Our explosion of 17-year cicadas has led to something quite unexpected—a bumper crop of berries left on my mulberry tree. Usually, the birds get them long before I can. But they seem to be feasting on this year’s cicadas instead. My friends and neighbors have also reported bonus sour cherries and other fruits for the same reason.
Although there is a North American native red mulberry (Morus rubra), I have the much more common—and, in some places, invasive—white mulberry (Morus alba). The white mulberry and its counterpart, the black mulberry (Morus nigra), were introduced to the U.S. from Asia.
They’re all somewhat tricky to tell apart. Fortunately, the mulberries from each are sweet, juicy fruits perfect for use in jelly and jam.
Of course, mulberries also happen to make a decent dye. So, when harvesting your own mulberries, you might want to wear old clothes and a pair of latex (or similar) gloves. (Otherwise, expect your hands—and especially your cuticles—to be stained for a few days!)
Unlike other types of berries, mulberries, when ripe, very nearly fall off the tree. Before you start picking, lay out a clean tarp or light-colored sheet so you can still collect the many ripe berries that don’t quite make it into your bowl.
Check berries for insects, insect damage and insect eggs, and discard accordingly. Pinching off the berries’ small green stems as you go also will save you time later.
You’ll need about eight cups of fresh mulberries in order to make nine cups of cooked jam. Rinse and drain them carefully, making sure to pick out any insect hitchhikers, leaf bits or twigs you may have missed.
If you want to preserve your jam long-term, ready your canning jars, lids and rings ahead of time. (You can skip this step if you intend to refrigerate your jam and use it up right away.)
To get cooking, you’ll need:
- 1 small box of powdered pectin (approximately 1.75 ounces)
- 5 tightly packed cups of crushed berries
- 7 cups of sugar (Measure out in a separate bowl and set aside.)
As I’ve mentioned with some of my other jelly and jam posts, if you’re vegan, vegetarian or choose to keep kosher or halal, you might want to substitute raw cane sugar for the refined sugar in this recipe. (Most regular sugar is refined with with bone char.)
Also worth noting? Low-sugar pectin mixes are available, and some of these enable you to use stevia and other alternate sweeteners.
Jam or Jelly?
Mulberries are full of seeds, but if you don’t mind a super-seedy jam, you can simply crush the berries—seeds and all. If you have enough extra berries, you can reduce your overall seed content by crushing and straining out some of the seeds in your batch.
On the other hand, if you want seedless mulberry jelly, you’ll need a proper sieve, cheesecloth and a bit of patience. (Again, you may also need extra fruit in order to end up with five cups of pulped-and-strained berry juice.)
How to Make Jam
To start, place your 5 cups of cleaned, prepared fruit (or fruit juice) in a large saucepan. (The pan should be big enough to accommodate all of that sugar and, eventually, a rolling boil.)
Begin cooking the fruit over medium-high to high heat and stir in the pectin powder. Mix the pectin in completely and keep stirring. Adjust the heat as needed in order to bring the concoction to a rolling boil.
Once it’s boiling, gradually mix in all of the sugar. Keep stirring the pot until it again reaches a rolling boil. Allow this second boil to go for one minute—and don’t stop stirring.
Take care to be precise with your timing at this stage. Jams and jellies that don’t boil for the full minute can end up on the runny side. Some may even fail to set up at all.
When time’s up, turn off the heat and carefully ladle the mixture into your jars. Jams and jellies can take a few hours to fully set, so don’t panic if yours doesn’t seem perfect right away.
Use a canner or hot water bath to process your packed jars for long-term storage. Otherwise, you can refrigerate your jam or jelly, and it will keep for a few weeks.