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Culture & Artsby Marta Hanson7:25 amJun 1, 20100

Mulberries: The Baltimore Urban Forager picked some — and added rum

Above: Mulberry jars

Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush, the mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
On a cold and frosty morning.

Okay, this old European nursery rhyme got one fact wrong—mulberries grow, not on bushes, but on deciduous trees that can get 30 to 40 feet tall. But it got the time of year right. They are the first of the fruit-bearing trees one can harvest in Baltimore when indeed the mornings may still be cool, if not frosty.

On Memorial Day weekend, still May, I picked several pints while walking the dogs with a friend along Stony Run. There were white mulberries, but we went for the red ones (Morus rubra) which are slightly sweeter, grow to a larger-size berry, and turn a purplish-black when ripe.

I had an idea about something interesting — involving rum — that I could do with these little magenta berries that called up so many memories from childhood:

Purple-stained bare feet, hands, and lips . . .  a surprise snack in the woods while playing away from home . . . branches hanging out into alleyways laden with more fruit than the birds could consume.

My father even made mulberry wine one year. We harvested the tree in our backyard — the same one which also held our two-story fort—by shaking the limbs above several white bed sheets. White! What was he thinking?

Baltimore mulberries are ripe now. (Photo by Fern Shen)

We had dozens of bottles in the basement for years — “maturing” dad said — but “collecting dust” was more like it.

Recently those bottles of mulberry wine have come back into family lore. Well, at least one of the bottles.
My parents gave their friends one bottle of the freshly-made mulberry wine for a 40th birthday in the early 1970s. About 25 years later when their friends were cleaning out their house after their retirement, they found the bottle and returned the kindness, unopened, for another birthday party. They all finally tasted it and thought it was sweet but not a bad after-dinner wine or port but they didn’t finish it.

Fast-forward yet another few years; this time my parents found the unfinished mulberry wine, put it in a fancy crystal bottle, and gave it back to their friends for their 50th wedding anniversary. That night, about 35 years later, they finally polished it off. Too bad.

In a few more years it could have turned into pretty good vinegar.

Instead of my father’s mulberry wine recipe, however, I have settled for “Rum-mulled Mullies.”
This is a simple recipe of mulberries mulled for three months in sugared rum.

My friend said that “Rum would make leather taste good.” By the start of fall, I’ll find out how rum works its magic on mulberries.


Rum-mulled Mulberries
Ingredients for 3 pints of berries (about 6 cups)
2 cups Rum
1 cup sugar
6 cups berries.

1. Dissolve 1 cup sugar into 2 cups rum (I zapped it for 2 mins in microwave).
2. Sanitize jars, lids, rims by boiling for 5 mins (just as one does for canning).
3. Clean berries. (You can cut off the little green stem with a scissors and then rinse again in a colander).
4. Fill each pint jar to ½ inch from top of jar, fill with sugared-rum mixture to top of fruit or short of ¼ inch from top of jar.
5. Wipe clean rim of jar, secure rubber-rimmed lid, tighten outer rim as tightly as possible.
6. Let sit in a cool dark place for 3 months.

– Marta Hanson

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