Category Archives: Cranberries

Just a Berry-Picking Fool

If you wonder where I’ve been lately, I’ve been parenting, and in between that, I’ve been writing, traveling, parenting, berry picking, writing, berry picking, and, wait-for-it!, writing.

But summer is ending here in Fairbanks. Okay, really, once the leaves start turning, summer has officially ended in my mind. So what if fall isn’t “official” until the solstice? That’s just one of the things that doesn’t apply to Alaska. Summer begins to end around the first week of August, when the rains really hit.

This year was no exception. Rains came sweeping in with August, along with the Tanana Valley State Fair held in Fairbanks. Then we had a few warm summery days throughout August, including a nice past week. But we’ve had our fair share of rain, and now the trees are turning, and it’s clear that there is no reclaiming the summer.

IMG_9396

Although the berries in this photo aren’t (to my knowledge) edible, this toadstool was just too perfect to ignore!

I pretty much missed the blueberries this year. I haven’t really picked them before because blueberries aren’t my favorite. I had planned on going with a friend of mine, and our plans got postponed two weeks in a row. So by the time we got out there, the berries were pretty much gone. Although I found a few patches of blueberries in my backyard, they only contained six berries. No, I’m not joking. Blueberries: 6.

An Alaskan blueberry. Quaint, small, unlike our great state.

An Alaskan blueberry. Quaint, small, unlike our great state.

So about the time I realized I missed the blueberry picking, I started recognizing the little bushes with their maple-esque leaves and realizing that they were already turning red. Those happen to be highbush cranberries. And although it was only the beginning of August, they were ripe on the bush and starting to fall off!

I scoured our backyard for high-yield bushes like these! The characteristic maple like leaves of the highbush cranberry turn red in the early fall, and if you know what you're looking at, you can pick them out along the highways and roads here, as they are some of the only red foliage, and turn earlier than most other trees and bushes around here.

I scoured our backyard for high-yield bushes like these! The characteristic maple like leaves of the highbush cranberry turn red in the early fall, and if you know what you’re looking at, you can pick them out along the highways and roads here, as they are some of the only red foliage, and turn earlier than most other trees and bushes around here.

My berry picking instincts kicked into high gear, and I immediately began to forget about blueberries and move on to the highbush cranberries. Although they smell like sweat socks, they make an absolutely fantastic meat sauce. (Okay, my hubby calls it “sock sauce,” but don’t let that fool you. He actually helped me pick some berries so I could make more this year!)

After picking comes one of my least favorite parts: the washing. This little berry resisted its dunking, and looked so adorable doing it I just had to snap a photo. Then I snatched away its little life raft and gave it a good bath. (I also killed all four of the spiders in the bag of berries.)

After picking comes one of my least favorite parts: the washing. This little berry resisted its dunking, and looked so adorable doing it I just had to snap a photo. Then I snatched away its little life raft and gave it a good bath. (I also killed all four of the spiders in the bag of berries.)

After cooking the berries, you have to run them through a sieve. Highbush cranberries have huge seeds in them. Last year I had an old sieve that did not work very well and required several rounds of cleaning it out to finish a half recipe. This year's new, larger sieve worked like magic!

After cooking the berries, you have to run them through a sieve. Highbush cranberries have huge seeds in them. Last year I had an old sieve that did not work very well and required several rounds of cleaning it out to finish a half recipe. This year’s new, larger sieve worked like magic! And yes, they really are that red–no photo touchup here!

Last year, despite having enough berries to do a full recipe of “sock sauce” as my husband so endearingly calls it, I did only a half recipe. I hadn’t made it before–hadn’t really canned before at all–and I didn’t want to waste all the berries on a recipe that no one wanted or that I ruined for lack of experience. However, after sharing my attempt with Hubby and friends, it was received well by all. So this year, I’ve already canned one recipe full, and have enough to do at least one more full recipe (which takes about 12 cups of berries!).

After you process the berries, you're left with a lot of bright red berry juice (not pictured). Then you add spices, onions, and other stuff, and simmer down until it's about the consistency of thin jam. Then can. It's quite simple, actually. Simpler than I remember.

After you process the berries, you’re left with a lot of bright red berry juice (not pictured). Then you add spices, onions, and other stuff, and simmer down until it’s about the consistency of thin jam. Then can. It’s quite simple, actually. Simpler than I remember. Oh, and make sure to ventilate your house well. It stinks.

Last year I was learning canning for a few reasons. One of them was my return to Alaska, and my attempt to make the best of a difficult situation. The other was simply a desire to do something. I really struggled last year after the birth of my son, and coming up with little projects that didn’t require a lot of time, that I could possibly do with him, and that made me feel slightly productive, was my way of coping in some small way.

I’m glad I taught myself this little skill. It’s really quite simple, and the benefit is a Christmas gift and tasty sauce that I can share with those I love.

Advertisements

Spring Canning

Oh, that’s right. You read that right–I don’t follow the book. I can in the spring.

Well, not in this at least. Let’s just say “canning season” didn’t fall at a good time for me last year. I managed to do a little bit, but on most days with my infant son, it felt completely overwhelming and beyond my ability to deal with.

So when Hubby gave me an afternoon off parenting duties the past week, I took an hour or so to can some of the lingonberries that I picked with my son last fall.

Lingonberries

Lingonberries

I’ve never canned lingonberries before–well, let me rephrase that, as I haven’t done much canning ever. I’ve never had an interest in canning lingonberries before. Usually I use lingonberries in my mother’s cranberry cream cheese bread recipe, but I haven’t made that this year, and it’s relatively unhealthy, and usually we use lingonberry sauce for lefsa over the holidays. (So, really, I should have canned these in the fall when I bought them and then we would have had homemade lingonberry sauce for the lefsa. Oh well.)

Regardless, I finally got my act together and did some canning the past week. The lingonberries were surprisingly simple to can, as I just made a simple jam type sauce with them. Basically a lot of sugar plus a bit of water and a lot of lingonberries cooked for awhile on the stovetop, then water bath canned.

Lotta sugar hiding those berries...

Lotta sugar hiding those beautiful berries…

For 8 cups of berries I got about 4.25 pints of sauce. The extra I canned anyway and put in the fridge to taste-test. I like it. It’s a lot denser than any of the store bought lingonberry jam/sauce that I’ve had, but it actually tastes all right on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (That’s probably an unusual taste testing method, but…we were out of other jelly.)

The finished product.

The finished product.

So now this Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’ll have lingonberry sauce for our lefsa! I’m actually rather excited about that… might be worth making some lefsa before then…