A South Australian farmer is pioneering new methods of growing an “almost forgotten” fruit, to bring mulberries to new generations to enjoy their unique flavours.
- Mr Szabo invented his own farming model to machine harvest mulberries
- Mulberries are difficult to find in Australian supermarkets
- Mr Szabo is one of the only farmers growing the fruit commercially
A viticulturist by trade, Peter Szabo started growing mulberries at his farm in Kingston on Murray in South Australia’s Riverland region from a single backyard tree six years ago.
After running into trouble selling fresh mulberries, which are prone to grey mould issues, have a short shelf life and a need for handpicking, he decided to invent his own farming model.
“I have taken the mulberry tree and espaliered it onto a trellis system where I can machine-harvest the berries.”
As one of Australia’s only commercial mulberry growers, Mr Szabo now tends to 4 hectares of mulberry fruit and is set to produce 50 tonnes of fruit next year and his commitment to increase the knowledge and popularity of the ancient berry is strong.
Once he machine-harvests his mulberries, he packs and freezes them for bulk fruit sales to juicing companies and food manufacturers across the country.
Crafting unique flavours
About a decade ago, the original owners of Australia’s first dedicated gin distillery on Kangaroo Island started integrating mulberries into a gin, after drawing inspiration from the island’s first mulberry tree planted in 1836.
“Ten years ago, they were doing 10-20 litres at a time, now we are doing 1,300 litres at a time and using 4.5 tons of mulberries in a year,” chief distiller at the Kangaroo Island Distillery Charlie Schmidt said.
While they initially sourced all mulberries grown from backyard trees on Kangaroo Island they soon had to find mulberry farmers to supply more fruit to create their gin.
To craft the desired flavour profiles, the mulberries need to be picked at the right time.
“We want that level of ripeness where it is not overripe and so soft that it falls apart, but also not where you pick it too early and it comes with a lot of tartness and bitterness,” Mr Schmidt said.
“There is that fine line between the two where it is just right, where the right flavour comes through.”
Preserving memories in a jar
Besides distillers, artisan jam makers like Adelaide-based Amanda Penno love preserving flavours and memories in a jar.
Eager to bridge the gap between generations she is doing her part to lift the fruit’s profile.
To keep the flavour of mulberries as honest and authentic to the fruit, she crafts each jam in small batches.
“The mulberry jam flavour is a really special and unique flavour to mulberries and the people that have had mulberries in their childhood absolutely love it because it brings back a lot of memories,” she said.
Beyond the flavour, Mr Szabo believed the versatile berry also served as a natural colourant.
“If you compare it to red wine in our region we probably have a colour density of about five to seven, mulberries are 35,” he said.
“They are really colour dense and have heaps of opportunities for it.”
“We are still very much a fledgling industry, but they can go in a whole wide range of things, so I see demand just escalating because we haven’t even tried to put them into ice-creams and yoghurts.”