Note: some of the images in this post seem to be displaying incorrectly on some web browsers. So sorry about that. I can’t seem to get to the bottom of it at the moment, as it all looks hunky dory on my mac and I’ve still got a lot to learn about this stuff. I shall endeavour to delve deeper into this when I next have holidays. Thanks to those who gave me the heads up!
Now to something that kicked off just before exams: mulberry season. I was supposed to talk about this, ah, while the fruit was still in season; but better late than never I suppose. Now you have summer, autumn and winter to scout out mulberry trees and start dreaming purple, juicy dreams for spring 2014.
Deep, dark purple used to be my favourite colour. Then it was blue, then green…then various berry shades of pink. But now, I’m returning to my first love. Because I finally went mulberry picking.
It was probably September when a couple of friends started telling me about the mulberry tree that they’d been watching. It was towards the end of mulberry season when we finally set a date to go mulberry picking together. Originally, the plan had been to pack sandwiches and ginger beer – but we weren’t quite organised enough in the end. Next time perhaps. In any case, it was the absolute best morning to be out picking berries: sunny and warm with flowers everywhere.
The tree itself is the stuff of childhood dreams. Thoughtful gnarly footholds twist their way up the trunk; and once up there, you can perch comfortably on a branch, or go all the way to the top and stick your head out above the canopy. The arrival of a couple of bright-eyed kids cut our wonderment short, however. It was time to get down to business. There were plenty of berries, but of course the especially large and juicy ones were just a bit further, out where there was little room to climb. One of the kids scurried along a slender branch in front of me, in the direction of a patch that I had my eye on. I’m not sure if I was indignant at the loss, or jealous that I was too big to climb out where the branches were so dense and tangled…
I needn’t have worried, of course. Between some teamwork (Left a bit. Right…there!) and the discovery of a second tree; we wound up with oodles of berries…and a few stains which later called for the frenzied application of Sard Wonder soap. On our way home, we popped in at the grocery store to procure some provisions for the makings of a crumble.
Back home, we got to work. The berries were tumbled into a great big bowl, de-stemmed, and washed gently. A few spoons each of flour and sugar were applied, and the berry people dumped the lot into a large oven proof dish (Please forgive the alfoil tray!). The berries don’t leak or shrink a real heap in cooking, so we didn’t bother with pre-cooking.
Sleeves were rolled up and we then made a huge batch of crumble topping, based on Honeycomb Valley’s recipe. For a crumble to serve approximately 6 greedy people – and a container full to keep in the fridge for next time – here’s my take on Honeycomb Valley’s lovely recipe:
Mulberries, few spoons of raw sugar and flour
2 c of plain, wholemeal flour (I bet spelt flour would be lovely)
1 1/4 c raw sugar
4 c of your choice of rolled grains
1 tbsp & 2 tsp cinnamon or mixed spice (that’s 30ml for those who don’t have 20mL tablespoons)
250g of diced butter (leave it out on the bench to soften while you’re washing berries)
1. Preheat oven at 180 degrees C.
2. Tumble the mulberries into a great big bowl, de-stem them (leaving a little of the stem on when you pick them minimises leakage on the trip home), wash gently and drain well. Stir through a few spoons each of flour and sugar. Dump the lot into a large oven proof dish.
3. Using your fingertips, make pecking like motions to to grab and rub together the ingredients, allowing it to fall back into the bowl each time. If your bowl is as big as ours was, grab someone else and stick their hands in too. Reminisce about the crumbles your relatives make until the mix resembles a pile of sugary rubble. I was taught that at the end, the palms of my hands should still be clean. So sugary fingertips only. But hey. I’m a bit of a clumsy cook.
4. Spoon crumble topping liberally over the dish full of prepared fruit. Don’t bother with sprinkling extra sugar over the fruit before hand. Crumbles don’t need to be saccharine sweet. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden, and the fruit juices are bubbling and busting out the sides of the dish.
5. Smother in vanilla ice-cream and sink your best silver spoons through the oaty topping into the tart and oozing depths.
