I spent last week hiking along rivers and coastal cliffs of Oregon, stopping along the way to feast on wild blackberries, thimbleberries, huckleberries, and one berry that I'd never heard of before – the salal. Have you ever tasted the salal berry?
On the first day of hiking, I encountered these bluish-black berries growing high above a windswept beach and, suspecting that they might be edible, I plucked a branch to take back for research. I discovered that these berries of the salal bush (Gaultheria shallon) were not merely edible but had a surprising depth of flavor. They tasted like sweet blueberries with a hint of Concord grape, and were not too seedy. Much to my delight, I continued to find salal bushes throughout Oregon's coastal and river regions, and August to September is the peak season for these berries.
In my experience, the darkest, bluest berries were tastiest; berries with a red tint were somewhat astringent. I especially prized salal berries growing on bushes facing the coast – they were plump with a faint trace of salt that heightened their sweetness. They made wonderful hiker's treats and I gathered enough to make a small jar of jam to take home as a souvenir.
Salal berries may be found on the West Coast of the Americas from Northern California to British Columbia and various cooks have used them in jam, syrup, pie, and wine. Do you have any tips for salal berry foraging or recipes?