Recipe: White Mulberry Peach Lattice Tart

In North America, the white mulberry, morus alba, (native to China) is one of very few trees that produces berries that are desirable for human consumption.   While white mulberry leaves are valued as a feed for animals and silkworms, the fruit is often passed over for the sweeter red or black mulberry varieties.  It is a prolific bearer of fruit and if the berries lack the rounded flavor of darker varieties, they offer up subtler floral notes that respond well in culinary uses.

Since their color will not bleed over other fruit, they are an excellent choice for a multi fruit tart.  I combined them with peach and because I needed a few more berries for the filling, added a few chopped strawberries.  Any fruit combination will work well with these modest summer gems.  Mulberry trees can grow up to 30 feet high and so the berries are often harvested when they fall to the ground.  When ripe, the berries appear glossy and juicy, and sometimes acquire a damask blush. Give them a good soak to remove any dirt before cooking.


White Mulberry Peach Lattice Tart

Ingredients, for a 7" tart

1 1/2 - 2 cups white mulberries
1 large peach, peeled and chopped
1/8 cup sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 egg, beaten with a little milk
1/2 Tbs butter
Chilled piecrust dough

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F. To clean mulberries, place in a large bowl and fill with water so that dirt falls to the bottom of the bowl.  Remove berries with a slotted spoon, discard dirty water and repeat 2 times or until water is clear.   Place berries on a towel to dry.

2. Combine whole berries with chopped peach.  Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice and stir to coat evenly.  Set aside while you line the tart pan with the crust.  Pour in fruit, dot with butter and cover with strips of piecrust in a lattice weave.  Brush lattice crust with beaten egg mixture.  Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until crust is golden.

A Thousand Damask Roses

In pre-industrial society, common herbs and flowers were frequently used for their medicinal and culinary properties.  The rose, with its intoxicating fragrance and edible petals, leaves, and fruit, was used in food and scent preparations as well as in decorative display.  In previous posts I've discussed rosewater and cooking with roses.  Rose Recipes, a 1939 English publication by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde collects early English and French instructions for using roses in a multitude of ways.  The recipes for rosewater, dating to the 16th and 17th centuries, are quite complex and detailed, and are distinguished by specific uses such as scenting laundry, perfume, and cooking.  

For instance, "To Make a Sweet Water of the Best Kind," a recipe included from Sir Hugh Plat's Delightes for Ladies (1594) calls for a thousand damask roses to be mixed with lavender, mace, cloves, and running water (i.e. fresh, not still water) in an earthen pot and kneaded every day for four days.  As one of Queen Elizabeth's courtier's, Plat would likely have sourced this impressive amount of fresh roses from a large, local estate.  As most of the other ingredients in this and other comparable recipes are given by weight, this recipe stands out for the sheer volume required.  Rohde's own recipe is much simpler, requiring that the petals (preferably red so as to achieve a pink hue and deep fragrance) be gently heated in soft water and then strained.

A recipe for "odoriferous candles" from The Charitable Physician by Philbert Guibert Phisytian Regent in Paris (1639) ambitiously claims to act "against venome and the plague."  One wonders about the success rate of this candle, made with red roses, cloves, storax (sweetgum resin), lebdanum (a resin), benjamin, frankinscence, staechados (French lavender), citron, yellow sanders (probably satinwood), juniper, musk, and ambergreese (amber gris, a wax-like substance produced by whales).

Some of the very sage advice on cooking with roses presented in this volume includes collecting roses a few hours after dawn when the dew has dried, and removing the yellow base of petals, which imparts a bitter flavor.  Sugar is copiously used in recipes to balance the rose's natural astringency. To achieve the most concentrated rose flavor, Rohde recommends drying the petals first.  This can be done over mesh screens or in sand, as was the preference in the Elizabethan era.

Like Plat's thousand-blooms rosewater recipe, the culinary recipes in this volume reflect an elite pantry.   A lovely recipe for Rose Drops uses liberal amounts of both sugar and lemon juice, both dear commodities in the 18th centuries.  If you make these candies, however, you'll see that they were well worth the expense.  

Rose Drops from a recipe from The Complete Housewife (1736).

This recipe requires dried rose petals, ground to a powder.  A coffee grinder works well.  To a 1/2 oz. of rose powder, use 1/2 lb. granulated or superfine sugar, and the juice of 2 lemons.  This yield requires about 3 cups fresh rose petals.  Choose a dark crimson variety.  Dry completely in a single layer over a mesh screen (about 2 days).

To Make Rose-Drops 

From The Complete Housewife (1736), published in Rose Recipes (1936)

The roses and sugar must be beat separately into a very fine powder, and both sifted; To a pound of sugar an ounce of red roses, they must be mixed together, and then wet with as much juice of Lemon as will make it into a stiff paste; set it on a slow fire in a silver porringer, and stir it well; and when it is scalding hot quite through take it off and drop in small portions on a paper; set them near the fire, the next day they will come off.

See also: