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Mulberry Season

April 24, 2015

Driving down a residential street in Woodland, on my way from the tax office, I caught a glimpse of red … something…amid the leaves of a large tree and parked my car to have a look. Mulberries! And the tree was a public tree, parked next to a government parking lot. This is the kind of thing that brings joy to a forager. I noted they’d be ripe in about a week. I decided to check two other mulberry trees in similar places.

A man came out of his apartment to watch me. “You like mulberries?” he asked. “Come back in a week and the tree will be covered.”

“No,” I thought to myself. “These berries will be ripe in the next day or so.” I knew I’d have to swing by with my tarp and a pole. For years I picked each berry one at a time. Yikes! I realized belatedly that the only way to harvest mulberries was with a tarp and a stick: spread the tarp under the tree and hit the boughs with a stick. They drop like raindrops.

Mulberries are yummy served fresh in a fruit melange or mixed with cherries in a pie. By themselves, they are not quite tart enough. But their chewy texture and health benefits make them delicious with other fruit. What to do with the abundance? I’ve tried freezing them but they become gunky mush. Yuck. This year I did what they do in Afghanistan: dry them. I will toss them with walnuts for snacking – or try making Nomad Bars.

Nomad bars is the name my friend Asma and I came up with on my last trip to Afghanistan. Talkhun was something I’d heard about often: mulberry cakes made of the pressed berries and ground walnuts. Described as kind of wonder food,  I’d never seen it for sale. Yet everyone said it was common “winter food” when nothing fresh was available. Perhaps people made it themselves and it never got to market. That would be like breadfruit…abundant if you had it in your own backyard. My friend Najib began asking at markets. On the way home from Bamyan, we stopped at a dusty shop in a small market town. “Yes, they had it,” the shopkeeper thought. He’d have to look in the back. He came out carrying a dark purple brick wrapped in paper. I bought the entire thing. Asma and I thought we could replicate this recipe – or hire Afghans to make it – and sell it in America as a nutritious power bar. The wrapping would have pictures of camels in a caravan: Nomad Bars. My luggage was so heavy I asked Asma to carry it home for me, but it was confiscated at the airport. Alas.

I finally found it referenced in an old travelers book on Google, and a recipe from a friend’s website:

Afghan Mulberry and Walnut Snack Bars

Makes 16 small bars

½ lb. dried mulberries

½ lb. walnuts

¼ tsp. Kosher salt

2 tbsp. water

16 walnut halves

Put all of the ingredients in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and puree for 1 to 2 minutes until the ingredients form a thick, smooth, sticky paste.

Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with parchment or wax paper with the paper draping over two sides of the pan so you have something to hold onto when you remove the snack bars.

Put the mulberry/walnut mixture into the pan and firmly press it down evenly over the bottom of the pan. Distribute the walnut halves evenly over the snack bar mixture, gently pressing them into the bars, to make 4 even rows of 4 walnuts.

Refrigerate for an hour to firm up the bars. Using the edges of the wax paper, lift the mixture out of the pan and set it on a cutting surface. Use a sharp knife and cut it into 16 squares with a walnut in the center of each square. Store in a lidded container at room temperature, or the refrigerator if you prefer them cold.


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