My grandma’s lace handkerchief, the one she had in her pocket every Sunday for church.
Her blue hydrangeas next to my sand pile.
Red radishes sliced on white bread with butter and a light sprinkle with salt. Lunchtime at her kitchen table.
The massive climbing tree in her neighbor’s yard, and the long days of branch sitting with Bobby, my first real friend.
Purple fingers, stained sneakers. My Grandmother’s infinite indulgence.
Childhood memories fogged around me for days earlier this month when my friend Sally invited me out to her farm to pick mulberries. Sally has several trees and forages daily as this bountiful berry ripens…and ripens…and ripens. Yep a lot of berries, sweet with their own very distinct floral flavor but fragile, with only a short window to use or preserve or freeze.
There are many uses for mulberries, to be sure, and their nutritional profile is impressive, so no need to hold back on creative culinary experimenting. Mulberries are also easily interchangeable in recipes that call for blackberries and raspberries, though the flavors are quite different. In fact, one of my very first blog post was about a vegan cream pie made with mulberries, except that none were around, so I went with plentiful market blackberries. It was a great way to encourage both using what is in season and being brave in the kitchen. But this month, thanks to Sally, I had the real deal!
And since I became all nostalgic and daydreamy about my grandma’s kitchen (That happens a lot anyway.), I decided to make something with an old-fashioned flavor because mulberries really do taste as if they come from another era—sweet but more floral, even earthy, and oh-so delicate. Something in a muffin, perhaps, with lots of old-time ingredients.
While my grandma was more apt to make biscuits than muffins, she always added rich buttermilk (and lard!) to her baking. And, unfortunately, that buttermilk was going to be a challenge now because today’s watery, low-fat versions are not the same as what she used. I have often complained about poor-quality buttermilk—the best I’ve ever used is Kalona, but that brand is hard to find, and the berries were not going to wait, so I improvised. And really, I think I hit on something pretty special—a mixture of whole milk yogurt, heavy cream and fresh lemon juice. No, not quite the thick, almost clumpy, stuff my grandma swore by, but definitely close.
I also used ample butter and eggs here, so don’t skimp if you make these luscious little cakes. In addition, I used cardamom as the spice—something that would not have been in my grandma’s kitchen but which I think has that “vintage” flavor people love but can rarely identify… and fresh sage—be brave. And to be totally honest, the fresh lemon would probably not have been in my grandma’s kitchen either; she used a product called Real Lemon that came in a green bottle, which was always in her refrigerator. Go with a real, real lemon—trust me—you can’t zest a green bottle anyway. You can, however, use blackberries or raspberries instead of mulberries, with good results—just a slightly modernized flavor. Let’s bake!
- One cup cake flour
- One cup corn flour (Not cornmeal; check out Bob’s Red Mill Corn Flour.)
- One-half cup whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
- One teaspoon baking powder
- Two teaspoons baking soda
- One teaspoon ground cardamom
- One-half teaspoon fine sea salt
- Two tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves (which can be omitted, if you are without)
- Two tablespoons lemon zest
- One-half cup whole milk plain Greek yogurt (Wallaby is nice.)
- One-half cup heavy cream
- Two tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- One stick unsalted butter
- One and one-half cups sugar (Plain evaporated cane juice works well here.)
- One quarter-cup honey (Local if you can.)
- Two large eggs
- One teaspoon vanilla
- One cup mulberries, washed, thoroughly dried, tough stems removed (if you can)
- Have all your ingredients at room temperature, 70 degrees or above.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and prepare a muffin pan, either greasing the cups or using cup liners made of natural parchment paper. Note that this recipe makes about 14 muffins, so maybe an extra muffin tin at the ready or a tiny Pyrex bowl covered in butter—what my grandma would have done for extra batter. The small Pyrex bowl holds about the equivalent batter of two muffins. See photo after the post.
- Whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom and salt. Add the lemon zest and the minced sage leaves, whisking to combine. Set aside.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, cream and lemon juice. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, use the paddle attachment to cream the butter until light and shiny, about one minute on medium.
- Continuing to mix, gradually add the sugar until everything is light and fluffy—another two minutes. Then, pour in the honey and continue mixing until smooth.
- Now add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until the batter smooths back out. Beat in the vanilla.
- Add the yogurt/cream mixture and mix until everything is evenly blended.
- With your mixer on low speed, gradually add the bowl of dry ingredients, mixing until everything is just combined. You can also mix in the dry ingredients by hand to avoid over-developing the gluten, which renders a tough muffin. You want these muffins light like cake.
- Very gently, fold in the mulberries. Pour the batter into prepared muffin tins and bake for 22 to 25 minutes. Rotate the tins halfway through. Tops should be brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the muffin should come out clean. Avoid overbaking.
- Cool several minutes in the pans; then, finish cooling on baking racks.
I tend to overfill muffin tins to achieve a puffy top that runs over the muffin cup. You can make more muffins filled only three-quarters full, but it is likely baking time will vary slightly--closer to 20-22 minutes.
So a couple of things about these magical purple berries—those little green stems—I do not fret about them when making smoothies, jam or sauces. In smoothies they disappear, and all my jams and sauces are strained, so no worries. But with muffins, I went the extra mile using a tweezer. Yep, kind of a pain, so you decide if it is worth it. I couldn’t get them all, and they won’t hurt you, just wondering how “a lot of them” bake up. If you make these and leave them in, let me know!
Also, there is the issue of staining—dry your berries on old clean kitchen towels or unbleached paper towels. Staining is inevitable and part of the fun! Unless you were my grandma or me on wash day. Sigh.
And here is the little Pyrex cake! So cute! Almost makes you want to just bake little cakes, which you could…with enough Pyrex bowls, of course. Be brave!