I know it’s a superb fall when I close my eyes at night and all I see behind my eyelids are lowbush cranberries.
Blood-red jewels hug the mossy ground in my secret south Anchorage picking spot. It must have been the warm May weather that caused patches of usually dormant cranberry bushes to produce large, pea-sized berries.
What my family calls lowbush cranberries are, in fact, lingonberries. These short plants can be found in most Anchorage forests. They have round, shiny leaves and if there’s enough sunlight during the summer they bear tart, red berries.
I prefer these to highbush cranberries, which are more watery and have a big, oblong seed in each berry. Lowbush cranberries are opaque and have no seeds. They are also firmer than the highbush variety.
Cranberries are my favorite wild berry to pick because they are durable, highly nutritious and they freeze well. They can also be substituted for any recipe that calls for commercial cranberries.
I once again refer to my mama for this segment of “Harvesting Anchorage.” She’s a pro when it comes to cranberry marmalade. The cranberries have so much natural pectin there is no need to add any of the store-bought kind. This simple marmalade is a perfect addition to any breakfast table.
- 3 oranges (or 2 oranges and 1 lemon)
- 1/4 tsp. baking soda
- 8 cups wild lowbush cranberries
- 4 cups sugar
Remove the skins of the oranges in quarters. Cover rinds with water and boil with baking soda for 15 minutes. Shave off as much of the white pith as you can from the rind and slice rind very thin.
An alternative method is to use a vegetable peeler to peel off the rind and slice it. If you choose this method you won’t need to boil the rinds since they are so thin.
Meanwhile remove the membrane from each orange segment and reserve the pulp in a bowl. Take the membranes in your hands and squeeze the remaining pulp and juice into the bowl. Discard the membranes. If you’re really lazy you could probably use a couple of cans of mandarins, drained and rinsed. I’ve never tried it, but it could work.
Combine pulp, rinds with their water, cranberries and sugar in a saucepan. Boil, stirring often, skimming off any foam.
Let the mixture boil down and thicken, about 15-18 minutes. Take a spoonful of the mixture and pour it back into the pot. If there are lots of frequent droplets, the mixture isn’t ready yet. If the drips are slow and turn into one big droplet, then it’s ready (that’s called “sheeting”). Turn off the heat and place a tablespoon of liquid in a bowl and place it in the freezer for about 3 minutes.
Remove sample from freezer and tip it slightly. The sample should stay put. If the jam slides around the bowl it means it’s not ready yet. Bring the jam back to a boil and continue stirring constantly for another 5 minutes.
Ladle jam into sterilized canning jars with brand-new lids. Fill leaving about 1/4 inch of space at the top. Add the lids and let cool. When you hear little pops that means the lids have sealed. If you’d like more details about canning I recommend this thorough tutorial from The Alaska Urban Soil Project.
If you’d like a different lowbush cranberry recipe, I recommend my simple cranberry and lemon muffins.
Here are my other recipes from the “Harvesting Anchorage” series: