City Farmer: Fermenting Wild Mulberries

mulberries

With spring abounding, I’ve been feverishly harvesting local wild edibles to ferment and preserve. My favorite project has been harvesting red mulberries from the tree in my backyard to make mulberry wine. Here’s some info on mulberries and an easy recipe for mulberry wine.

Reb mulberry branch (moris rubra). Illustration by Krissy Abdullah.

Making Mulberry Wine
(Time Frame – 1 year or more)
This Recipe is adapted from an elderberry wine recipe in the book, Wild Fermentation. It is meant to make five gallons of wine; however, you can make less if you have a smaller carboy. For example, I collected one gallon of mulberries and used two one-gallon apple juice jars.

What you need
(makes 5 gallons of mulberry wine)
- Three gallons of mulberries
- Water
- One packet of commercial wine/champagne yeast (can be purchased at Hoggetowne Ale Works on W. Univ. Ave. and 34th St.)
- 10-12 lbs. sugar
- One five-gallon carboy (a huge jug, usually glass or plastic)
- One airlock (looks like something from your high school chemistry class and is usually plastic; it fits onto the lid of the carboy and when filled partially with water, allows gases to be released from the carboy without letting contaminants in)

How to make it
1. Clean your mulberries well, discarding any unripe or moldy berries and trash.

2. Boil two to three gallons of water. Pour it over the berries to submerge them. Cover the bucket with a towel, leave it overnight to steep and cool.

3. Scoop out one cup of the liquid and add a packet of yeast. Allow the yeast to activate and bubble, then add it to the berries and water. Stir with a wooden spoon and cover.

4. Let it sit for two to three days, stirring often. This allows time for the yeast to feed on the sugar of the berries and begin the fermentation process. The wine should begin to get a little frothy.

5. After two to three days, pour 10 lbs. (20 cups) of sugar into a cooking pot and cover with enough water to liquefy. Heat slowly, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves into a clear syrup.
When the syrup cools, add it to the mulberries.

6. Ferment for three to five days, covered and stirring often. The wine should begin to bubble vigorously.

7. Once the bubbling slows, strain wine into the 5-gallon carboy. It should only fill the carboy part of the way. Place the berries in a container and cover with water. Mash the berries in water, strain this water into the carboy. Fill the carboy, but make sure to leave a few inches at the top for foam headroom.

8. Store the carboy at room temp for the first month. Put a large pan or towel around the bottom to catch any frothy overflow. If this occurs, clean the airlock and the mouth of the carboy. Fermentation will slow gradually.

9. Test the sugar content by removing the airlock and sprinkling a little sugar on the surface of the wine. If nothing occurs, the sugar content is good. If it causes a yeast reaction (looks like bubbling and frothing) add another cup of sugar. Wait a few days, and repeat as necessary. Add only one cup of sugar at a time and no more than four additional cups total.

10. After two months, siphon the wine into a clean carboy, leaving the sediment behind. Insert an airlock and relocate the carboy to a cool, dark place. Ferment for at least nine months and periodically check to make sure the water hasn’t completely evaporated out of the airlock. Refill and clean the airlock as necessary.
After nine months, enjoy!

Red mulberry
Moris rubra
Red mulberry trees are most common in Florida. In some places you can also find the asian white mulberry trees. The leaves are toothed and can be oval or lobed. The berries are usually longer than raspberries or blackberries, which grow in brambles.

You can spot a mulberry tree because the area around the tree is stained a deep purple. If you can reach, pick ripe mulberries straight from the tree. If not, put a blanket on the ground, climb into the tree and shake it vigorously. A torrent of berries will rain down.

Mulberries don’t sit well for more than a couple of days. Their high water content and thin skins cause them to ferment quickly. This makes them perfect for wine. They can also be eaten fresh, cooked, dried, frozen or preserved.

There is a Greek folklore of how red mulberries got their color, Pyramus and Thisbe, by Ovid.

“Pyramus and Thisbe were neighbors who fell in love, but their parents disapproved. The lovers communicated secretly, through a crack in the wall separating their houses. One night, they eloped, but Thisbe was frightened away from their rendezvous point- a white mulberry tree- by a bloody-mouthed lion that had just finished a meal. She escaped and hid, but lost her cloak, which the lion mauled and bloodied.

Pyramus, seeing the bloody-mouthed lion and the cloak, imagined the worst, and impaled himself on his sword. His blood colored the mulberries red. When Thisbe found him and realized what had happened, she followed him to death on the same sword. The European mulberry species has been red ever since, colored by the lovers’ blood.”

Romantic, huh?

Local, wild edibles in season now
- Loquats (jams, wines, salsa, compote, pies and cobblers)
- Wild onions (pearl onion root or chives; pickled, salads and sautés, sauces)
- Jasmine flowers (infused in oils for natural body care)
- Chickweed leaves (salads, dressings, sautés)
- Dandelion (leaves: in salads and dressings)
- Cleaver leaves (salads and dressings, curries, risottos)

Some resources
- Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Katz.
- Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places, by Steve Brill
- Country Wisdom and Know-How, edited by Storey Books.

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6 Comments

  • May 2, 2011

    Henry Taksier

    Hey, great column this month, Krissy! It makes me want to go out and pick some wild mulberries. That’s an awful shame about Pyramus and Thisbe, though. People in myths and literature would have such an easier time if they thought for just a moment before immediately killing themselves… oh well, what can ya do?

  • May 16, 2011

    Tina

    Dearest Krissy, I just stumbled upon this article on my procrastination ventures. It is absolutely lovely, and I enjoyed reading it so much! Hope you are doing well and it makes me happy to know that you are letting vesting your creativity into contributions to the fine print. Sending you much love from across the ocean blue,
    Tina

  • July 1, 2013

    jacob

    Hi Krissy, I decided to try fermenting some mulberries from a tree in our backyard and found your recipe while searching around. It is very appealing in comparison, as many other recipes call for the addition of grape juice to “add body.” The biggest difference — and the thing that I am the most curious about — is those initial stages which include a lot of open fermentation (1 week+). What does that do for the wine and the process, versus the more common recipe which just basically asks you to dump everything into the carboy from the very beginning?

  • July 4, 2013

    john simon

    Just mixed up a batch what does stir often mean 3-4 times a day?

  • October 8, 2013

    Alexander Toniatti

    need a 5 gal glass jug please provide where to buy one.

  • March 29, 2014

    Prof. Elad

    Hi Krissy,

    Thanks for this good “How too”! I have a well fruiting White Mulberry tree (the fruit is Heavenly!) and my girlfriend and I are looking forward to making wine this year!! I have yet to get some things (carboy, etc.) and figure I will rinse and freeze the berries until I’m ready. The berries are almost getting ripe here in Phx. AZ.

    Wish us luck!

    Aloha,
    – Da

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