A lot of my family members must’ve been getting busy in August because we have a whole lot of May birthdays around here (including my mom, brother, husband, brother-in-law, aunt, cousin, and a set of grandparents). At the end of May, I got the chance to celebrate my mom’s birthday with her in North Carolina en route to a friend’s wedding. A proper birthday cake was in order.

A few years ago, in true biology-teacher’s-daughter fashion, I discovered a ton of mulberry trees lining a park at the end of our street. Chances are that you’ve passed mulberry trees without knowing it. To find one, you need only look down. The ripe berries fall to the ground, creating a big, purple stain on any surface underneath. Most varieties of the mulberry fruit start out white/light green and turn red before becoming deep purple when fully ripe. They look an awful lot like blackberries hanging from a tree.

Right before my trip to North Carolina, I crept through the woods with my camera and a bucket to forage berries. The mildly sweet flavor of the mulberry isn’t the best for plain snacking, but it really shines when concentrated down into a jam. I thought it’d be a perfect filling for a cake.

For mom’s cake, the mulberry jam got sandwiched between layers of a simple buttermilk cake (from this NYT recipe) and frosted with chèvre buttercream. She always insisted on making our birthday cakes–icing included–from scratch. I was excited to return the favor this year! On a whim, I tried swapping goat cheese for cream cheese in our family’s go-to icing recipe. I’m so glad I did! It adds a lovely dimension to this super simple, 3-ingredient icing. To make a cake similar to mine, use 2 cups of berry preserves or fig jam for filling with the cake mentioned above (no judgment if you get jam from the store).

As a perfectionist, I find it’s best to aim for the rustic approach when icing and decorating cakes; no need to obsess over making it perfectly smooth. I used a handful of gardenias and sprigs of lavender from mom’s garden for fragrant garnishes. Berries and/or sprigs of herbs also make easy decorations (be sure to add berries at the last minute, though).