Here we go...:round
the mulberry bush with Mary Kemp
We have several trees in the garden, many that we have planted over the years, and several we have inherited, but my favourite one of all is the mulberry tree. When we first moved to the farm it was the only tree in the garden suitable to hang a swing from; beautifully shaped in an oldfashioned way and possibly as old as some of the original parts of the house.
Then, in the storm of 1987, it was the one tree by the house that was blown over. It just seemed to keel over. The trunk didn’t break and most of the boughs were still intact and, incredibly, it survived this ordeal, although we didn’t realise this until the following spring.
You often find many mulberry trees in prime positions by old halls and manor houses, and there often seem to be stories of how and why they came to be grown there.
This is a story I was told which, I would argue, could have a grain of truth to it. It dates back to James I who, in the in 1500s, envious of the French silk trade, decided he would use his considerable influence to create a silk industry in this country. So, he approached the King of France to supply him with young mulberry trees. By all accounts not too much research was put into this project and history shows it went comically wrong. The trees arrived and were planted and, whether by accident or design, (I will leave you to decide), the French sent over black mulberry trees to King James rather than the white, which are the ones silk worms prefer, and so the English silk industry never got going. This is why you may find mulberry trees growing by houses built around 1500s as landowners showed their allegiance to their King, and their support of his ill-fated project.
The mulberry fruit are dark oval berries that will stain your hands and your mouth and have a real tartness if you try them
too early. They used to lay dust sheets under the trees to catch the ripened fruit rather than end up with brightly-coloured fingers! The fruit makes wonderful jams and liqueurs.
The mature leaves are heart-shaped, and it is said that one of the last emperors of Constantinople called the southern extent of Greece the Morea, because it is the shape of a mulberry leaf.
Every year the mulberry is the last to show any form of life, being one of the last trees to come into leaf. In fact, it is so reliably late no leaf appears until the last frosts are over.
But it’s the one I am always relieved has survived another winter and it has just come into leaf in the last couple of weeks. I am not sure how old our tree is. I threaten every year to have someone date it. Our house has its origins in the 1500s and was originally called Falconers’ Manor.
If the story of James I is true, and this house was a manor, then perhaps our tree could be related to one planted at the request of the king all those centuries ago.
I’m sure those long-gone children of Falconers Manor found what a great climbing frame it made, as did generations of children following, thinking it was their big, secret discovery, as did our children and now our granddaughters. Their cries of delight echo with those of other children going back through the centuries, back to the time when King James thought a British silk industry was a good idea. Find out more about Mary Kemp’s cookery theatres, demonstrations and more recipes at marykemp.net
ABOVE: Fat, ripe mulberries; beware, their juice will stain fingers! Photo: Getty/ Joanna Tkaczuk