West Coast Wild Harvest Issue 1 Spring/Summer 2016 - Page 66

HISTORICAL The Kwakwaka’wakw also produced an elderberry paste by soaking the cooked elderberries, but rather than storing the berries in water for several weeks, dried berries were only soaked in water for the duration of four winter ceremonial songs, at which point they were mixed into a paste by hand, and eaten. Another Taste After several months in cold storage, I recently decided it was time for another taste and removed the dried elderberries from the freezer. The flavour had mellowed with age, but I still detected a bitter aftertaste. Taking the experiment one step further, I soaked my fruit leather in water. Yellow-orange oil quickly separated and floated to the surface, and the water slowly took on a similar colour. After an hour, I poured off the water and added fresh water. This time the water darkened much less, so I drained the water and sampled the remaining fruit paste. Initially a pleasant cranberry like flavour dominated but as it dissolved into my mouth, I still caught a faintly bitter flavour from a few small seeds that I failed to strain. My experiment yielded a product with a distinctive flavour that, while still not exceptional, is growing on me, and mixes well with other foods. What’s more, red elderberries are remarkably nutritious. According Dried red elderberries and red elderberry paste 66 WEST COAST WILD HARVEST to tests conducted by Harriet Kuhnlein and Nancy Turner, elderberries are 5 percent oil by fresh weight. This is higher than any other Pacific Northwest native berry they sampled, and must be considerably higher when the fruit is dried. Red elderberries certainly will never replace black huckleberries or thimbleberries in my wild food diet, but having found their true flavour, I can better appreciate their colourful bounty when they ripen next summer and will collect enough for some northwest coast inspired chutney each year. Warning: The roots, wood, bark, leaves, and to a lesser extent, the raw flowers and fruit of red elderberry contain cyanogenic glycosides and should not be eaten. Abe Lloyd is an ethnobotanist and the director of Salal, the Cascadian Food Institute, an organization committed to sustainably integrating human communities and native ecosystems.