As summer is winding down and fall is here, at Planet Alaska we look back at all we did this summer and prepare for winter. For us it has been a summer of harvesting and teaching.
This fall will be our end of the season harvests, and then we begin to make our goodies for winter. It has been a strange summer for harvesting, but we have been able to harvest and share with many, many friends and family. At Planet Alaska, a part of what makes us Alaskan is harvesting with friends, sharing with friends and eating with friends.
We began our summer with teaching dozens of people how to respectfully harvest devil’s club. We spent the rest of the summer teaching lots of children all about local plants, how to harvest respectfully, as well as teaching the Tlingit language and culture. It has been a full and beautiful summer. Even though fall has arrived, harvesting season isn’t over.
A berry busy season
I have always loved picking huckleberries into the fall. A few days ago, I picked a perfectly ripe salmonberry and ate it after the fireweed had gone to seed. It was a first for me. Usually salmonberries are done long before the fireweed goes to seed. It has been a strange season for wild harvesting here in Southeast Alaska. We did manage to get some thimbleberries this year, but it was too dry for a good crop. However, the blueberries this year have been fantastic. We’ve been making blueberry jam, blueberry jelly, blueberry syrup, blueberry fruit leather, blueberry soda and, of course, just freezing blueberries to eat in the winter.
Our next berries we will be harvesting this fall are high bush cranberries and lingonberries. Just when I think the harvesting season is about to slow down, I find even more to harvest. All this week and next week we will be harvesting blue asters, daisies, pearly everlastings, yarrow, rose petals, beach lovage, dandelions and labrador tea. It is also time to harvest chicken of the woods. Fall and winter is also the time we harvest for all sorts of mushrooms, root foods and root medicines. Soon we will be harvesting rose hips and low bush cranberries after the first freeze.
This week we have made hemlock tip syrup, lilac syrup, Nootka rose syrup, blueberry syrup and fireweed syrup. The fireweed flower was abundant across the entire state of Alaska this year. It is beautiful. I know it’s a lot of people’s favorite flower to make goodies with, but I’d have to say Alaska’s wild roses are still my favorite flower to work with. The Nootka rose petal syrup is a great addition to teas, flavored water, mixed drinks, sodas, pancakes, French toast, waffles and ice cream. It’s really a lovely flavor. You have to try it. Yum!
Now that Planet Alaska has a brick-and-mortar location we get to offer wintertime classes on all of these lovely foods to prepare people for next season’s harvest. There are a lot of people who aren’t aware we start harvesting in February, March and April depending on how the weather is. Quite often we are asked to teach harvesting classes in July and August. By then there are numerous plants I get to point out and say, “We could have harvested this plant two or three months ago.” Harvesting starts way before then. We look forward to sharing our knowledge here in Juneau as well as the communities we get to travel to as we grow. Having wintertime classes at Planet Alaska this winter will be lots of fun. Not only will we be offering classes on local foods and medicines, we will be offering Tlingit language classes for people who are new to the language. Maybe you have ideas about classes we could offer. Stop by and let us know or sign up for classes we already have available.
It has been wonderful to have so many of our Planet Alaska fans walk into our shop and give us so many wonderful words of encouragement. We were surprised to learn about how many fans we have here in Juneau when we moved over from Sitka last December. We haven’t lived in Juneau for over 10 years so it has been fun reconnecting with people and place as well as making new friends. Almost every single day we have Planet Alaska fans drop by and introduce themselves to us. We look forward to giving back to the community in new and creative ways.
To keep things simple because we know lots of you are deep into the fall harvesting too, we would like to give you a recipe you can vary with lots and lots of flavors. You can supplement this with blueberry juice, huckleberry juice, fireweed tea, rose tea, Labrador tea, spruce tip tea, hemlock tip tea, chaga tea and more. Experiment with combinations of flavors too!
You’ll find this a fun recipe to experiment with. Sometimes I joke about writing “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Harvesting.” As all harvesters know there is nothing lazy about harvesting. Sometimes we joke and call it, “Tlingit yoga.” As we begin to progress into winter, come on down to Planet Alaska and learn harvesting and preservation tricks and tip. At Planet Alaska part of what makes us Alaskan is harvesting with friends, sharing with friends and eating with friends.
• Vivian Mork Yéilk’ writes the Planet Alaska column with her mother, Vivian Faith Prescott. Planet Alaska publishes every other week in the Capital City Weekly.