What’s it like to live on a mulberry farm in Thailand? Stunningly beautiful, spectacularly serene. And the homemade jam and bread were divine!
By Abra Atkison | Photos by Outpost/Michael Fraiman
Life is all about learning. It’s a non-fiction novel filled with chapters of lessons and adventures. During our journey, we’re meeting millions of people writing their own stories. We’re crossing paths, and some people only stay in our book for a few sentences, while others linger for chapters. Few stay for the entire story.
I’ve got my fingers crossed that Alek and Mike stay in my book forever.
Alek worked in the chaos of the corporate world for 17 years before coming to the realization that her life was boring, unhealthy, and quickly passing her by. If she wasn’t at work, she was at school. Her life was a mundane, repetitive, unfulfilling black hole.
However, one good thing did come from working in the city, and that was meeting her loving partner, Mike, a nutrition guru from England.
Together, they decided to bring their dreams to fruition. Alek quit her job as a grocery-store manager (“My friends told me I was crazy to quit!”) and built a home in the province of Phrae, in the district of Den Chai, right beside her parents. She and Mike started an organic mulberry farm that today produces a few other organic foods and products, such as coffee, mangoes, bananas, spices, silk, and a variety of vegetables.
But their main staples are the mulberries. From the berries, Alek makes and sells jam, jelly, shampoo, soap, yogurt, smoothies, and bread. We were lucky enough to make jam with her. Before I went to Thailand, I confess: I didn’t know what a mulberry was. I thought it might be similar to a blueberry, but it turns out it isn’t even close.
Actually, it’s a small cluster of tiny purple (almost black) berries. Before they’re ripe, they’re tart and bright red; once they’re ready, they’ll be sweet and juicy! This is the perfect time to make them into a jam and spread it on some fluffy, homemade multigrain bread, which is exactly what our hosts at the Den Chai Mulberry Farm did.
Alek, a kitchen wizard, whipped up some of the most hearty, delicious mulberry jam and bread in the world (a claim I make having never tried any other recipes, but still!). Alek also prunes the mulberry trees and sells the new roots and branches to people wishing to start their own piece of mulberry magic.
Along with their three adorable dogs, Rambo, Watermelon and Makki, the couple enjoys visitors from all over the world.
“It’s becoming the norm to come for a day and stay for a month,” says Mike. “People would come and help us with the farm, and we enjoyed it so much, we made it into a business.”
Alek and Mike are the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. You arrive as a stranger and leave as part of the family…that is, if you ever leave. The jungle bungalow (or “junglow,” as I’ve called it) overlooks the valley, and the front-porch hammock is the perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee while devouring some of the delicious bread and mulberry jam that Alek makes from scratch.
This would be a perfect time to mention the Thai meals that we experienced during our few days at the Den Chai mulberry farm. “You can’t even order these in a Thai restaurant,” Alek told me. “These are only homemade.”
Each night, she produced an impressive selection of various dishes. I was delighted when she offered to teach me a few things about Thai cooking. Using a wok, we fried silkworms (which are surprisingly great!), made vibrant curries and tom yum shrimp soup, a fragrant pork and mushroom stir fry, spicy papaya salad and the best chicken wings fried in oyster sauce I’ve ever eaten!
The term “a gem in the jungle” is apt here, describing both the farm and Alek herself. This was an amazing experience that warmed my heart and opened my mind. The minimalist way of life that they’ve embraced has brought them so much happiness, and their admiration towards their daily life is contagious.
We reluctantly said our goodbyes with promises to be back again soon, and I can say wholeheartedly that I hope to make that promise come true. In the meantime, I knew I’d want to replicate the experience at home, and asked Alek for her recipes. Here they are, so you can enjoy them, too.
Alek’s Mulberry Jam Recipe
- 1 kilogram of frozen mulberries
- 1 cup lemon juice
- 200 grams brown sugar
- 2 tbsp. pectin (she uses organic, even though it’s far more expensive)
- In a bowl, combine frozen mulberries (washed, cleaned and roughly broken into small pieces) and lemon juice
- In another bowl, combine sugar and pectin
- Add sugar/pectin mixture to the mulberries
- Pour mixture into pot and bring to a boil
- Once boiling, lower the heat and simmer for approximately 40 minutes
- While mixture is simmering, boil and sterilize jars and lids
- After 40 minutes, put mixture into jars and tighten lids. Let sit for 30 minutes, or until room temperature and then store in freezer
Note: we got approximately 12 250-milliltre jars from this recipe.
Alek’s Multigrain Mulberry Bread Recipe
- 2 cups white flour
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 3 tbsp. brown sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. yeast
- 1.5 cups of warm water
- 2 tbsp. of oil
- A few handfuls of any seeds you like (Alek uses sunflower, sesame, raisins, and dried mulberries)
- Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Fahrenheit
- Mix all ingredients together. If using a bread maker to mix dough, use medium speed. Do not over process the dough.
- Once dough is formed, cut into chunks of 550 grams and push into greased bread/loaf pan, making sure to push all air bubbles out
- Let the bread rest for about three to five minutes, then put into oven
- Bake for 20 to 30 minutes
Note: Temperatures, rise times and cook times may vary in different countries due to humidity and elevation differences; this recipe worked great for Alek, but she lives in a mountainous humid forest region of northern Thailand, so don’t be surprised if you need to adjust the baking time to suit your own home.