Sunday, April 21, 2019

Working with Nature and Mulberry Jam

One of the principles of permaculture is working with nature rather than against it.  I'm far from done learning how to do this.  Seems like I find myself contemplating how to stay out of nature's way about twice as often as trying to make something specific happen in our food forest.  But during a recent two week trip with some of my coworkers, I learned one of the benefits of this principle.  Near the end of the trip, while they were describing the tall weeds they would have to kill when they returned, I was instead looking forward to seeing all the progress nature had made in my absence.

I have to interject that Cina, the caretaker, has been watering the plants and trimming grass as needed.  That I can return home and enjoy the grounds is not just due to the self-caring design of the site, but also to her attention and work, which I'm very grateful for.

Here are just a few of the blessings I found when I returned.  The grape vines by the clothesline (above, left) are now growing a ridiculous number of grapes - over 100 bunches in just this area of the yard.  The Barbados cherry tree (above, center) is full of blossoms working on becoming cherries.  And the mulberry tree (above, right) is loaded with ripening mulberries.  Clearly, it's time to learn how to make mulberry jam.

So today that's what we did.

First, we spread a blanket under the tree (left).  We used one of the frost blankets that we use for olive harvesting.  Then we started knocking the berries into the blanket.  At first, we used shrub rakes to do this, but the tines kept getting caught in the branches, and I thought they might damage the delicate berries.  Next, we tried tapping the branches with six foot tree stakes to shake the berries loose (below).  This worked much better, and soon we had about three pints of berries (right).  We harvested only the berries that fell easily, and left the rest for the birds and for later harvesting.

Left some for the birds?  Why would we do that?

I think the conventional wisdom on this subject is that mulberries (like all garden yields) are scarce, and we have to keep the birds from taking them away from us.  I get that.  I think that way sometimes.  But there's also unconventional wisdom on this subject, which says mulberries are abundant.  And there's another principle of permaculture that says everything gardens.  If I can just get out of the way, nature assembles a dream team of gardeners - worms, grubs, clay, sun, wind, rain, fallen branches, fungi, bacteria, weeds, bugs, lizards, and yes, birds - who set about tending mulberry trees as if they were eager to make mulberries.  That's why we left some for the birds.

At last it was time to make the jam.  While our canning jars were being sterilized, we washed, sorted, and measured the best berries (below, left).  We tried to reduce the number of steps, because mulberries are very soft, and easily turn to mush.  We removed twigs, leaves, and unripe berries.  We decided for this inaugural batch to leave in some berries that were dark red (almost ripe), for a little tartness, but we removed those that were white or pink.  Then we added 3 1/2 cups of sugar and 3 Tablespoons of water and stirred (below, center).  Finally, we boiled the mixture and poured it into the jars (below, right).

One thing I'll do different next time is leave more room in the pan while boiling the berry-sugar mixture.  I was unable to sustain a rolling boil without making a mess, and as a result (I think) the jam wasn't as thick as I intended to make it.  It's somewhere between a thick syrup and a fully set jam.  But I have to say the flavor is outstanding.  Yes, I'm biased, and as I taste it, I'm thinking about the fact that it's organic and home grown, and I'm thinking about birds and bugs and branches and bacteria.  I'm thinking that the time I could have spent spraying poison on weeds, I spent instead harvesting and cooking.  But bottom line, I'm surprised how delicious it is, and I'll take it, bias and all.

1 comment:

  1. The birds always get my high stuff. We call it the "bird tax" payment for my enjoyment of having the birds around and the bugs that they ate earlier in the season. :-)