From April until the end of October in the Lake Michigan watershed, there is a new wild edible to try almost every week. Leaves, shoots, berries, mushrooms, nuts and flowers are but a few of the delicacies our local ecosystem offers.
I make a point to walk through the prairie and woods on our land several times each week with my favorite naturalist, my 6 year old daughter. The point of the walk is mostly to have time to connect, to observe, and to just “be” together. As is typical of a curious child, she makes multiple observations about what she is seeing . . . “What is the name of this flower Papa?” and “Oooh look at the bee on that flower!” and almost always “Can we eat this?”
It has been a tradition in our family to continually consider what the world around us offers in terms of dietary creativity. When our little naturalist was not yet walking, she would accompany me on elk hunts in the mountains of Wyoming, offering up her learned elk language after I would offer mine. Now, our lessons take on new forms, always based in our togetherness and the places we find ourselves.
As we have lived in the headwaters of Lake Michigan watershed, we have been delighted by the abundance of the land. This year we enjoyed getting to know our place through the sensory delight of edible plants. As we experience these, we will share stories and images of what we’re finding, defining characteristics, how it tastes, a fun recipe, and maybe even a sketch or two.
The Edible: Mulberries
How to identify: Mulberries are a short, oblong berry. When they are ripe, they are a deep blackish color. Their leaves have up to five lobes, but the individual leaves may be unlobed, shaped like a mit, a fork with three lobes, five lobes, or more. They grow along fencerows all over the Eastern and Midwestern United States, and they often have low-hanging branches which are within reach for little berry pickers. The tree releases berries at different times for about a full month in the summer if the conditions are right. It is likely that if you have a tree by your driveway that makes a purpleish mess of berries, it is a mulberry tree!
How it tastes: The berry has a round, sweet flavor. A syrupy sweetness, maybe? If it tastes tart at all, it is not ripe and you should not eat it — it may hurt your stomach. Like most darkly-pigmented berries, they are as healthy as they come. Warning: they stain like crazy!
Recipe: Homemade Mulberry Ice Cream
1–2 C Freshly picked mulberries, washed gently.
1 C Milk (or milk alernative)
¾ C Agave or honey
2 C Heavy cream (or cream alternative)
1 TBS Pure vanilla extract
1 Pinch salt
Blend all ingredients in a blender, making sure agave or honey is fully blended. Pour the mixture into a frozen ice cream maker bowl and let it mix until thickened, usually 15–20 minutes. Enjoy with fresh whipped cream or mulberries on top!
*This recipe can also be made into popsicles. Simply pour the mixture into popsicle molds, place into freezer, and enjoy in 6–8 hours later!