June 14, 2021

Elliott Papineau

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How to Make Mulberry Barbecue Sauce

"You hardly need to go out looking for mulberries. They find you."

Around the summer solstice, my mind begins to shift from spring greens to dark, juicy berries. As strawberry season fades, green blackberries and raspberries are growing in the woods. We’re still a month or so from harvesting them, but another summer berry is already dropping all over yards, roads, and sidewalks.

You hardly need to go out looking for mulberries. They find you. Each year, I come across our first mulberries on my walks through the woods. Recently, I squashed one with my bare foot while shaking a pine needle out of my boot. As I looked up to the canopy, branches loaded with purple-black berries waved back in the wind.

I’m not much of a climber, so to gather the berries, I use a tarp. I lay it out on the ground under a tree, then toss a rope with a weight attached over a low-hanging branch. A few shakes and the berries rain down, pooling on the tarp below. I’ll repeat that a few times, under a few trees, and quickly gather all the berries I need.

Mulberries taste fine right off the tree—sweet and dark but not particularly nuanced. They aren’t as rewarding as the berries we’ll collect from the woods later this summer. We usually turn them into jam or jelly.

Recently, I turned our jelly into a barbecue sauce. The recipe came from a happy accident, as some of the best recipes do. I had started making jelly when I realized that I didn’t have any powdered pectin. I thought I might be able to adjust the sugar upward and reduce the juice further to get to a jelly texture, but I didn’t quite get there. So, left with a jar of thick mulberry syrup that tasted like jelly but wasn’t spreadable, I decided to get creative.

I thought of how well sweet peach and tomato pair with chile heat and allium bite. I diced some late-spring green onions, pulled dried togarashi and habanada peppers off the shelf, and made a mulberry barbecue sauce. It was easy. I sweated the onions in a pan.  I crushed the peppers into a coarse powder, added them to the onions, then added a splash of anise-infused apple cider vinegar and the jar of not-quite-jelly. I let that cook for about twenty minutes before blitzing it with an immersion blender, turning it into a sauce.

I was cooking pork that night. I salted the meat and splashed it with vinegar while I built my fire. I grilled it to an even brown. Then, using a handful of tarragon, I began brushing on my sweet-tart mulberry barbecue sauce. It caramelized one layer at a time as I flipped the cuts, building to a lacquer finish. When the pork finished cooking, I removed it to a wire rack, where I applied a finishing coat of sauce. I served it with fresh herbs and chopped pickled ramps. The table was set for a late dinner, and we popped some corks while we talked about the next day’s weather.

Simple Mulberry Barbecue Sauce

Simple Mulberry Barbecue Sauce

Makes about 1 cup

1 tbsp. neutral oil
3 spring onions, diced
3-4 of your favorite medium-hot dried chiles (preferably including smoked chiles), crushed, or a generous pinch pepper flakes
½ cup apple cider or rice wine vinegar (herb-infused, if you have it)
8 oz. mulberry jelly (see below)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Add oil to a large saucepan over medium-heat high. Add onions and sweat until translucent, 5-10 minutes. Add chilis and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Deglaze with vinegar and add mulberry jelly. Cook uncovered at a low simmer until reduced and thick, 15-20 minutes. Blend using an immersion blender or standard blender. Pair with pork or chicken, or make it a base for a barbecue pizza.

Mulberry Jelly

Makes about 1 quart

8 cups whole mulberries
½ cup water
¼ cup lemon juice (optional for sauce base, required for canning)
1  (1.75 oz.) box powdered pectin (optional for sauce base, required for jelly)
2-4 cups sugar (use 4 if canning)

Wash mulberries well. Remove stems.

Add mulberries and water to a large saucepan or stockpot over medium-low heat. As the fruit begins to break down, increase heat gradually, stirring and mashing the mixture. Once it reaches a low simmer, cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain out the juice. (Use a jelly bag or line a colander with 2-3 layers of cheesecloth.) You should end up with about 3 1/2 cups.

Add juice back to saucepan or stockpot with optional lemon juice and powdered pectin. Bring it to a rolling boil as quickly as possible. Add sugar, then return it to a boil for at least 1 minute. Pour into clean, hot jars. If canning, use half-pint or pint jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.


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