Besides maple syrup (one reason I moved to New Hampshire), I like jams, jellies, and preserves (marmalades, not so much). I also like cooking and baking, particularly bread and biscuits – which also like jams, jellies, and preserves. A few years ago, I gathered some wild grapes and made jam for the first time. The rich, full flavor made the store-bought jellies hang their heads in shame. I was hooked.
Since then, I’ve made jam several times. More wild grape, peach, crab apple, and a teensy bit of wild black cherry were available last year. But, this year I found a mulberry tree just down the street from where I live. Mulberry Creek Imagery. Mulberry jam. I just had to.
There’s another reason I had to, besides just liking jam. People often ask where I came up with the name Mulberry Creek Imagery. The idea started with wanting something a tad more creative than just using my name. If hair salons can come up with catchy and creative names, it seems an artist should be able to as well. I went through a list of words, mostly related to nature since I like animals and the outdoors. There are the typical New Hampshire links: granite, lake names, birch, and maple – to name a few. While I liked those, they were just too common for me.
Then it struck me. Mulberry. I grew up in a small town in Iowa, and we had two mulberry trees in our backyard. My mom made mulberry jam and syrup with them. For an easy way to harvest them, we would spread an old sheet on the ground and I would climb up and shake the branches. Not only was it far easier than picking the mulberries one by one, it also made nice purple dots all over the sheets.
The “Creek” part of Mulberry Creek was just because I liked the way it sounded, and it made a pleasing and relaxing mental image for me.
Now that I found a mulberry tree, I felt it was just a natural thing for me to make mulberry jam, take some photos, and blog about it. Oh, and then there’s the best part – eating the jam!
This tree was too large for me to easily climb, but several limbs were low enough to grab and shake. I learned something interesting while standing under the branch shaking it and watching the mulberries plop on the sheet. Earwigs apparently like to build nests in the leaves. This piece of information revealed itself to me when a nest bounced off my head and shoulder and sent a bunch of annoyed little nasties scurrying across my shirt.
Have you ever been bitten by an earwig? I knew from prior experience it’s not as bad as, say, a snake bite, but it does have a way of wiping the smile off your face. Now, if your slumber in a cozy nest had been rudely disturbed and you’re disoriented after falling a good distance, you’re going to want to find a safe place to hide until you sort out the situation, right? I wasn’t too keen on the idea of my shirt becoming an earwig nest at that particular moment. Did you know that I can dance?
With a little more caution, I gathered the rest of the mulberries I could from this large tree. The lady owned the property told me there was another tree around back. This one was smaller, had fewer berries, and tall grass growing underneath, so the shake and collect method wasn’t going to work. However, there was a bonus – the berries were much bigger and juicier. The challenge, though, was not ripping my legs to shreds getting to the mulberries through the rose and raspberry bushes. Bonus number two. The challenge became what was I going to do first. Finish picking mulberries or start eating the cache of wild black raspberries I found. Mmm … Delicious!
With my mulberries collected (and the earwigs not), it was time to go home and make jam. Since I started making jam, I’ve always just used the natural pectin in the fruit. This usually works well, but different fruit and berries have various amounts of natural pectin. Sometimes you have to add a bit of high pectin fruit, like apples, to get things to work well. I couldn’t find any information about pectin in mulberries (apparently not that many people make mulberry jam), so I thought I would start with just the mulberries and see what happens. I often live on the edge like that.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to gather as many mulberries as I would have liked, which led to the small batch problem I’ve had. Since I’m relatively new to jam making, some previous batches of jam haven’t always turned out quite the way I wanted. It seems when I’m making a smaller batch – when there’s only a couple of inches of juice in the pot – I tend to overcook the jam. It comes out closer to taffy than jam. This time, though, I researched jam-making mistakes and read that it might be possible to fix the overcooking by adding some water and trying again. That worked better than I expected!
With my first try at mulberry jam, the taste came out fantastic even though the texture was a smidge too tacky. Next year will be better, especially if you help me find more mulberry trees. Then, I could invite you to try some because this year I only ended up with two half-pint jars – one went to the mulberry tree owner and the other is already mostly gone. Did I mention I like jam?