I have a question: do kids today still keep silkworms as pets?
I remember my first batch as if it were yesterday.
For one dollar, I received twelve delicate white grubs, a bag of mulberry leaves for them to munch on, and a shoebox with holes poked in the top – for shelter and ease of transport.
I think they might have lived in the kitchen and each day I would change their leaves and maybe pick up one to let it creep up my hand, tickling me with its feet as it went. That is all they did in the first phase of their lifecycle.
As a 6 year old, I was preoccupied with important things like learning to ride a bike and working out ways to get out of eating Brussels sprouts and what not - these were the perfect, low maintenance pets for me at the time. Before long, they started spinning delicate but dense silk cocoons and I had twelve little butter-yellow pods that really did nothing much but roll around the shoebox when I tilted it.
It goes downhill from there; from the sunny balls of silk hatched some rather sad looking pale moths. The moths laid some tiny eggs, aaaand that is where I lost interest.
A year or so later my family moved to a house that had its very own mulberry tree in the backyard. I had moved on to tadpoles by then and was therefore way more interested in gorging myself on the berries until I was sick rather than bothering to check if any silkworms lived in the tree.
Occasionally I would come across a tart, watery one - those were perfect for throwing at my brother. Then I would find a plump, sweet and juicy specimen, and life, for that brief moment, couldn’t get any better.
My lovely friend Maddy had a glut of mulberries recently from the tree in her backyard. She gave me a large container of them, which instantly transported me back to the time I have just told you about. Unfortunately, I was in a haze of assignments for the course I attend at night, so the mulberries had to be frozen until I could give them my full attention.
Enter this gently quivering panna cotta. The buttermilk gives it a tang that works beautifully with the rich, syrupy mulberries spooned over the top. I was heavy handed with the vanilla beans, adding the seeds to both the panna cotta and the berries because if you've got them, flaunt them – am I right?
The panna cotta was slightly adapted from a Donna Hay recipe, and I have to say, it had the best texture I have every experienced in a panna cotta. It wasn’t too firm, but it was set with a quiver. It was almost as if it were quivering with delight at the prospect of being united with the mulberries, which stained its top a deep, ruby red.
Panna Cotta recipe adapted from Donna Hay
Makes approximately 6 servings, depending on your moulds.
For the Panna Cotta
1/3 cup warm water
3 teaspoons powdered gelatine
1 cup single cream
1 cup caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
1½ cups milk
1½ cups buttermilk
Pour the water and gellatine in a bowl, stir to combine and then set aside for a few minutes or until the gelatine is absorbed.
in a medium saucepan, pour in the cream, vanilla extract, and sugar. Split the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds and add them to the mix, toss in the pod
and stir over a moderate heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Bring to the boil for 1 minute and then add the gelatine.Stir to combine.
Remove from the heat and strain into a bowl - I used a large pyrex jug and this made it easier to transfer to my moulds.
Stir through the milk and buttermilk and divide the mixture between your vessels of choice and refrigerate for a minumum of 4 hours, but overnight is best.
When you are ready to serve, either turn the panna cotta out onto a serving plate and top with the berries, or leave them in the mould (a much less scary idea) and spoon the berries on top that way.
For the Mulberries
This will produce more than you need. But don't fret! These are amazing spooned over vanilla ice-cream.
500g Mulberries - can be substituted for blackberries if need be.
1/2 cup honey
1 cup red vermouth
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
Add all ingredients to a medium saucepan and stir over a moderate heat until the berries burst and release their juice. Turn the heat up to high and stir for 10 minutes. The berries will be soft, there will be rich, ruby red liquid and your kitchen will smell amazing.
Take the berries off the heat and set aside to cool.
Once cool, serve spooned over the panna cotta.