Monday, June 25, 2012

Rubus Jam

After my disappointing experience with the meh-ness of wild Salmonberry jam, I decided to give the berry another chance. I want to love Salmonberries so badly; they're beautiful, are nutritious, and this time of year, they're everywhere in the Pacific Northwest. So, rather than return to Dabney State Park and avoid falling into Stinging Nettle (like the last time), I went back to the grove  I discovered locally, and began to pick.

As an excited forager, perhaps I was too hasty in my previous Salmonberry-picking. The berries I picked in the grove seemed a little more palatable... perhaps they were a little more ripe... although they're still not in the same league as the sole ripe Thimbleberry I was able to get my hands on. I picked a mug full of the golden beauties, and then returned home to make jam. Only, instead of having a 100 percent Salmonberry jam, I mixed it with another member -- albeit a more famous member of the Rubus genus -- tasty raspberries! I planted raspberry bushes in the garden a couple of years ago; best gardening decision I've ever made.

My recipe:

1 1/2 cups Raspberries
1 cup Salmonberries
some lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon of honey
a bit of pectin, if desired

Gently wash and pick over berries, and mash them in a saucepan. As they cook, add a bit of lemon juice (I added about half of a lemon's juice) and then I added 1 cup of sugar. Add a bit of pectin if desired, about two tablespoons or so. Bring the jam to a boil for several minutes. Turn off the surface, and allow the jam to cool before storing.

This jam works; there's no strange aftertaste, and it has just the right amount of tart.The end result of Rubus jam yields an absolutely delicious and fantastic jam. Booyakasha!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Shea Lemon Soap

"Science. What is it all about? Technology, what is that all about? Is it good, or is it whack?"

Science rocks. In college I always loved lab work particularly, as it's so fun to get down and "do" science. "Makin' soap is classic chemistry, yo!"  (Said in my best Ali G voice with a hand flick.) After studying soapmaking books for months and especially learning from the great "Soap Queen" Anne-Marie Faiola (owner of the fabulous Brambleberry.com where you can get alllllllll your soapmaking supplies and then some), I made my very first soap! The experimental batch I made is a lovely pale yellow soap made with shea butter and lemon. Natural, toxic-free, healthy soaps FTW!

My Shea Lemon soap. It's alllllll natural, baby.

My recipe, using metric units... yes, metric:

136 grams extra virgin olive oil
136 grams organic coconut oil
90 grams organic shea butter
90 grams "rainforest friendly" palm oil
170 grams water
62 grams lye

After the soap traced, I added lemon and lemongrass essential oils to the batch. In future batches with this specific recipe, I'll be adding d-alpha-tocopherol (natural Vitamin E) as a slight natural preservative, and also lemon butter.

Success with another arrow in the quiver!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Salmonberry Jam

After visiting Dabney state park for a hike, and seeing the golden Salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis) dispersed throughout the Sandy River's landscape, I was really excited to get my jam-making groove on and make a batch. The berries are simply beautiful with colors ranging from gold to salmon to scarlet.  Salmonberries were an important food source for northwest Tribes; historically, Native Americans ate the sprouts peeled, or steam cooked the sprouts with dried salmon. Rubus spectabilis served medicinal purposes as well for Native Americans.

For two days I hiked around the area to pick them -- carefully avoiding Stinging Nettle and spiders -- and after all that foraging, I couldn't wait to turn the berries into a jam, and spread the stuff on my toast.

Salmonberry at Dabney State Park, Oregon.

As for the flavor of Salmonberries, well, they vary in taste, and can be described as "insipid." While they've never had that "wow" factor for me, I never thought they were flavorless (in my experience, the taste can range from semi-sweet to "woodsy", but they can have a strange aftertaste).

Once picked, Salmonberries can get mushy. While not as delicate as Thimbleberries, they're best eaten right away, and I've read berry books (Janie Hibler's The Berry Bible) that state making a jam with them isn't recommended. Contrary to this, though, others have had success. I don't often use pectin when making jam, but I did use it while using this recipe.

Fresh Salmonberries, ready for jam-making.

Well, I finally made a batch, and as I tasted it, I felt a little disappointed. The flavor isn't bad per se, but it's  just.. meh. As with their fresh form, the jam likewise has that same interesting aftertaste... something I can't really pinpoint, but it's a bit of a bitter taste that sugar can't completely conceal. A different batch may yield a better flavor, but my culinary conclusion is that, while aesthetically appealing and also edible, Salmonberries don't make the best jam. Perhaps mixing the Salmonberries with another member of the Rubus genus (e.g., raspberries) would aid in making a better and tastier jam.

And yet, the soon-to-ripen Thimbleberry will be available (and those berries are simply delicious), so I'm starting to feel excited to forage once again.

For more information, please check out the book, Wild Berries of the West by Betty B. Derig and Margaret C. Fuller.