Note: Usually I’d use 4 cups of straight oats. But this time, I had a mix of rolled oats, rice, rye, barley and triticale on hand. I’m buying that stuff again. Changing up your grains lends the your crumble a slight nuttiness and an extra ‘chew’ that’s pretty darn good
And you know what’s even better? Having leftovers waiting for you in your fridge. First up, I added some mulberries to my go to special treat/disaster remedy – a wholemeal microwave chocolate pudding for one. I’m still working on translating my eyeballed proportions into measurable quantities so that I can actually share this recipe. But I will tell you that I like to use wholemeal flour (and sometimes almond meal), grape seed oil, a very small amount of raw sugar or honey, a spoon of tahini or nut butter, milk, cocoa powder and chopped dates for a mug of fudgey bliss. In the mean time, the microwave brownie/pudding concept isn’t anything new. Simple recipes abound on the internet, so give it a try! You’ll probably find that it’s done after about 60 seconds. ‘Done’, in my experience involves a small spot on top remaining somewhat moist – gooey even. Otherwise, the pudding is dry rather than fudgey. You can even deliberately undercook it a little, so as to have something of a choc sauce; although this seems to polarise people.
The following morning, I savoured some of the crumble over soaked oats (or bircher muesli), with chunks of granny smith apple and greek yoghurt. Oh my giddy aunt. Dessert for breakfast – which I don’t mind telling my mum about. Dang, I’d eat it for dessert too. Check out Simple Provision’s recipe for bircher muesli by the way. It puts in writing the very rough proportions that I’ve wound up using when making my own bircher muesli – but presented so much more elegantly than I could. I will note, however, that I tend not to have coconut water on hand and have no issues consuming lactose at the present; and so I usually use some combination of water and/or milk. Sometimes I’ll spike the mix with a very liberal squeeze of citrus juice too. On occasion, the very smallest splodge of honey is also a delectable treat. It makes the bircher taste just like the stuff served at good hotels. Gosh I love oats. Crisp or creamy. Low GI, high fibre, a great source of many of the minerals that our body needs (and some of the B vitamins too), filling and budget friendly. Go buy some Australian oats!
Oh, and speaking of oats: I popped the last of the berries in a dish of baked oats (based on this delightful recipe). Not bad – although mulberries having the firm centre that they do, the berries didn’t meld with the oats in the way that I’d hoped they would.
Having grown up on Weetbix and plain porridge; sweet oats for breakfast don’t feel quite right, but baked oats are growing on me. However, the addition of some melting pieces of stewed apple transforms it into a perfectly respectable dessert. Next time, I want both apples for texture and berries for drama and tang. In autumn, I’m thinking pear, plums, cinnamon and a little ginger…several of my favourite things together. I feel a little weak at the knees just thinking about it.
Oh, and the following weekend, my sister came to visit. So of course we went berry picking again. That lot went into a pie. Alas, I wasn’t around to sample it – but a late night phone call was made shortly after, asking if I wished to sample another of her berry pastry creations. I highly recommend eating warm pie with your sister in the middle of night at least once in your life. Perfect exam study distraction. The pie in question was a flan composed of Maggie Beer’s ever faithful sour cream pastry and a spine tingling-ly sour mix of cooked apple and raspberry. With Greek yoghurt. Yep, we like it sour. This stuff is even better the next morning, when the colour of the raspberry juices seep into the apple, and everything solidifies. Hah! Sounds glamorous doesn’t it? Well, cold pie is up there with leftover cold pizza. Nay, even better.
Wallowing in the luxury of leftover berries as I was, I got to thinking about the bread baking circle that Hugh sets up in the cooking programme River Cottage. (Side note: River Cottage Australia. How did I not hear about this until just now?). For many years, I’ve spent a weekend every year with family (and sometimes neighbours) bottling kilo after kilo of ripe stone fruit. The result is a year’s supply of fruit, ready for crumbles, sorbets or just a trickle of good cream. So cooking in bulk with friends is fab. You can afford to buy that larger value cut of meat or that ginormous box of fruit from the orchard. Multiple hands make light work of dishes which you wouldn’t usually cook just for yourself. And washing up is so much more fun with company. So I’m thinking that I’d love get friends together for a cooking session and dinner more often. And why not add music and wine? And everyone would go home with dinner for another day. Hmm…