Cherries & Mulberries: Growing & Cooking

Jane McMorland Hunter and Sally Hughes, Cherries & Mulberries: Growing & Cooking

April 2018, Prospect Books, £9.99

Cherries and mulberries have much in common: they have both been an important part of man’s diet for thousands of years, they grow on beautiful trees, and, perhaps most importantly they are both fleeting visitors to our kitchens in summer. They also have intriguing histories related to the world of art; in the case of cherries this is the story of the ornamental trees and the traditional Japanese cherry blossom festivals which have now spread to take place round the world, and with mulberries it is the story of silk, that delicate and highly sought-after product of the humble silkworm.

 

Wild cherries have grown in northern Europe and North America since prehistoric times and sour cherries have been cultivated in Britain ever since the Romans arrived. Cherry fairs, held annually in summer, gave villagers an opportunity to make merry and writers from Shakespeare to D. H. Lawrence have set romantic or ribald scenes in cherry orchards. More demurely A. E. Housman commemorated the beauty of the blossom in verse. The Cherry Blossom Festival at Brogdale, near Faversham, Kent is particularly charming with lanterns and a very civilised system which transports your picnic to the cherry orchard so you can wander round the collection happily unencumbered by rugs, flasks, hampers etc. 

Black mulberries originated in central Asia, travelling across Europe on the ancient trade routes, dropping their luscious fruits as they went. White mulberries came from China where they were the catalysts for the highly-lucrative and closely-guarded silk trade. Red mulberries are native to the United States and although they are famed for neither berries nor silk they do grow into remarkably pretty trees. 

They are both delicate fruits and do not travel well, it is often hard to get a perfectly ripe mulberry from the tree to one’s mouth, let alone on a journey by road, sea or rail. Cherries are easy to buy in season but bought fruit is rarely at its best (having been picked slightly under-ripe to survive the rigours of transport) and you never see the interesting and unusual varieties for sale. In fact you rarely see any specific varieties for sale; they are all usually simply labelled ‘sweet cherries’. Sour cherries are even harder to find. The solution is to grow your own.

For hundreds of years most cherries grew on tall stately trees which looked wonderful in spring with their clouds of blossom reaching up to the sky but were a nightmare to pick, requiring long ladders and a good head for heights. Breeding advances in the late twentieth century mean that all cherries can now be successfully grown on little trees which will fit in almost any garden or even in a container if you have no garden at all. Mulberries grow on trees which acquire the patina of age when still quite young; their gnarled and twisty branches giving them a shape which is beautiful all year round. They were reasonable-sized trees already but in 2017, after years of breeding, mulberry bushes became available, meaning these fruits can also be successfully grown in containers.

Both fruits are rich in anti-oxidants which help to protect against the effects of ageing and the depreciations of modern life. This, along with mineral and vitamin advantages, means that you owe it to yourself to include more cherries and mulberries in your diet. The anti-inflammatory properties of cherries have been recognised for centuries and cherry juice is considered an effective treatment for joint conditions such as arthritis and gout. Mulberries are surprisingly high in iron with a small portion containing a quarter of your daily allowance.  There you see, good for you as well as delicious.

In the kitchen both fruits are endlessly adaptable, providing the basis for sweet and savoury dishes as well as preserves and drinks. We have included over fifty recipes here ranging from a light refreshing cherry sangria to a winter braise of venison with cherry sauce, duck with mulberries to a late summer pudding alongside a delicious array of cakes, biscuits, chocolates and strudels.

Mulberries made a brief appearance in Berries; Growing and Cooking but there was not enough space there to do them justice. Their history, the story of silk, their beauty in the garden and their diversity in the dining room all meant that Sally and I wanted to write about them again. We hope that you agree with us.

We would obviously love you to buy our book. We would love it even more if you bought it from you local bookshop, you might miss it if it goes.