Foraging in The Ridge: Salmonberries

Foraging in The Ridge: Salmonberries

Spring has always been my favourite season.  As a girl, I absolutely loved watching the robins return to our backyard spruce trees and meltwater gush down the salt-stained streets.  That was life in Calgary.  

Springtime meant relief from frigid temperatures and stinky winter boots.  It meant crocuses.  It meant unexpected late frosts, which the farmers and gardeners would surely moan about.  

In Alberta, 10 degrees Celsius is capri weather and 15 degrees Celsius means that you'd better be in a skirt or shorts.  No excuses.  I still live by those rules.  

West coasters may be less hardy than our eastern neighbours, but we certainly know how to take advantage of the glorious sunshine.  At our house, the arrival of spring means the arrival of naked bums in the backyard.  And, bellies full of freshly picked wild salmonberries are just around the corner.

Wild berry picking is a cherished activity for our family, and salmonberries are easily one of our favourites.  They are the first berry to ripen in the Pacific Northwest.  And they are very similar to raspberries, albeit a little bit less sweet and seedier.  

If you'd like to pick local wild berries and haven't done so before, then salmonberries are a good one to gain confidence with.  They are easy to identify and the chance of mistaking them for something poisonous is virtually impossible.

Salmonberries love to grow in partial shade, near rivers or streams.  We have picked them locally in the following places, but this list is by no means inclusive.

- Kanaka Creek Riverfront
- Cliff Falls
- UBC Research Forest
- Osprey Landing / Shoreline Park
- Allco Park
- Golden Ears Provincial Park
- Maple Ridge Park

The plants can grow up to about 4m tall and have woody stems.  The best part about salmonberry picking, in comparison to other wild berries, is that their stems are not very thorny.  You don't have to worry about having your arms and legs shredded to bits or wearing long sleeves and pants in the sweltering sun.

I have to credit my husband for this great trick for identifying salmonberry bushes - the leaves grown in threes, with one at the stem's end and the other two creating the shape of a butterfly.  

The best way to become comfortable identifying any plant is to go with someone experienced, who can show you firsthand.  If that's not an option for you, I would suggest doing a Google search and checking out several images of the plants and berries, especially the cluster of three leaves, which is a dead give away.

Colour is not a good indicator of ripeness; salmonberries can be orange, pink or deep red when they are ripe.  Plumpness is the best indicator of ripeness and doing some taste testing is the easiest way to get the hang of this!

Salmonberries are best eaten fresh off the bush.  They do not keep well and they will not keep for more than a couple of days in the fridge.  If you do try to store them make sure not to stack them too deep as they are very fragile.

If you find that you've picked more berries than you can eat then you should be shamed.  Just kidding.  I have made jam with them and used them in baking but they really aren't the greatest berry for cooking endeavours.  Seriously, make room in your belly or give them to a friend.  Sharing berries is a great way to get people to win people over and to get your way!  Just ask my hubby... 😉

The number one thing that I want you to be mindful of when you are picking berries with your kids is bears.  Yep.  Where there are salmonberries, I absolutely promise you that there will be or have been bears in the area.  Like I said, salmonberries are the first wild berry to ripen and are thus, a delectable treat for our furry friends that have been hibernating and growing very hungry over the past few months.  Please be safe.  

On that note, please never pick an area totally clean.  Be mindful that we share this gorgeous environment with many creatures who rely on nature's bounty for their survival.  Take the time to teach your children a bit about the animals that live in the environment you are foraging from and teach them to be grateful that we live in such an incredible place. 

Happy berry picking!





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