If you live in the Pacific Northwest and manage to get out for a walk in the woods now and again, you’ll most likely know salal. It’s everywhere on this coast!
The young and shiny yet tough tips of the plant are harvested for use in floral arrangements all over the world. But before the florists, salal was prized more for its berries, gathered at this time of year by the native people of the area. Although seedy, the berries (actually swollen sepals) are naturally sweet and one of the more delicious foraged foods straight off the plant.
In fact, you’ll find a lot of competition for salal berries right now. Birds love them, and so do bears. We don’t have any bears on our island, but we do have an INFESTATION of deer, and they’re big on the berries, let me tell you.
Foraging for food can be dangerous, so be careful — even once you’ve got it back to the kitchen — after a morning spent making jelly, my fingertips are stained indigo, and there’s a couple of spots on the backsplash that aren’t coming off.
Watch for bears and wear an apron. That’s all I’m saying.
Today’s subject in their natural environment. These are some of the cleaner berries I’ve seen. It seems spiders like to weave in the salal, so be prepared to have cobwebs in your hair and on your hands. I also picked off a lot of deer hair, so look for tall bushes and take a wire coat hanger along to pull the berries down to picking height.
While we’re on the subject of what to take along, make sure you also include gloves, scissors and a bucket. Your hands will be glad for the protection, with the scissors you can clip a whole row of berries at once, and if you’re going to go to all this work, a firm-sided container is necessary to keep your harvest safe. A bag just won’t cut it when you’re banging through the brush.
Look for salal growing in partial shade — they bear bigger and juicier berries. And go now. The wildlife is consuming the treasure as we speak! I’ve found some sources that say salal berries are sweeter after a frost or two, but I’ve never seen berries on a plant around here after September.
I blame the deer. But then again, I blame the deer for a lot of things.
That’s because I want to eat them.
That last statement may get me in trouble with some of my neighbours. ;)
S is for Salal!
Once you’re back home, carefully clip each of the berries off at the base of the stem. Do not try to pull the berries off the stem — first of all, they stain. Remember? Secondly, you’ll lose the heart of each berry if you try to pull them off the stem, and because this is a jelly everything is going to get strained out eventually, anyway.
A tie-dyer’s dream! After today, and having done absolutely no research before I say this, I’m pretty sure that the people native to the Pacific Northwest, after extracting all of the food and nutrition value from these berries, must have used the fruit pulp to die clothing and baskets the most beautiful colour purple.
Because make no mistake — if this juice touches skin, fabric or painted surfaces, it’s going to take a lot of washing to get it off, if it comes off at all. Trust me, I speak from experience.
To keep my jelly as local as possible (spot the food geek), I used the better part of a bottle of 2009 Bianco from Pender’s own Morning Bay Vineyard. If you’re not from around here, pick your favourite dry white and go with that.
: This near-black, rich wine jelly is subtly sweet and lightly spiced — the perfect accompaniment to cheese or game.
- Salal Berries, washed & stems clipped – 6 Cups
- Dry White Wine – 2 Cups
- Fennel Seeds – ½ tsp
- Peppercorns – 6
- Bay Leaves – 2
- Sugar – ¼ Cup
- Low-Sugar Pectin – 2 tsp
- Bring the berries, wine, fennel seeds, peppercorns and bay leaves to the boil in a large saucepan over med-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium for a low boil and cook 10 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and squash the berries with a potato masher. Strain the juice through a jelly bag or a fine-mesh strainer lined with dampened coffee filters or cheesecloth into a clean saucepan. Press on the berries with the back of a spoon to extract all of the juice, then discard the fruit pulp. (You should have 2½-3 cups salal berry juice.)
- Mix the sugar and pectin together in a small bowl.
- Bring the juice back to the boil over med-high heat. Stir in the pectin/sugar mixture and stir vigorously for 2 minutes over the heat. Remove from the heat and taste for sweetness. Add and stir in more sugar if required.
- Skim the surface to remove impurities, then pour into sterilised 1-cup mason jars, leaving ¼” headspace.
- Cap the jars with self-sealing lids, then screw on the rings until just hand tight. Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes, then allow the jars to cool to room temperature and test to make sure the lids have sealed before screwing the rings tight.
- If you’re new to preserving/canning, I recommend reading your way through this site before you start any project: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_07/prep_jam_jelly.html – it’s a goldmine for newbies (and full of great reminders for veterans too).
- I used Pomona brand pectin. There are other low-sugar pectins out there, but my preferred brand is Pomona — it always works for me, and although it’s a little more expensive, you use less. It all works out in the end.
- A basket style strainer and coffee filter combo is the speediest way to get the job done. My cone-style filter got clogged with the thousands of tiny salal seeds and took a long time to drain.
Preparation time: 15 minute(s)
Cooking time: 20 minute(s)
Copyright © © 2009-2011 Island Vittles/Theresa Carle-Sanders. All rights reserved. Don’t Steal — Karma’s Real.