Harvesting Alaska: Spruce tip foraging
A foray into foraging as a young kid turned into Erica Thompson-Clark’s lifetime passion for picking wild.
"I love the sense of connection to the place, where you live. It’s kind of like a treasure hunt,” she said as she filled her basket with bright green spruce tips and dandelions.
Thompson-Clark grew up in Kodiak with her commercial fishing parents who taught her how to live off the land.
Her husband, Dan, is in the Coast Guard, and the couple has been stationed in Cordova for the past few years. Thompson-Clark said people don’t have to go far for fresh greens; many times she picks food while watching her children at the playground.
With the cold spring in Cordova, the growing season was a few weeks behind.
The spruce tips finally popped in early June.
"You're looking for these bright, lime green little buds at the tip of each tree. You want them to be as big as a lady’s fingernail, nice and plump,” Thompson-Clark explained.
The freshest tips will still have a thin brown paper on the top of them. Thompson-Clark said those are the best to pick, but be sure to remove the paper before putting the spruce tip in your basket.
As the trees green up and the plants begin to grow, Thompson-Clark gets excited about the abundant harvest yet to come.
"Living in rural Alaska and having access to fresh produce don’t really go hand in hand. So, being able to forage and harvest foods like nettles, goose tongue and fiddleheads and mushrooms-- it’s such a privilege to be able to find all these foods for free,” she said.
As much as she’s loved living in the small coastal town, Thompson-Clark’s time in Cordova is coming to an end; her husband is being transferred to a Coast Guard station in Oregon.
That brings an opportunity to find new foods in a new place.
"Foraging for wild foods helps us connect and ties us to the land, really in a way that not much else can. Everyone is trying to find a way home. I feel like when I go foraging, I feel like I’m coming home,” she said.
In their soon-to-be-packed-up kitchen, Thompson-Clark and her 3-year-old daughter, Hazel, whip up a final batch of cookies.
"For spruce tip shortbread, I just use about a half a cup of spruce tips to a regular shortbread recipe,” she said.
The spruce tips can be added to any recipe that calls for a citrus zest. Thompson-Clark also substitutes spruce tips in a mint jelly recipe, too.
The shortbread provides a sweet vessel to showcase the woodsy flavor of the fresh greens. The taste of Alaska she’ll carry to the Oregon coast.
"Going to a new place and finding the wild foods there helps me start to feel more settled and more grounded-- like it’s my place.”
Life is about savoring the flavors around you, no matter where you call home.
KTVA has partnered with Edible Alaska this season to bring you some incredible recipes you can try at home. Watch below for a wild rose syrup recipe and see how it can be incorporated into a creative cocktail.
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