Sometimes in the winter, I dream of salmonberries, while waiting for the first pink salmonberry blossom to unfold from budding bushes. Yes, salmonberry season is months from now, but winter is time to be dreaming up what I can cook with them. If you’re like me, you’ve picked a bucket or two or three filled with salmonberries last summer and have put them up in the freezer for use all year long. What’s not to love about was’x’aan tléigu (Lingít) and everything made with them?
Southeast Alaskan salmonberries are hardy, but their yearly crop does depend upon weather and other factors like location. The future salmonberry harvest will depend on what kind of winter we have, which varies from town to town. After the first cold spell, the berry bushes need lots of snow to protect them from later freezes. The blanket of snow protects the plant’s roots and acts as nature’s pruner, breaking down the older bushes so the new growth can come through.
At Mickey’s Fishcamp, my dad and I pick berries all summer to gift to other elders and people who can’t get out. We gift them fresh and also frozen so people can use them all year long. I usually use freezer baggies, or you can vacuum seal them in plastic or even reused containers. Make sure you write the date on them. Frozen salmonberries can last for a year or more. Probably the easiest way to eat frozen salmonberries in winter is to toss a handful into your favorite smoothies.
Salmonberries make good snacks too. When fresh, dip the individual salmonberries in your favorite yogurt and freeze them on a tray. You might have to use a small spoon to cover the berry entirely. When frozen, put them in a baggie and keep them handy in the freezer for whenever you need a nutritious snack.
In the middle of winter, when you’re tired of shoveling snow, or waiting out the latest cold spell, it’s nice to dream of warmer days. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your favorite lemonade or iced tea in the winter. Salmonberry lemonade is one of my favorite lemonade flavors. Follow your favorite lemonade recipe and use about ½- 1 cup of salmonberry juice and sweeten to taste. (Juice is made from boiling berries then straining them). You can also add frozen salmonberries to a glass of water to make flavored water. You can mix with other berries and spruce tips. No sugar. Easy enough! Make salmonberry iced tea too. See the recipe below.
Salmonberries are versatile in baking. You can substitute salmonberries for raspberries or blackberries. Sometimes, though, because salmonberries are juicy, you need to adjust the recipe’s liquid content and consider if you should add the berries frozen or fresh. I’ve made salmonberry muffins, salmonberry bread (use your favorite banana bread recipe and substitute salmonberries). I’ve made salmonberry scones, salmonberry ice cream, and more. Add salmonberries to your oatmeal or pancake batter. Make salmonberry oatmeal cookies or salmonberry bar cookies. This winter, I made salmonberry bow-tie cookies and salmonberry teacakes too. I make salmonberry sweet rolls and salmonberry donuts. Salmonberry butter is delicious too. Perfect on crackers, pilot bread or anything else.
Of course, everyone’s favorite is salmonberry jam or jelly. Salmonberries are versatile and can be blended with other berries to make some delicious artisan flavors: salmonberry/blueberry jelly; salmonberry/fireweed jelly; salmonberry/spruce tip jelly; and salmonberry/rhubarb jam or salmonberry blueberry jam. There are lots of combinations using local berries.
When deciding what to make with your salmonberries in winter, think outside the box, or should I say berry bucket. Salmonberries make wonderful sauces for sushi, and you can glaze a ham with salmonberry sauce.
So, when you long for summer in the winter, go pull out the baggie of was’x’aan tléigu from your freezer. Mix a few salmonberries in your water or tea, make some salmonberry cookies or scones. Here are a few recipes I’ll share with you. Now, get busy baking and creating with salmonberries in winter. Don’t forget to share with Elders and people who couldn’t get out to pick berries last summer.
Was’x’aan tléigu/Salmonberry Artisan Butter
3 cups of heavy cream
5 tablespoons ice water
1 tsp salt
¼-½ cup salmonberries, chopped
*You can add a couple teaspoons of chopped spruce tips
Pour the cold heavy cream into the food processor. On high, whip until the cream separates. At about two minutes you’ll see the mixture start to thicken but keep going. This takes about 4-5 minutes until you’ll see clumpy solids AND liquid (buttermilk) in the processor. Now pour in the ice-cold water. You should see it separate more so you’ll have buttermilk liquid and the butter.
Pour off the buttermilk and save for other recipes.
Now scoop the butter into a cheesecloth or use a clean cloth. With clean hands squeeze the butter until there’s no more buttermilk in it.
Place the butter in a bowl and add your salt and mix in some chopped salmon berries. You can use the cheesecloth again for mixing in berries with your hands. Shape the butter into logs or bricks or put it in your favorite butter bowl. Refrigerate. You can keep your artisan butter in the fridge for up to 6 weeks.
Whipped Butter Spread
Bring your homemade salmonberry butter to room temperature and add ¼ cup powdered sugar or some honey and with an electric mixer whip it up into a buttery spread.
Was’x’aan tléigu/Salmonberry Scones
2 cups flour
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup of butter, firm not softened (can substitute 2 tablespoons of plain yogurt for the butter)
1 egg (can substitute two tablespoons of mayo for the egg)
4 (up to 6) tablespoons of whipping cream or (can substitute can milk or even almond/coconut milk blend)
½ tsp vanilla
1/2 to 1 cup salmonberries, frozen and then slightly thawed and strained, chopped or whole
Optional: add chopped spruce tips, or 1/2 teaspoon spruce tip juice (add a little extra flour to compensate for the extra liquid)
In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Using a fork or pastry blender, cut in small chunks of the butter until the flour looks like small crumbles. Stir in the egg (or yogurt), cream or milk substitute, and vanilla. Fold in the salmonberries. Don’t overmix.
Lightly flour the counter and knead the dough three or four times. Don’t over handle the dough. Place the dough (it will be soft) onto your cookie sheet and pat it out with your hand into a circle about 6 to 8 inches around and 2 inches thick. (You can use parchment paper on the cookie sheet or leave it ungreased.) There may be enough dough to make two circles. Take a sharp knife and dip it into some flour to coat then cut the circle of dough into wedges while leaving the circle intact. Do not separate the wedges!
Brush the dough with a bit of milk and sprinkle with sugar crystals or chopped spruce tips. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown. Remove from the cookie sheet immediately.
Was’x’aan tléigu (Salmonberry) Iced Tea
Makes one gallon
10-12 teabags of your choice
½ to one cup of sugar or honey
½ to one cup of salmonberry juice
Additions: whole spruce tips, fireweed blossoms, or berries
In a two-quart pot, bring water to a boil. Turn off the burner and add 10-12 teabags to the water. Press teabags down with a wood or plastic spoon. Let the teabags steep for 3-4 minutes, but no longer. Squeeze the teabags while removing them from the liquid. Add sugar or honey. Stir until dissolved.
Let the tea cool before transferring to a one-gallon container. Add the salmonberry juice then continue to fill the container with water until you reach one gallon.
For salmon berry juice: in a small saucepan bring four cups of water and two cups of salmonberries to boil. Simmer for about ten min or until your frozen berries have broken down. You can use a potato masher to press more juice from the berries. Strain the berries and water into a clean bowl or large container. It’s OK to have a few mushy berries and seeds in your tea. Save the berry water and set aside and save the salmonberry pulp. Both pulp and juice may be frozen for later use.
• Wrangell writer and artist Vivian Faith Prescott writes “Planet Alaska: Sharing our Stories” with her daughter, Yéilk’ Vivian Mork. It appears twice per month in the Capital City Weekly.