Mulberries shine in a summer cocktail

My first encounter with mulberries was a mess of stains. On a sunny Fourth of July, I parked the family under a tree to wait two hours for the fireworks to begin. I hadn’t noticed any berries on the ground, but my kids found them quickly with the help of a few other families nearby. They assured us these safe, edible fruits.

They did not warn us about the stains. Hands, faces, clothing — so much for the white part of red, white, and blue.

They were tasty, though. Black and red mulberries are juicy, with a good balance of tart and sweet. Another kind of mulberry turns white when ripe, although that fruit is tarter than the first two, without their deeper flavor. Mulberries grow on trees and while they’re often cultivated on berry farms, as my children discovered wild trees are common finds here in northeast Ohio.

Spice Bar’s Tia Murray uses foraged berries for this shrub-based cocktail. This fruit needs to be used within a few days of picking, and Murray decided that a shrub would be a good way to use the berries for a longer period of time, since it’s acidity would help preserve their flavor.

A shrub is a sweet-tart beverage made of fruit juice, sugar, and other ingredients. Its acid can be either vinegar or fruit juice. Shrubs were popular ways to preserve fruit in Colonial times when no refrigeration was available, but they’re still a wonderful way to use fruit in cocktails. And for those who aren’t drinking alcohol, shrubs mixed with seltzer, ginger beer, or ginger ale make a refreshing drink on a hot summer day.

If you’re lucky enough to know someone with a mulberry tree, offer to help pick the fruit for some in return. These succulent berries are good in pies, tarts, sorbet, ice cream, wine, and cordials.

This drink uses a rum I wasn’t familiar with: Ron Zacapa. This premium rum is produced in Guatemala and uses first-pressing sugar cane juice, which is blended in a method traditionally used for sherries, moving progressively through several types of barrels as it ages.

The Mulberries Taste Like Mulberries

Ingredients

  • 8-10 drops vanilla extract
  • 1/4 oz honey syrup
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz mulberry-lavender shrub (recipe follows)
  • 2 oz Ron Zacapa
  • 2 oz soda

Directions

Combine all of the ingredients and strain into a glass with ice. Garnish with a lavender sprig and, if available, white mulberries.

Cocktail 2Mulberry-Lavender Shrub

  • 1 cup mulberries
  • A good handful of fresh lavender
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

Wash fruit and pour into a large jar with lavender and sugar. Lightly smash the fruit and let sit for 24-48 hours, until lots of juice has been extracted. Pour in vinegar and let sit another 24-48 hours. Strain and enjoy in cocktails or over ice with soda water.