden plot that ended up being too shady to be prolific. The chives I could recognize, but I didn't recognize the large, neat green bunches of sorrel that seemed to be self-propagating themselves. Neither of us knew what it was (since she had forgotten what she planted), and as we nibbled it, tart and lemony, she found the original plant marker buried beside the largest clump. Having the memory I do, I recalled seeing a sorrel-ramp pesto recipe - and after I mixed up a double batch of it today, I think I can declare it my favorite pesto ever.

The recipe for Ramp and Sorrel Pesto is from Annie Wegner-LeFort, a girl who knows much more about foraging that I do... and that makes me think I should ask her to be my guide in helping do a bit more of it. I used toasted almonds and about twice (or maybe thrice) the amount of olive oil she called for because I have some amazingly delicious olive oil on hand right now. (But, I'll be discussing that at length sometime in the near future.)

pesto portions

I love when I taste something and it exceeds my expectations. Sorrel on its own, munched in the outdoors, is good and shockingly refreshing, but I couldn't imagine using an amount of it in a recipe and not having it take over. But ramps and sorrel are a perfect match, complementing each other perfectly and not really overwhelming me with their combined strength. I did just as Annie suggested and portioned it into mini-muffin tins and popped it into the freezer. It seems a shame to freeze something so delicious mere moments after it was out growing in the woods, but I maybe will get back out to pick just enough more for another fresh batch before the season ends.

I trimmed the bulbs from the rest of my stock and weighed them in at about 10 ounces. Not quite enough for much, but enough for about half of Hank Shaw's gorgeous looking saffron pickled ramps. I settled on that one after much debate. There are lots of nice looking ramp pickles out there, but I figured that if I am going to can a single jar of something, I had better make it stellar - and what does that more than saffron.

I had just enough left (I had this high-quality one from the Spice House) for a half recipe. The saffron transformed plain, white vinegar (the stuff I call "household vinegar" since I generally use it for cleaning) into something truly amazing. It's golden and sunny, and I'm going to try and save this one jar for a special occasion after it cures at least two weeks as Hank advises. If I was going to use the last of the saffron on something, this was definitely a good bet. I had trimmed down the ramp "necks" and saved the inch and a half or so sized pieces and let them simmer in the small amount of vinegar solution that was left after packing my jar and getting it into the water bath. I'll happily be munching them with something before too long!

saffron pickled ramps
I don't have many of them, but I love these "Longlife" Mason jars...

With the ramp bulbs snug in their jar, I turned the 6 oz. or so of ramp greens into this kimchi from the Hungry Tigress. All I can say is holy cow is this stuff good. You could easily polish it off before it ever got to fermenting, but most of it made it to the jar and it's sealed up on the counter for a few more hours before heading into the fridge. The only thing I could be sad about is how few ramp tops I appear to have now that they are fermenting and wilting... Now would also be a good time for me to mention that if you have ever seen a recipe on the Tigress site, make it because it will, no doubt, be great.

ramp green <span class=

Maybe I should make a verbal commitment to learn more about foraging and gleaning this year. OK, I WILL make a verbal commitment to learn more about it. Thinking of the great adventure I had with my little bounty today and what fun I've had in the past with similarly small hauls confirms that foraging is a good fit for me. I just need a few friends to start me on my way, since I am a little intrepid about just photo-identifying wild edibles. But I suppose for things like violets and now ramps, there really is no mistaking them. If you are lucky enough to spot some, forage mindfully and leave some to propagate for another day, and then... go make these things right away.