Having been raised harvesting Alaska wildberries you’d think I would be a pro at making jams and jellies. Truth is, I really stink at it. It always comes out syrupy. It’s like you have to have some sort of instinctual jam-making knowledge passed down through the generations.
But in reality all it takes is a lot of stirring. My mom has been making jam since she moved here in 1982. I turned to her for this segment of “Harvesting Anchorage.”
It was a bluebird day in Anchorage as we made our way to our super-secret blueberry spot. The only downside of picking berries on a sunny day is they are harder to see — but I’m not complaining!
Earlier this summer I made a patriotic hat that I just knew I’d wear at least once before fall. Sure enough it was cool and rainy on the Fourth of July. I was finishing up the pom pom of my Old Glory Hat last month before meeting with my friend Fernanda about some flower arrangements. She lit up when she saw the stars and stripes; she was gaga for the giant pom pom.
She offhandedly suggested I made an Alaska flag hat. I was up for the challenge.
I started this hat on a road trip to Homer where I would be meeting Fernanda and a group of people on Yukon Island for a writing retreat with Julia O’Malley.
By the time my carpool arrived in Homer I was finishing up the North Star.
I think I’ll be making quite a few of these babies.
Alaska Flag Hat — A Free Knitting Pattern
Lamb’s Pride bulky in Lemon Drop and Blue Boy
Size US 10 circular needle
Size US 10 double pointed needles
CO – cast on
K2, P2 – knit 2, purl 2
st st – stockinette stitch
K2tog – knit two stitches together
CO 72 st. K2, P2 ribbing for 13 rounds. Place marker.
Switch to blue and knit in st st for 36 rounds or until piece measures 8 inches total length.
Begin decreasing as follows:
*K2tog, k6*, repeat till end of round.
K 1 round
*K2tog, k5*, repeat till end of round.
K 1 round
*K2tog, k4*, repeat till end of round.
K 1 round. While doing this, transfer to the double points as you go so there are about 11 stitches on each needle (four in all).
*K2tog, k3*, repeat till end of round.
K 1 round
*K2tog, k2*, repeat till end of round.
K 1 round
*K2tog, k1*, repeat till end of round.
*K2tog*, repeat till end of round. Cut yarn leaving an 8-inch tail. Weave in all ends.
Big Dipper Motif:
Stitching motifs as I knit is hard for me because I end up pulling the yarn too tightly behind the work. Instead, you’ll be top-stitching the design. It’s super simple to learn. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t learn this technique sooner as it’s much easier than fair isle or intarsia when it comes to non-repeating motifs. I recommend the tutorial from Wool and the Gang (pronounce “wool” with a British accent and it then it’s a play on words).
I made this chart by layering the actual constellation on top of graph paper. Yay science! That being said, you can rough it a little if you feel as though the spacing isn’t quite right. I ended up shifting the front star slightly. This is really a guideline.
I started with the lowest star on the dipper. It really doesn’t matter where you start the motif, but I eyeballed it so that beginning of the round was in the back. Some of the stars I did individually, gently double-knotting the ends as I went. But for the handle of the dipper I was able to continue without breaking the yarn. Triple knot the ends on the inside of the hat and trim.
Giant pom pom:
I used a small book to make the pom pom. Wrap yellow yarn around the book several times till it’s borderline too bulky to handle. Be sure not to wrap it too tightly so that you are able to slide it off the book easily. Gently remove the book. Take a 24-inch piece of yellow yarn and double it over. Tie this around the middle of the loops as tightly as possible. Double knot it. Use fabric scissors to trim pom pom to your liking, but be sure not to trim the long pieces you used to tie it together. Use these long pieces to sew the pom pom to the hat using the darning needle. Tie ends on the inside of the hat and trim.
And, because I’m feeling patriotic, here’s the Alaska state song depicting our glorious flag.
Alaska’s Flag Written by Marie Drake
Composed by Elinor Dusenbury
Eight stars of gold on a field of blue –
Alaska’s flag. May it mean to you
The blue of the sea, the evening sky,
The mountain lakes, and the flow’rs nearby;
The gold of the early sourdough’s dreams,
The precious gold of the hills and streams;
The brilliant stars in the northern sky,
The “Bear” – the “Dipper” – and, shining high,
The great North Star with its steady light,
Over land and sea a beacon bright.
Alaska’s flag – to Alaskans dear,
The simple flag of a last frontier.
Every summer I look forward to the week of our wedding anniversary; and not because I’m a hopeless romantic — because it’s sockeye salmon season on the Kenai River.
