Today I was deep in a salmonberry patch, gently pushing the canes aside, stepping between, over, and through the tall bushes. I looked up to see berries above my head and slipped back to when I was five years old. My grandfather stood beside me in the salmonberry bushes beside his house on Millar Street in Ketchikan. I pointed up at a plump, red berry, and he lifted me up so that I could pick it. I showed him the gem, a shaft of sunlight making it glow in my palm, and he asked me what I thought it would taste like. I popped it into my mouth, said, “Good!” and pointed to another one.
I've always loved wild berries.
Like my friend Pete says, "Nothing healthier than a berry-faced kid. "
In early May the salmonberry blossoms are pretty pink promises. They are an edible trail snack, but I prefer the berries, so I leave the flowers on the bushes. Once pollinated the petals drop off, and hard, green berries start to form.
In mid to late June the berries start to ripen. Salmonberries are red, orange, or yellow, are sweet when ripe, and have lots of seeds.
Salmonberries don’t ripen all at once, extending the season.
So far this season has been sunny, and the salmonberry crop is excellent – fat, juicy berries,and lots of them. My sweetheart and I went picking in a spot where the bushes were even over his head, and he is tall. Some of the berries are already overripe, but there were plenty of perfect berries for us. He picks into an ice cream bucket strung on his belt. I like to use a sturdy plastic fruit bag, but have to be very careful not to snag it…or me. Salmonberry bushes, being a part of the rose family, have thorns.
I roll the ripe berries off of the bush with light fingertip
pressure. They are soft, with shiny skins. Firm berries that
want to stay on the bush are not ripe, and berries with dull skins are
overripe. There is just no use in picking either of those. Perfectly ripe berries are sweet and flavorful.
Salmonberries must be cared for immediately. They crush in the berry bucket if they are over a few inches deep, or if they get too warm. Like raspberries, salmonberries can mold or ferment quickly. For making juice and jelly we pack them into gallon bags, juice and all (there will be juice in the bottom of the berry bucket!), and freeze them. After freezing they give up more juice than fresh berries.
When I make salmonberry juice I run the berries through a chinois, pressing as much pulp and skin through as I can. A few seeds escape, too, so I strain the juice once more, through a mesh sieve. It is good straight, over ice, or can be mixed with sparkling apple cider for a little fizziness.
Maybe this year I will have a little self control, and save some juice to make jelly.
Do you like red, orange, or yellow salmonberries best?
Not all berries are meant to make it into the berry bucket. Straight into the mouth! Yum!
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