Liet and I once stood picking and eating salmonberries, trying to find words to describe their somewhat caramellike flavor, when two elderly men came down the dirt road behind us. They, too, had been berrypicking, and they proudly displayed the fruits of their labors. These included salmonberries in three colors with bright bits of green fern enhancing their fresh look. – Time Life Books, ‘American Cooking, The Northwest’
My mother is a wonderful baker. From an early age she instilled in me a love and passion for fresh fruit tarts. More often than not, apples were the preferred medium. At 85, her caramelized apple tart (tarte tatin) rivals anything any Michelin starred chef could ever hope to conjure. She made dough unapologetically, with the same certainty an artist feels knowing the exact shape of a statue long before the marble was ever chiseled. Every unmeasured step, deliberately repeated methodically. She too had learned the secrets at her grandmother’s apron strings. Carefully mixing small cubes of ice cold butter into the mound of flour and sugar. Pressing hard with the heels of her hands till the mound resembled a coarse corn meal. Adding just the perfect amount of chilled water to insure it would ball. Her hands repeated these same moves for so many decades she no longer had to think. Tart making is an art learned by practice. I am sharing the same experiences with my five year old son Beaumont. This morning we wrestled with the dew covered thorny bushes that protected a hidden cache of sweet salmonberries. Carefully we pulled them one by one, periodically stealing one into our mouths thinking the other wasn’t watching. I envisioned my mother smiling; knowing what she had so devotedly learned would continue long past her final breath. She had done her job. Le feu sacre was safe for one more generation.
Salmonberries are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest and can be found ranging from Northern California all the way up the coast to Alaska. They are some of the most delicate berries I have ever picked. They crumbled under their own weight and quickly end up resembling perfect individual salmon eggs. Though that is not where there name originated. Native people were quite fond of them. Some tribes allowed individual families to own strands of salmonberries. After getting the first and second picking rights, other tribe members were allowed to pick what remained. All the berries were shared in harvest feasts. Like most plants, they shared dual usage of both enjoyment and medicine. An infusion of the roots was used to stimulate appetite and encourage weight gain.The leaves were used to treat anemia, shorten lengthy menstrual cycles and ease labor pains. Dried leaves calm upset stomach and cure diarrhea. Shoots were peeled and eaten raw with salmon – hence the name.
- ½ cup confectioners sugar
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced small and cold
- 1 egg yolk
- ¾ cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 pints of fresh berries or more, depending on how many you eat.
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
- In the bowl of a food processor, thoroughly mix confectioners sugar and butter.
- Add the egg yolk and pulse till mixed in well.
- Add flour and mix in.
- Remove the dough from the processor. Flatten into a thin disk, put on a dinner plate and place in your freezer for 15 minutes while you make the filling.
- Mix the sugar, eggs, flour and lemon juice together with a whisk.
- Remove your semi frozen dough disk from the freezer.
- Use ample flour and roll dough slightly larger than your tart shell. I used an 8 inch tart shell with sides that were about ¾ inch high.
- Roll the dough around your rolling pin then unroll over the tart shell. It ios completely ok if the dough tears a bit. This dough is so forgiving.
- Press into the dough shell allowing a small amount to hang over the metal edges. Crimp on the edge without breaking the dough off.
- Freeze for long enough to enjoy a glass of wine.
- Put on a baking sheet and bake blind, without the filling for ten minutes.
- Remove and use your rolling pin to cut the excess dough off the edges of the tart shell. Leave the scraps on your baking sheet. They make wonderful scoobie snacks to enjoy while you are finishing the tart.
- Pour the filling in and cook another 20 minutes or so, until the filling is just set.
- Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.
- Line the entire top with your fresh berries and eat.
- It is that simple.
Some salmonberries and two blackberries from our bushes. Enjoy!