My husband is never here to celebrate our anniversary during the second week of July because he’s dipnetting three hours away.
And although I love a good fresh grilled salmon steak (last night we grilled them over alder branches), it’s the roe that I crave. We usually brine the roe in a simple salt and water solution and serve them with crackers and white wine. You can read my post from last year about wild salmon caviar.
Today, though, a friend dutifully gave me his roe from the silver salmon he caught in Seward over the weekend. When I went to process them I realized they were too small and delicate. Pushing them through a metal grate was ruining them. I didn’t want to waste them so I thought outside the box. Or inside the box, rather, as my dad had just removed some red salmon lox from his smoker.
I found this incredibly simple recipe for smoked salmon roe and decided to give it a try. It turned out splendidly! A friend told me it tasted a bit like smoked oysters. I will definitely try it again, but I might rinse the eggs of their salt brine before smoking them as they are a bit on the salty side.
This recipe assumes that you know how to use a smoker. I only say this because my dad is the smoke master in my family and I haven’t learned to operate one. All I can say is we cold smoked the eggs since heat would ruin the texture altogether.
Make sure the roe is fresh, fresh, fresh. That means it’s either been in a freshly caught fish or if the fish was processed on the beach that the eggs were kept on ice the entire time for no more than two days.
Smoked Salmon Roe
Rinse the salmon roe skeins in fresh cold water to remove any grit. Pat them dry with paper towels and dredge them in kosher salt.
Place them on a rimmed baking sheet in the fridge for 20 minutes. In the meantime, turn on your smoker.
Remove the skeins from the fridge and rinse them again under cold water. Pat dry. Rinse off the baking sheet and wipe dry. Place the skeins back on the tray.
Place your baking sheet on the top shelf and leave the smoker door slightly ajar. Smoke for 30-45 minutes.
Place roe in fridge until cold. Use a butter knife to scrape the eggs away from the skein membrane. Store in a jar for up to 5 days (but they shouldn’t last that long, really). Enjoy on crackers or in any way you deem fit. Today I made sushi with the smoked roe. It was fabulous.
My old friend Ivan Night is a man of many talents; he’s a musician, an educator, a sound technician, a beer brewer, but for the sake of this blog post we’ll stick to just one of his titles: an apiarist.
Ivan has been keeping bees for about eight years. His family has owned and operated Alaska Wild Teas for more than three decades, so honey is a natural side project. Check the bottom of this post for a homemade tea recipe.
Recently I visited Ivan’s home to see how he harvests honey from his busy little bees.
When I was asked to pick up a last minute wedding gig this week, I was more than thrilled to accept. A chance to work with white peonies and garden roses? Yes, please!
Bride Emily wanted a forest look to her arrangements, so I did the sensible thing and I foraged from the forest. I gathered dwarf hemlock from Glenn Alps, which I incorporated into the woodland fairy-like crowns, the delicate boutonnières and corsages and the perfectly-sized bridal bouquet.
Wild geranium, wood ferns and forget-me-nots mixed perfectly with the centerpieces of queen Anne’s lace, veronica and lisianthus.
Emily’s biggest desire was to have a big bridal flower crown of peonies and garden roses. When a fully bloomed peony is the size of a large grapefruit, a large crown is LARGE. My first draft was a little too big, I could barely hold my head up. After I downsized, I made Emily a smaller crown in case the original was too gigantic.
As part of my personal challenge to forage at least one edible plant a month this summer in Anchorage, I decided to revisit wild rose petals. Several years back I collected these perfectly pink petals and made a just-OK jelly out of them. Thing is, I don’t eat jelly. I’m not a toast and jam kind of gal, I guess.
This time I opted to make rose petal syrup. It was easy to prepare and resulted in a gorgeous pink concoction that tasted as good as roses smell.
The wild roses are in full bloom here in Anchorage and it’s hard not to find them. I picked petals on the side of the highway, on my street and in my back yard. They have been in bloom since the first week of June and will probably be around for another week before they fade, fall and begin to turn into rose hips (and that’s another foraging adventure!)
Rose Petal Syrup
To make one bottle of syrup I collected about 2 gently packed cups of petals. Be ready to encounter some caterpillars, bugs and spiders (I lost about a cup of petals when I spotted an arachnid creeping around my collecting jar).
Last fall I attended a networking getaway in Homer hosted by The Boardroom called End of Summer Camp. It was a weekend full of meeting and making new friends. During that time I met Crystal and Carrie, owners of Toast of the Town event planning. I told them I was a flower lady and they said they would keep me in mind for future events.
