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Mulberry bush and trees
Two years ago the family and I took a holiday in West Norfolk and visited Heacham, the village which Pocahontas is reputed to have visited during the year she spent in England.
One of the things she is said to have done while staying with her husband’s family whose home it was, is to have planted a mulberry tree. The petrified stump of this 400 year old tree still remains and we spent some time looking for it.
Thanks to officials of the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk I now have a photo of the stump. It is kept on Council premises which are not generally open to the public.
I have since come across two more mulberry trees, still fruiting and considered old but not as old as that of the Heacham estate.
The first is in Rainham Hall, Rainham Essex. In August it was in fruit and we had to taste the berries. I found the berry rather strong and bitter, almost medicinal and not as sweet as a blackberry. It was much larger than a blackberry.
As all the old recipe books describe the fruit as sweet and juicy (but with a medicinal use for every part of the tree) I think I must have picked one past its best.
Rainham Hall is a merchant’s house build around 1720 and the garden has a lot of Victoria features. The guide said the mulberry was old but she didn’t know how old.
In Rainham it is kept more as a bush than a tree – you can see how the fruit hangs below the leaves and is bright red turning to dark.
Because the fruit is delicate and drops quickly the traditional method is to grow the bush in short grass.
Then a few weeks ago I discovered that there is also an old mulberry tree in Greatfields Park in Barking. I photographed it this week in early autumn. Greatfields Park has been a public park for 80 years. According to an elderly lady who has lived nearby most of her life the tree is where a farm kitchen garden was originally and bits of the garden wall are still visible.
The tree is missing one limb and, as is apparently a trait with mulberries, has a gnarled and twisted trunk. You can see what the stump of the Heacham tree would have looked like when it was alive.
There are nurseries selling young plants and a growing interest in old recipes and traditional foods.
I have met a medlar tree near Braintree but I really don’t fancy the half rotted requirement of the crop – it isn’t fruit as I think of it. In contrast the mulberries looked wholesome and fresh.
This is a recipe for Mulberry jelly sent from Gloucester to Delia Smith for her website.
1 lb mulberries 1/4 pt water 1 cooking apple (unpeeled)sugar
1. Cut up but do not peel or core apple.
2. Simmer with the mulberries and water until soft.
3. Strain through a jelly bag.
4. Measure juice, and allow 1lb sugar to each pint.
5. Stir together until sugar has dissolved.
6. Boil rapidly until set.