Saturday, August 27, 2011

Salal jam! (No, it's not an alt-rock band.)

The other day, as Captain Midnight and I were out geocaching (as we are admittedly prone to doing), we came across this wooded section of the Microsoft campus that was covered in low-growing bushes, each bearing hanging stalks of little blue berries. I knew they weren't blueberries or huckleberries because I can spot both of those on sight, but they did look maddeningly familiar. I could have sworn I'd read about them in a book or seen them online. They had been described as edible, I was sure... but not so sure that I was willing to try one and see. Accidental self-poisoning death can ruin your whole weekend.

So I went home and commenced Looking Stuff Up (as I am also admittedly prone to doing). And BEHOLD! Gaultheria shallon! Salal berries! -- well, sepals actually, but there's no point kicking about definitions. Salal was a traditional staple food of most native tribes of the Pacific Northwest, so they're definitely edible. And tasty.

Today I went back with a container and picked about a pint of salal. Took them home, washed them up, proceeded to ponder what to do with them.

They're so dark they almost look like little cured olives.

Finally, I settled on salal jam as the likeliest culinary candidate for this batch. I tossed the berries into a saucepan, added a teeny bit of water and cooked them for a while...
...mashing them up as necessary to help them release all their juice. This made a beautiful dark purple slurry.

Since sugar is not a good idea for people with busted pancreatic function such as myself, I added some Truvia to the mix instead. (Substitute sugar or some other sweetener if you prefer; I just happen to like the taste of Truvia, especially with fruit.) You don't need much; salal berries are naturally sweet. I only added a tablespoon or so to this small batch. We'll see how my blood sugar responds to the final product.

Once I arbitrarily decided I was done with mashing the berries, I squeezed in the juice of half a lime (lemon would work fine too) and stirred well for a few more minutes. Then I strained the whole mixture through a sieve...

...and voila! Homemade forest jam. Dark maroon, mysterious, beautiful, sweet. If anything, a little too sweet. I think I'll try cooking one part cranberries to three parts salal next time and see how that turns out.

There are probably a number of things you could do with this jam: spoon it over pancakes, eat it on biscuits, use it as the center of a cake, or just make salal mousse.
I'll be tasting this in a few hours, when it's nice and chilled.


Rachel said...

How does it taste after it's been chilled?

Soozcat said...

It's not bad. A little too sweet still, but as I say, I think adding a little cranberry to the mix will improve any future batches.

The jam was also good stirred into Greek yogurt. Mmmm.