Six months later they set me up with Charlee, a whimsical bride who wanted her flowers colorful, unkempt and carefree — just my style!
I had so much fun putting together the florals for Charlee and her fiancé Marc. I got to work with nearly a dozen different types of flowers from the most fragrant mauve garden roses to my favorite accent flower, craspedia.
I got to do something new, which I’m calling “hair flair.” Charlee had wanted hair combs with fresh flowers for the bridesmaids, but after a hair trial with another bride I discovered that the plastic combs I was using were not easy to work with. What I decided to do was make teeny flower bouquets with wire and floral tape to be pinned into the bridesmaids’ hair.
My niece and I made about 35 pieces of hair flair so the bridesmaids could pick and choose the flowers they liked best for their hairstyle. It was a lot of fun.
I delivered the flowers to Glory View Farm in Wasilla where Crystal and Carrie were setting up the most magical hootenanny.
Congratulations to Marc and Charlee and I wish them all the best!
After my less-than-stellar morel hunt last weekend I needed to forage something more gratifying. It’s the perfect time for spruce tips. Pretty much all the spruce trees in town are boasting bright green tips with brown papery casings. I ventured as far as my yard to collect a pound of them. They required very little processing; just remove the papery casings and you’re good to go.
I’ve never been quite sure what to make with these edibles. I’m not much for tea or jelly. I wanted something savory.
I first referenced the Goddess of Alaska Forests, Laurie Constantino, and made a delectable dip with mayo, Greek yogurt, lemon juice and minced spruce tips. It was perfect for the garlic bread crusts I had leftover on my dinner plate last night.
For my third segment of “Harvesting Anchorage,” I decided to go beyond city limits and venture out to the Kenai Peninsula in search of morel mushrooms.
My family and I have always been avid boletus mushroom hunters, but we’ve never looked for morels. I heard they tend to pop up in areas where there have been forest fires. After last year’s Funny River fire consumed more than 155,000 acres of land, I decided to keep an eye on this area through a secret informant. Ok, I have a friend who lives out there and is also a gatherer like myself. She gave me the news last week that the morels were up so my mom and I set out on a tiny road trip to Soldotna in search of these pristine, delicate, flavorful fungi.
Much like boletes, my friend told us morels tend to grow near birches. We pulled off to the side of Funny River Road and hiked about 1/4 mile into the burned spruce tree forest in search of patches of birch trees.
The hunt wasn’t wildly successful, but I was thrilled even to find a few because these little suckers are hidden! Unlike boletes, which stand prominently and proud, morels look like burnt spruce cones and are about the same color as the earth. I had to get low to the ground to see any at all, but on the plus side, when I found one morel I usually found at least two more in the same area. It truly felt like a treasure hunt.
We immediately spotted some false morels, which looked completely different from the real things. Most of the real morels were pointy and brown. The false morels looked like misshapen blobs and were much lighter brown, like burnt sienna.
We spent a good three hours yesterday and today hunting. There was competition. Lots of cars were parked along the road and I saw one fellow with a tall laundry basket fashioned into a backpack that was half full. Another man had a full trash bag of morels, so it was obvious there were some experienced hunters among us.
I’m happy with our small haul. I sent my mom home with the majority of our pick because she has the dehydrator. I took home a couple of dozen, cleaned them, sliced them and sautéd them in butter. They had an earthy, mushroomy flavor (surprise!) but an altogether different taste from boletes.
I’ve heard morels grow here in Anchorage and I’m now confident in what they look like so I can add them to my list of foods to search for when I’m out in the woods.
Have you ever picked morels in Anchorage? Tell me about it!
As Part Two of my summertime Alaska blog series, I tried to harvest a few things such as fiddlehead ferns and fireweed shoots, but I only successfully cooked something using devil’s club.
You’ve probably encountered devil’s club in any Alaska forest. It’s pretty much the last plant you want to encounter because it’s covered top to bottom in sharp thorns that can easily embed themselves in your skin; but in the spring the plants produce short buds covered in premature, soft thorns. This part of the plant is edible. Is it good? That’s what I aimed to find out.
I embarked on my devil’s club hunt on a sunny spring day after the birch trees had started budding. I had no trouble finding a thicket of devil’s club up on the hillside. They all had 1-to-3-inch buds emerging from the dry, wheat-colored stalks. I used a gardening glove to pluck them and collected them in a bucket.
After getting stuck with thorns a few times I felt as though I had enough to work with. On the drive home my car started smelling like an Alaska forest. The devil’s club buds had a spicy, celery-like scent.