Friday, June 3, 2011
When we bought our home in Umbria twenty years ago it was a ruin. Although we could see the potential in the crumbling walls and fallen roof, it was the location that convinced us. Set atop a hill, looking out over the green valley below, we knew Pergolaccio was home.
Even though the house came with 140 olive trees, and is surrounded on three sides by forest, one of the first things we did - even before we began construction - was to plan out our garden. Fruit trees, vegetables, roses; fences, pergolas and walls. We knew that the sooner we got these things going, the sooner they would grow into what we imagined.
One of the very first things we planted was a alley of white Mulberry trees leading up to the front door. We had noticed that almost every farmer had at least one mulberry tree near their house, pruned so that the leafy canopy provided shade during the summer. So instead of just planting one, we planted 10 - imagining a green tunnel leading up to our front door.
And that is just what happened. Yes, at first the trees were small and spindly, and we a bit discouraged. But soon the branches were reaching out across bamboo supports to meet in the middle. We pruned them carefully to grow upwards and inwards, forming a arch over the gravel path below.
So focused were we on the shade part of this equation, it was almost a shock when the first berries started to appear after about six years. Well, duh. It’s a mulberry tree, right? But somehow that had slipped our minds.
We were so happy to see the little green nubs plump up into fat white - and then purple - berries. But also disappointed, since what few berries there were seemed to get eaten up by flocks of birds just as they ripened.
But now, twenty years down the road, the large trees have really hit their stride. I’m not sure if it’s just that they are finally producing too many berries for the birds to handle, or the perfect combination of rain and sun , but we have TONS of mulberries this year.
In the past we’ve just eaten what we could, standing under the canopy. Mulberries are so delicate that they barely make it from the tree to the table without getting crushed. Also, they have a tiny stem which has to be nipped off before you do anything with them. Last year, with my mother’s help, I managed to prep five kilos and get them in the freezer. They were perfect over ice cream or added to fruit salad all winter long.
But this year I decided to celebrate our bounty by baking a pie. It was June 1, and my friend Evan Kleiman has just started off her annual pie-a-day-a-thon. I figured if Evan can bake a pie a day, I can at least bake this one pie, this one day to start the summer off right.
I looked through all my cookbooks, but there was nothing. Browsing on the web wasn’t much help either. I guess fragile mulberries are just not that available commercially. I did manage to find a few berry pie recipes in the end, and I adapted them for this. Mulberries (at least my mulberries) are very sweet, so I cut down the sugar. They also are not as tart as, say, a raspberry, so I added some lemon juice to add some zing.
We have to head back into Rome tomorrow, so today’s gonna be a long mulberry-filled day. Besides the picking and the prepping, I’m hoping to get the berries into the freezer, and at least one batch of mulberry jam into jars. Then, if I’m not completely wiped I’d like to use the ricotta I got yesterday for a ricotta mulberry tart.
And, oh yeah. Did I mention that our cherry tree is full of fruit too?
2.5 cups of all purpose flour
250 grams / 8.5 oz butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tsp salt
4 cups mulberries
3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2.5 tablespoons butter
Preheat oven to 200c/400f
Place flour, butter, sugar and salt into food processor. Pulse at high speed until mixture looks like corse meal. With motor running slowly add water - a spoonful at a time - just until dough comes together in a ball. Take out, divide in two (with one slightly bigger) form into disks and cover in saran wrap. Let chilll in fridge for about a half hour
Clean berries, snipping off the stems with a scissors. Mix with sugar ,flour and lemon juice.
Roll out larger piece of dough and place in greased 9 inch pie tin. Pour berries on top, and dot with butter. Roll out second piece of dough and cover pie, crimping edges and trimming.
Gently brush top with milk, and place on tray in oven.
After 15 minutes, turn oven down to 175c/350f. Bake for another half hour, or until top is nicely golden.
Serve with ice cream.
*I love this pie crust, since it is very flaky and not too sweet. But it is kind of delicate, and since I rolled it out pretty thinly for the top of my pie - and since mulberries are very juicey - you can see the juice seeped through the top in places.