Juicy and prolific in the wild, salmonberries are the first berries of spring, appearing on shrubs throughout the Pacific Northwest and parts of Alaska and Canada. Eat them straight from the plant or use them in baked goods and drinks as you would blackberries or raspberries. They're more tart than other berries and are often found in jams and preserves, too, as a way to enjoy these delicate fruits past their seasonal availability.
What Are Salmonberries?
Salmonberries, sometimes called thimbleberries or Alaskan berries, are a type of fruit that's similar in size and shape to raspberries. Known as Rubus spectabilis, salmonberries are actually a species of rose. The fruits are native to the west coast of North America, growing from west-central Alaska to California and can be found inland as far as Idaho.
Unlike raspberries, though, salmonberries range in color from yellow to orange and red. There are few theories surrounding the origin of the name. It's been said the name directly acknowledges the salmon-like hue of some of the berries, or because the flowering shrubs they often grow on are found near water where salmon spawn. Another theory is that the name refers to the fact that they're traditional Indigenous food often eaten with salmon. Whatever the real story behind their name, these berries are a delicious delicacy of early spring.
How to Use Salmonberries
While you can eat salmonberries raw, many people don't enjoy all the edible seeds salmonberries contain. The most popular way to consume salmonberries is to turn them into jams or jellies. After washing the berries, boil them over medium to low heat. You don't have to strain the seeds out of them, but many people do. You can also bake salmonberries into dishes such as pies, tarts, and crumbles or turn them into syrups.
What Do They Taste Like?
Salmonberries have a more subtle flavor than their blackberry and raspberry cousins. They're tart with a bit of mild sweetness; the taste is reminiscent of rhubarb.
While you can eat salmonberries raw, you might not always want to because they can be tart. This means they make excellent preserves and compotes, which require sugar. If you can't find many recipes that include them, you can always substitute salmonberries for blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries in most recipes. You might have to adjust the sugar levels accordingly, depending on the combination of berries that you're using; salmonberries are typically more tart than raspberries and blackberries. Don't be afraid to taste them.
- Basic Recipe for Fresh Fruit Syrup
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Where to Buy Salmonberries
If you live in one of the places where salmonberries grow, you'll likely find them April through June at farmers' markets or even growing in the wild if you're lucky. If you are foraging, make sure you know what you're picking before consuming.
If you live outside of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, Newfoundland, and anywhere else salmonberries grow, it'll be nearly impossible for you to buy them raw. They are delicate and highly perishable and therefore, like raspberries and blackberries, don't store or transport well. You can, however, find salmonberry in the form of jam. Sometimes it'll be in the same aisle as condiments of big supermarkets or chain stores; otherwise, you can purchase it online.
Rinse salmonberries before storing them. You can lay them in flat wide containers that can be stacked three to four layers high, with damp paper towels. In the fridge, they'll keep for 2 to 3 days.
If you notice them beginning to get a tint of brown, it's time to cook or freeze them. Freeze them by laying them flat in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with wax paper, and placing them in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer them to an airtight storage container (or freezer-safe zip-close bag) and return them to the freezer. They'll stay edible for up to two years.