Blossoms and Berries

By Carol V. Weishampel, Ed.D #80679
Photos By Lynne Martin.

“Fireweed jelly? Is it hot?” The lady from the neighboring rig asked as she picked up a jar from the tower of jelly jars I was trying to pack into the basement of my small class-C. “Blueberry jam and cranberry jelly. Where did you get all of this?”

“Fireweed jelly is not hot. It’s made with the blossoms of the fireweed plant.” I explained. “I picked blueberries in the forest. High-bush cranberries were easier to pick.”
I continued to explain that my friend, Lynne Martin, and I made the preserves in her 32-foot class-A while we were volunteering in Alaska. The kitchen in my 26-foot class-C was too confining for canning. Most of the ingredients we used were free for the picking or foraging. We purchased jars, sugar and pectin (Sure-Jell) during stopovers at Walmart.

Fireweed’s bright magenta/fuchsia flowers begin to appear on the reddish stems above long, narrow, red-edged green leaves around the first of July. Buds continue to open toward the tip of the stalk into August. Fireweed’s beautiful color blankets highway shoulders and the sunny banks of burned-out or disturbed open areas. Pullouts are easy access to the flowers. Cut the stalks beneath the lowest blossoms and collect them in a large container, but be careful of bees who want their share. Luckily, because of the climate, there are no snakes in Alaska.

When your bucket is full, find a comfortable seat and pluck or pull the blossoms and buds into a plastic zip-top bag, removing small insects. Leave bags open in a dry place overnight to invite tiny bugs to retreat. The flowers will wilt. The flowers may be refrigerated, frozen for later use or used fresh in the following recipe. (Cooking and straining will remove any remaining insects.)

Making Jelly
You can make your travels truly memorable by freezing blossoms and berries in zip-top bags. If you are adventuresome, make jelly while stopped overnight. Here are hints for making jelly in your RV where space is limited.
• Clear off every available horizontal surface.
• Prepare fruit or blossoms ahead and measure into zip-top bags.
• Refrigerate (or freeze and thaw when ready to make jelly).
• Wash jars and lids.
• Use a pot large enough for cooking one batch at a time without boiling over.
• A large pot for the water bath is essential.
• Pre-measure the sugar. Use canning tongs and oven mitts.
• Pad the table with towels for hot jars to rest on while they cool.
• Listen for caps pinging as they cool.

Fireweed Jelly Recipe
8 cups of blossoms (will be wilted)
5 cups of water
¼ cup lemon juice (bottled is ok)
2 packets Sure-Jell pectin
5 cups sugar
¼ teaspoon butter

• Bring blossoms, water and lemon juice to boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and press blossoms in a colander or strainer with a large spoon. Discard. Return juice to pan. Heat to a boil.
• Add 2 packets of Sure-Jell.
Bring to boil.
• Add 5 cups sugar and butter.
Boil 1 minute.
• Seal in jelly jars and process in water bath for 5 minutes.
• Makes 9 ½-pint jars.
• Blueberries are harder to find as local Alaskans are secretive about their favorite blueberry patch. The small, dark blueberries can be found along the stems of low-growing shrubs with tiny green leaves from mid-July into August along the edge of the forest or in small clearings and burned-over areas. Beware that bears love blueberries. Berries can be pulled from the stems
in handfuls.
• Sort through berries to remove leaves and insects. Rinse gently. Berries may be frozen whole to add to pancakes or muffins, or mashed, then frozen or used fresh in jam recipe.
High-bush Cranberries
High-bush cranberries are not a true cranberry because they have seeds that need to be removed by straining after cooking. The high-bush cranberry is easy to locate by its bright red/orange color. Berries may be in small clusters on two- to three-foot tall bushes with large maple-shaped leaves that turn red in autumn. Berries begin to ripen in August. Some Alaskans say they have the best flavor after a freeze but make great jelly when picked earlier. Pick eight to 10 cups of the red, juicy berries, then gently rinse berries to remove bugs and leaves. They may be frozen whole. Boil equal amount of berries and water until the berries pop. Mash the berries and strain through a mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Use the juice for jelly. Reserve seeds and pulp for vinaigrette.
Cranberry Jelly Recipe
(Make jam if juice is not clear but cloudy with pulp)
4 cups cranberry juice
1 box Sure Jell
¼ teaspoon butter
4 ½ cups sugar

• Bring juice to a boil. Add Sure-Jell and butter. Bring to a full boil.
• Add sugar and boil one minute.
• Pour into 9 ½-pint jars. Seal in water bath for 5 minutes for jelly or 10 minutes for jam.
• To utilize the mashed cranberry pulp as a vinaigrette, place an equal amount of pulp and apple cider vinegar in a jar (ie. one cup pulp, one cup vinegar). Leave uncovered for at least 4 days.
• Add equal amount of sugar (one cup). Bring to boil. Simmer 10 minutes.
• Strain and seal. Does not need a water bath. May use blueberries or other berries for vinaigrette.
• Also look for raspberries, tiny sweet strawberries and low-bush cranberries. Raspberries and blackberries have tiny seeds and should be strained for jelly.
• Use caution in berry identification. Many excellent flower and berry books and cookbooks are available in the numerous gift shops and visitor centers throughout Alaska.
Blueberry Jam
6 cups berries crushed to 4 cups.
2 tbs lemon juice
1 pkg Sure-jell
¼ teaspoon butter

• Cook berries and lemon juice until boiling. Add Sure-Jell.
Bring to a boil.
• Add 4 cups sugar and butter. Bring to hard boil. Boil one minute. Pour into ½-pint jars. (yield 9 cups). Seal in water bath for 10 minutes.

Bonus Berries
We stopped on the Oregon coast on the side of a cliff and discovered blackberries. My daughter-in-law and I picked six cups of huge berries in about 30 minutes. I rinsed the berries and located only one small inchworm before storing them in a zip bag in the refrigerator. At my son’s home, I made cobbler by placing a layer of berries, with sugar to taste, in a baking dish. I topped the berries with dry lemon cake mix and a drizzle of melted butter. The cobbler was baked at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes and served warm with
ice cream.

As you travel, you can find a variety of edible blossoms and berries in all parts of the country, and these days there is an endless supply of recipes and preparing directions on the Internet. Utilizing the fruit of the land is a wonderful way to savor the memory of your RV travels.

Caution: Since some vegetation may be inedible or even poisonous, always verify that you have the correct fruit or flower before consuming.

Carol Weishampel has been an Escapee for more than 10 years and has contributed several articles to Escapees magazine. She has traveled to Alaska for six summers to volunteer. She is also the author of two non-fiction books that are based on her travels, Grandmas on the Go, and Grandmas Ultimate Road Trip, Texas to Alaska and two novels, Venture in Faith, Texas to Alaska and Beneath the Surface, with settings and plots that revolve around RV travel.

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