Hello again. I hope you are keeping well and enjoying the summer. I have made an interesting discovery since my last post. The berries I thought I had growing in my garden (and have been cooking for a few years each Summer) are not Aronia berries after all, they are in fact Salal or Shallon berries. Fortunately for me, they are edible – thank goodness! The shrub, like the blueberry, is part of the heather (Ericaceae) family and is called Gaultheria; it hails from north-west America, and seems very much at home here in central Scotland.
Gaultheria Shallon is evergreen and likes acidic soil. It is pretty invasive and has a tendency to spread all over the place. It throws up suckers which can be quite challenging to restrain. This August the shrubs in my garden have produced a bumper crop of berries which I (and the blackbirds) have been able to enjoy safe in the knowledge that I actually know what I’m cooking this year (!). The berries are deep purple and fleshy when ripe and have a soft bristly skin. They are quite difficult to pick individually so I pick small bundles and then strip the berries off the stalks later on.
When ripe, Salal berries are very soft and squishy. They are attached to the main stalk by tiny woody ends. I have found that using scissors to pull the berries from the stalks is quite successful. If you don’t mind blue-stained fingers, then you can also gently pinch them off. To eat, the skin is very tender and the centre of the berry is very pulpy and full of tiny seeds. The flavour is much like a watery blueberry but without the slight acidity/tannins in the skin. Salal berries have a high Vitamin C content and the leaves have anti-inflammatory properties, although I have yet to try this out.
After stripping the berries from the stalks, I put them in a large colander (strainer) and dunk them a few times in a large bowl of cold water. This gets rid of dust and the little bits of leaf and stem which get through your fingers. To cook with them, I treat them as I would blueberries but they do benefit from adding a little acidity such as lemon juice, which gives them a little extra tanginess.
If you are able to find some Salal berries or if you have them growing in your garden and didn’t realise what they were, I have a couple of basic recipes to share with you. The first is a very basic jam recipe (naturally gluten-free and vegan), and the second a gluten-free and vegan sweet muffin recipe; both recipes have been adapted from blueberry versions.
Makes about 650g jam
- 500g washed and prepared ripe Salal berries
- 450g granulated sugar
- Juice of 1 lemon
1. Put the berries in a large saucepan, heat gently until steam rises then cover with a lid and cook for about 10-15 minutes to soften.
2. Add the sugar and lemon juice, and cook gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, then raise the heat and boil rapidly for 8-10 minutes until setting point is reached – between 104°C and 105°C.
3. Ladle into clean, hot jam jars and seal well. Cool and label.
- 175g gluten-free plain flour blend
- 12g gluten-free baking powder
- 100g ground almonds
- 100g soft light brown sugar
- 60g plain plant-based yogurt
- 115g dairy-free margarine, melted
- 150ml plant-based milk
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 165g washed and prepared Salal berries
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C fan oven, gas 6. Line 12 muffin tins with paper cases.
2. Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well, pressing out any lumps in the flour and sugar. Make a well in the centre.
3. Add the yogurt, melted margarine, milk and vanilla and mix into the dry ingredients to make a thick smooth batter. Gently fold in the berries.
4. Divide between the muffin cases and bake for about 25 minutes until risen and lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container. They should keep for 3-4 days, and will freeze well.
I hope you have a good few days ahead. I look forward to posting again soon. Until then, take care and stay well.