If the mango is the Aishwarya Rai Bachchan of the Indian fruit world, dazzling and international, perhaps a little over-exposed, then the poor old mulberry is the shy unmarried sister left behind in the village to look after granny, with only cowherds to marvel at her fragile beauty.
In the past few weeks, the Alphonso has embarked on her annual red carpet rounds in London, Paris and New York, barely batting an eyelid at all the gushing and fawning. At around the same time I noticed the short, sweet mulberry season had started: There was no trending on Twitter, just a few purple splats on the car as the soft berries started to fall from the tree on our street.
Mulberries came to India from Persia—William Finch, a traveller in 1610, noticed “from Agra to Lahore, a distance of 600 miles, the way is set both sides with mulberry trees”—and are chiefly used in silk cultivation; their leaves are the sole food of the silkworm. The intensely sweet and fragrant berries are also incredibly delicate, preferring not to stray too far from home. Mangoes can be packed and despatched thousands of miles—they’re one of the harbingers of spring on our street at home in Scotland—but mulberries, best eaten on the day they are picked, will always be a very local luxury. And for me, the fact that I’ll never see mulberries in Tesco in Edinburgh makes them all the more exotic and desirable.
They look like a long thin blackberry and taste like a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry but with a hint of harem decadence, conjuring up afternoons whiled away by tinkling fountains.
This week, though, mulberries proved elusive in Delhi. I didn’t fancy shimmying up the tree opposite my house, my man at INA market said there wasn’t much call for them and responses to a plea on Twitter directed me to forests on the edge of Delhi and roadside vendors in Uttar Pradesh. Finally, I had to make do with some rather forlorn-looking shrink-wrapped trays of mulberries from Khan Market.
They may well be at their best eaten straight from the tree with purple juices staining fingers and clothes but after gorging extensively, I just couldn’t resist giving this subtly exquisite fruit its 15 minutes of fame in my kitchen. Along with her friends from the village, chaach (buttermilk) and ghee (clarified butter), my ruddy-cheeked mulberry made the most wonderful, fluffy breakfast dish. It was her time to shine and these rich, light and fruity pancakes would certainly be enough to turn any potential suitor’s head.
Also Read | Pamela’s previous Lounge columns
Mulberry Buttermilk Pancakes
Makes 10-12 pancakes
110g plain flour (maida)—I also tried making these pancakes with wholewheat flour (atta) but I think it somehow killed the mulberries’ spirit
2 level tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
2 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
250ml fresh buttermilk (chaach)
25g ghee, or unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus a little more for frying
About 150g purple mulberries
Remove the stalks from the mulberries—the fruit will break up a little but this won’t matter.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
In another bowl, beat together the buttermilk, ghee and egg yolks. In yet another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff.
Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour and stir very gently (no beating or whisking) to just incorporate the flour. Then gently fold in the stiff egg white—don’t worry about making a smooth batter, that’s not what you need here; in fact the less you mix the ingredients, the fluffier the pancakes will be.
Melt a small amount of ghee in a non-stick frying pan or griddle over medium heat. Take a tablespoonful of batter and drop it on to the pan, then sprinkle a few mulberries on top. Leave for a couple of minutes until the bottom is golden brown, then flip over and cook for a further couple of minutes.
Serve the pancakes hot with maple, or even mulberry, syrup and a few fresh berries.
The batter will keep for a day or so in the fridge.
Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at http://eatanddust.wordpress.com Write to Pamela at firstname.lastname@example.org