Tastes Of The Mulberry

According To Researchers, The Swath Of Land Stretching From The Mediterranean To China Is The Source Of All The Edible Plants In The World. And Mesopotamia, China And India In Particular Is Known As The Original Home Of Many Fruits. Sweet, Sour, Colorful, Juicy, Tasty And Ready-To-Eat Treats That Smell Just Like Flowers.

Our subject is actually the mulberry, the so-called ‘black berry’ (karadut) in Turkish. But we also have to talk a little about the ‘white mulberry’ (akdut). For the ‘dut’ - its tree, its fruit and its leaves - has played a major role in the history of civilization. Thanks especially to its leaves, on which the silkworm feeds, the vast volume of lucrative trade in silk shaped politics in the ancient world. And its fruit has been, and continues to be, consumed today whether fresh, dried, pureed or in the form of molasses. Still found in practically every garden in Istanbul, the white mulberry drops its sweet fruit on the ground just at this time of year. So sweet it is that the nightingales that eat the mulberries at Çengelköy especially feel no need to sing. Hence the expression, to be silent like a nightingale that just ate a mulberry (Ahmet Rasim).

The black mulberry (morus nigra) comes from the same family as the white mulberry (morus alba) and is almost the same in shape. But the two taste completely different. Appealing to the Turkish palate, the sweet-sour black mulberry has become a much sought-after fruit of late, gracing the dessert plates of leading restaurants in our big cities where interest in gastronomy is on the rise. Even ice cream is made from the black mulberry, which has been used traditionally in Anatolia for thousands of years.

The black mulberry has a special place in Anatolian cuisine. I have seen, for example, mulberry leaves used as wrapping like grape leaves in Malatya, Kahramanmaraş and Gaziantep. And dried mulberries are traditional in all these provinces. What’s more, pestil (layers of dried fruit pulp) made from black mulberries is a favorite in Elazığ. If I say one is very good, I’ll offend the others! Suffice it to say that the these provinces produce the best dried mulberries.  As for black mulberry molasses (pekmez), here Bursa leads the field. And in Elazığ, people often spread butter on softened black mulberry ‘pestil’ and break an egg over it for breakfast.

The sour mulberries of Bursa and Tire are also used today to make ice cream. And black mulberry syrup, made in Alanya and the Kazdağ Mountains and used medicinally to treat diseases of the mouth and gums, has become an integral component of folk medicine in Turkey.

Kadir Ağa, maker of Izmir’s famous black mulberry syrup, was known all over the city. In time he left Izmir and settled in Istanbul, introducing his syrup here as well. Ahmet Rasim describes him in his  book, City Letters:  “’Cold as ice,’ he’d call, ‘Come and get it!’  It froze my teeth... Seems he was a tradesmen who’d come up from Izmir. I immediately remembered his kindness to the wounded Ottoman war veterans. I liked the fellow right away. In fact, I’d always drink a second one to quench my fire just to give him the business.”

200 ‘lor’ curd cheese, yolk of 1 egg, 2 tbsp powdered sugar, 1 tbsp flour, 200 g black mulberries

Knead the cheese, egg yolk, powdered sugar and flour together to make a dough. Divide into walnut-size lumps, roll into balls and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 5-6 minutes in a preheated 180 C oven. Place the mulberries in a skillet and cook, pressing constantly with the back of a spoon. When cooked, drain the mulberries and pour over the cheese balls before serving.

Buzz 1/2 k black mulberries in a blender and drain. Spread on a tray and freeze in the freezer. When frozen, scrape with a fork to make ‘snow’ and serve in sherbet dishes garnished with a fresh mint leaf.