As summer slowly comes to an end, the fireweed climbs higher on the stalk, the days get a little shorter and the hills and tundra around Alaska come alive with berries.
Most weekends in July and August, you’ll find me in the mountains picking blueberries. After work last Friday, my coworker Daniella Rivera and I headed to Arctic Valley, one of the most popular places to pick around Anchorage.
Even on a cloudy, cool evening, the hills were speckled with berry pickers. We headed up the slope above the parking lot, which seemed less crowded than the main trail. The higher we climbed, the more patches we found that hadn’t been picked over yet.
We snaked our way through the bushes, quiet except for the occasional ‘plunk’ of a berry dropping in our bucket. Two hours later we left with purple-stained fingers and pail half-full, ready for the freezer.
After nearly five years of living in Alaska, I’ve become addicted to berry picking. It’s a delicious habit that also feeds my need to bake.
Even when I’m on assignments around the state I still find time to forage. Last summer I spent a few days in Yakutat covering the arrival of their first cruise ship. While driving around the small southeast community I found the dirt road was lined with salmonberry bushes.
I stopped at the small supermarket and grabbed two plastic to-go containers. I stuffed as many salmonberries in them as I could. The lodge I was staying at had a freezer for their guests to store their fish. I took advantage and froze my berries because I was intent on bringing them home.
Two days later, my berries were frozen solid. I wrapped by to-go containers in a plastic bag and crammed them in my carry on suitcase. The berries survived the trip and made a scrumptious salmonberry pie.
Of course my pie pales in comparison to people who’ve been baking with tundra berries for years. During Iditarod 2015, we stopped at Donna Erickson’s house in Unalakleet. I’d heard legends of her desserts and was thrilled to try them in person.
Donna did not disappoint. When our crew arrived she had a full table of sweets waiting for us: salmonberry cheesecake, blueberry and cranberry muffins, and her famous blueberry delight.
The crust was buttery and packed with walnuts. It was topped with a tart blueberry compote and a fluffy mixture of cream cheese and whipped cream. I had two pieces for dinner and another piece (or two) for breakfast.
Because baking is one of my favorite past times, especially in the winter, I like to make sure I have enough berries to get me through until the next season.
The morning after our excursion to Arctic Valley, Daniella came over for brunch where I whipped up pancakes loaded with our fresh blueberries. The rest of the berries were packed up and put into the freezer.
The next day I set out for raspberries. Another coworker has a secret spot behind his house where there are raspberries as far as the eye can see. I picked until I my arms were sore, scratched and covered in red juice. In just an hour my bucket was full to the brim, six pounds of beautifully ripe raspberries.
I have so many berries now I ran out of Tupperware to store them in. I live in an apartment so there’s no room for an extra deep freeze. But if anyone has some extra freezer space I’d gladly trade them for a pan of muffins.
We gathered recipes and photos from people all over the state. Below are some of the highlights of the submissions we received.
Raspberry Brain-Boost Tea
Melissa Ingersoll shared her recipe for raspberry tea.
She said she drinks it in the winter to stay warm and happy, even when the weather turns chilly.
Her recipe uses both dehydrated and fresh raspberries — making the most of the berries now and in the future.
Alaska Wild Berry Pie
Lisa Brandstetter said though blackberry is her favorite pie, her Alaska Wild Berry Pie is definitely a close second.
“Alaska is near and dear to my heart. I love our state and all that it offers to no end. So creating a pie made from Alaska and moments shared with loved ones, is definitely something I loved doing.”
Jaime Atherton told us that after picking salmonberries, and letting them process for a week, her recipe made six pints of salmonberry liqueur.
The recipe can be used for other types of berries, as well.
Harvesting Alaska is a new featured series exploring all the ways Alaskans live off the land — from growing and foraging to fishing and crafting. We hope you’ll join us on our journey and share how you harvest Alaska. Share your recipes and ideas for upcoming articles.