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My Brother, the Apple Forest, and Wild Salal

When my brother, Ryan, walks through a forest, he carries a machete. He has spent a great deal of time in Brazil, and there are dangers in those forests greater than brambles. Here in Canada, on Hornby Island, my brother uses his machete to carve out trails through a second-growth forest that had been logged, farmed, and left fallow for decades. My brother is remaking this forest.

Farmer with machete

Permaculture Farmer

Cutting a trail through salal berry bushes

Bit by bit, he will make room amongst the standing trees for the new ones he has collected. He has a small fenced area he calls the nursery, and in it are 100 varieties of apple and nut saplings.

He emailed an apple tree catalog to our family in February asking for help narrowing down the choices. But in the end, he grafted one of each. They have names like Pendragon, which is a 12th century red-fleshed cider apple from Wales. There is Kandil Sinap, from Turkey circa 1880, with creamy, yellow porcelain-like skin and a cylindrical shape. The crab apple Wickson is said to be so prolific that the small yellow and red apples will garland a tree with fruit.

I grew up in the forests across the water from Hornby Island. I used to look out my bedroom window, through tall pines, across the Georgia Straight, past Denman Island and the Chrome Island Lighthouse, all the way to Hornby Island. It took two ferries to get there. When I fished with my grandfather, we would jig for cod around its perimeter.

My family has an anchor on Hornby Island now. We visited this July. “What do you want to see?” My brother and sister asked me. “Wild edibles,” I answered.

Wild Salal Berries

My brother demonstrates the one-step bit technique for eating a stem full of salal berries... before

My brother demonstrates the one-step bit technique for eating a stem full of salal berries… before

foraging for salal

…after

NYC Food Photographer Jennifer May Forage

My brother grabbed his machete, and our small troupe followed him into the woods. We walked through grove after grove of salal. My sister and I picked a basket of the berries and I made a shrub, aka drinking vinegar. This acidified syrup is my summer theme. I have been drinking it in sparkling water. I also made a salad dressing with it, substituting a couple tablespoons of shrub for the sweetness and vinegar I might have added.

Salal berries are a highly localized plant, native to the part of the world where I grew up. I remember them, although I did not eat them. Their dark purple and plump berries are appealing looking, but eaten fresh they are bland and mealy. Heat and a little sweetness brings this fruit to life. I did not believe in tricks like that when I lived here.

I will wait for the apple and nut trees to mature. Plants grow fast in the west coast. I will be back, and often.

Foraged Salal Berries

Fresh salal berries

Salal Berry Shrub Drinking Vinegar

Salal berry shrub with seltzer

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