Soapberries are considered a rare treat among Native people and often are served at ceremonial gatherings. The small, red-orange, translucent berries usually are found near glaciers. The bushes vary in growth habit – in Klukwan, the branches fall over and lay on the ground whereas they stand tall in Glacier Bay. Soapberries are tiny, so people harvest the berries by beating the branches with their hand or a stick over a bucket. The berries fall into the bucket with this method, allowing for significant harvests in a short period of time.
To prepare, a small amount of berries is mixed with water and whipped into a froth. Soapberries are very bitter, so people often add sweeteners, such as chopped apples and bananas or they whip the berries with juice from fruit cocktail instead of water. It’s very important to keep the berries free of oil, as it will affect the frothing. People whip soapberries in a very clean bowl made of metal or glass (plastic is not recommended).
Historically, people whipped soapberries with their hands or with a wooden whisk. The whisk was made by shaving sections of wood toward the end of a stick and stopping before the shavings fell off. Today, Native people sometimes still use their hands to froth soapberries served at ceremonies, although it’s now more common to use an electric mixer.
Soapberries may be harvested when they are green or red, and some people prefer to eat them green. The froth of green soapberries appears white, while red soapberries produce a pink color.
Compiled from information provided by Nora
Dauenhauer, Johnny Marks, Anita Lafferty, Helen Sarabia, Margaret
Martin and June Pegues.