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.

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