Every time I go back home to Vancouver to visit family and friends, I try to get at least one hike in on my own or in the company of my fearless sidekick, Steven. That is always, of course, contingent on the weather.
During my last trip, Steven and I hiked the 45° steep Grouse Mountain Grind. This hike can be very challenging, but the reward comes in the beautiful views of the surrounding city and bay below. I recommend taking the Gondola back down hill for the optimal experience.
After the hike and on the way back to my family’s home, we took a detour by the Bowser trail to gather brambleberries, which at that time of year were abundant and at their peak.
Rasberries, blackberries and the delicious, lighter-colored salmonberries are ubiquitous along this trail, so we grabbed them by the handful and filled a makeshift bag to bring back home.
There is a wide variety of native berries in the Pacific Northwest, with many of them accessible as far south as California, like the blackberry. Given their versatility, I find their medicinal, social status and nutritional history captivating, but perhaps it’s their genealogy that fascinates me the most:
Tip: Salmonberry and thimbleberry flowers are great in salads. Fresh or thoroughly dried leaves can be used in herbal teas given their astringent properties – as recommended by the book “Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants of California”.
On a previous trip to Spring Lake Park near Santa Rosa, California, Zara and I encountered a treasure trove of blackberry shrubs lining up the banks along the lake. While the campground is not nearly as ideal as other sites we’ve set up tent at in the past, the lake does allow for sunfish, catfish and bass fishing, yet is also a sanctuary for various bird species such as night herons, white egrets, cormorants, and many others.
Inspired by a jam-making session prior to this trip, we opted for cooking down the berries and some small grapes we collected around the circumference of the lake and made a little wild berry jam. As a perfect accompaniment to the sweet and tangy reduction, we used our trusty panini press to grill up a few pieces of sourdough bread right on the fire pit.
Blackberry & basil jam reduction
- 2 cups of blackberries, mulberries or dewberries
- 4-5 tablespoons of light honey (instead of sugar). Add more if berries are a bit on the tart side. Orange blossom honey can work well, but avoid dark honey
- ¼ cup of champagne or sparking wine
- A few orange or lemon peels (optional)
- 3 medium to large fresh basil leaves
After thoroughly washing the berries, mix all ingredients in a saucepan (minus the basil leaves) until reduced, which should take less than 10 minutes depending on the intensity of your fire. Add the basil leaves at the last minute and remove before spreading on the bread. The basil leaves really help to round out any acidity in the berries and combined with the honey you are set for a great midday snack.
While this is a great campfire treat, the same ingredients can also be turned into a refreshing summer day muddled cocktail at home or in the outdoors by utilizing a few mason jars. As an alternative to a champagne-based libation, you can supplement it with the spirit of your choice (such as rum or gin), use simple sirup instead of honey, or substitute the herb with mint or sage in place of Italian or Thai basil.