A Handful Of Summer

It’s surely summer when mulberries rain over the sidewalk and purple footprints stain the driveway. Some people call the berries a nuisance, but I know they’re an heirloom treasure. When I walk out in the early morning, I tuck a small plastic bag in my pocket, and when I reach low-hanging mulberry branches, I stop for a brief foraged harvest. I pop handfuls of berries into my mouth as a pre-breakfast snack, and others wait to top a bowl of oatmeal at home.

An ancient fruit, mulberries originated in China and have migrated worldwide. They’re long-lived, sturdy trees that demand little care and are often lumped in the “weed tree” category. Many people today are unaware that mulberries are edible and delicious. When a woman walking her dog passed me picking mulberries, she told me she’d had these trees in her yard for ten years and had never tasted the fruit.

I grew up with mulberries. The best tree along our road was in the Guy’s back yard. With pinkie-finger-long, dark berries, this giant tree arched over a small patch of lawn. I remember stretching out a tarp under the tree and shaking the branches with a staff hook while heaps of berries tumbled down. We gathered the bounty in a milk bucket and marched back to our house, where cherry trees stood, spotted red with ripe fruit. My mother concluded that the blander mulberries sweetened the tarter Montmorency cherries. A gorgeous pie gave us the best of both fruits with very little added sugar.

Clafouti is a French country pudding of cherries baked in a crepe-like batter. A few years ago I sampled clafouti sold by the slice in small French shops. I found the current version a light cake baked on top of fruit. To reconstruct this pastry I thought of an old-fashioned hot milk sponge cake. It’s almost unknown in our current cookery canon, but I found a recipe in a 1953 edition of The Joy Of Cooking. By reducing the sugar and using the sabayon technique, I came up with a dessert that works the wonder of my mom’s mulberry and cherry combo right back into the present. Leave the pits in the cherries for additional flavor and to prevent bleeding. This cake, low in fat and sugar, would be welcome at brunch or afternoon tea.

Mulberry Cherry Clafouti

5 oz. cherries with pits (1 cup)

2 oz. mulberries (1/2 cup)

1 ½ oz. all-purpose flour (1/3 scooped cup)

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon butter

3 tablespoons milk

l large egg

tiny pinch salt

1 ¾ oz. sugar (1/4 cup)

¼ teaspoon vanilla

1/8 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

dusting of cinnamon/sugar

Butter a 7-inch round, shallow baking dish. Dust with plain cookie or graham cracker crumbs, if you have some. Strew in the cherries and the mulberries, making a solid layer of fruit. Preheat oven to 350º.

Sift together the flour and baking powder. Place the milk and butter in a glass or plastic cup and microwave just to heat the milk and melt the butter.

Choose a Pyrex or stainless steel bowl that will nestle on top of a saucepan with an inch of simmering water. This will be your double boiler. When the water is hot, break in the egg into the bowl, whisk with a pinch of salt and the sugar plus the vanilla and almond extracts. Continue to stir over the hot water until the egg mixture feels warm. Now beat with a whisk or a hand held mixer for 2 to 3 minutes or until the mixture increases in volume by 4 times and rises into a light sabayon, like soft whipped cream.

Remove the bowl from the double boiler and fold in the flour in two additions. Before the flour is fully combined, begin to dribble in the warm milk and butter at the side of the bowl. As soon as everything is mixed, pour the batter over the prepared fruit. Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon sugar and place in the middle of the preheated oven. Bake 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden and tests done. Serves 6.

Mary Jo’s Cookbook is available at Amazon.com   http://amzn.to/9lOnZv

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One Response to “A Handful Of Summer”

  1. Carol Wilson Says:

    I, too, never knew that one could eat mulberries. We just had our Shandon Strawberry festival, and I had to sweep SO many mulberries off the brick walk beside the little house annex to the bookstore. The broom turned purple, and of course there is a new layer of purple berries on the walk again. What a waste! I wonder why the birds don’t eat them…oh, now I know why our car has purple-stained bird droppings. Who knew? I’m tempted to get a tarp & shake the tree, just as you used to.

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