Fireweed Blossom Jelly
I found that picking fireweed blossoms was really easy - you just strip them off the stalk. You boil the blossoms in water (or champagne or whatever other liquid your heart desires), strain, boil again, add sugar and pectin. Mine set up a little too well though. It's still edible, but not very spreadable. Both the champagne jelly and the regular jelly, even though I used about half the amount of pectin the second time. Maybe fireweed blossoms just have a lot of natural pectin? Next year I'll try making a batch with no pectin. It turns out a beautiful deep pink color, much brighter than I had imagined and has a soft floral flavor.
Crowberries grow on the tundra of much of Alaska and in the alpine. They are tiny little berries but they grow thicker than any other berry I've ever seen. I was first introduced to them working at a fish camp in Bristol Bay and we ate a lot of them because there weren't many other berries around. I don't know many non-Alaska Natives who pick these and I do not know why. They are so abundant and easy to pick and they're juicy and flavorful. The skin can be a little bitter, especially early in the season, but the juiciness makes them perfect for jelly. Ryan and I picked gallons of these this fall. They make a rich flavorful and deep black-purplish jelly (that stains everything).
I've found the best recipe is to add about 1 cup apple juice to ~6 cups crowberry juice to take away the bitter flavor. These do need a lot of sugar as well. Unlike a lot of other fruit, they are bitter without enough sugar rather than tart (I love tart, but not so much bitter). Every batch I've made has set up fine with 1 box of ball low sugar pectin to ~4-5 cups juice.
Watermelon berries are one of my favorites and they grow all over Kodiak; however, I've never seen them in enough abundance to bother collecting them. I've always just consumed as I picked. It's sometimes hard to imagine that anything that likes a cool wet environment grows somewhere better than it does in Kodiak, but watermelon berries appear to love east-facing slopes in Eagle River. Ryan and I stumbled upon some while on a hiking trip looking for blueberries and couldn't give up the watermelon berry patches for hours.
I strained these to make jelly and added some sugar (don't remember how much), but it was too much. The jelly turned out very sweet and set up fairly well with the Ball low sugar pectin. Now I can see that watermelon berries are very naturally sweet - they are neither tart nor bitter - and need very little sugar to make tasty jelly. I'm not complaining about this batch though, it basically tastes like candy.
Red Currant Jelly
I had no idea that wild red currants grew in any abundance in Alaska. They don't grow on Kodiak at all. I had seen a few in the interior, but also never in any abundance worth taking home. On a hunt for high bush cranberries down by the river near our condo, I came upon a couple of very short bushes with a handful of tiny berries on each. Knowing I love red currants, I decided it might be worthwhile to root around for more bushes to at least get a cup or two for one small batch of jelly. It only took a few minutes before we were in the thick of dead fall in the woods finding bushes so loaded with currants they were laying on the ground. We picked almost a gallon in an hour and a half.
I had heard that red currants have a lot of natural pectin so I didn't use much and the jelly set up great. I also tried to use some of the juice to make syrup, but it set up as jelly anyway, even without pectin. Red currants are also very tart, even for me, and they require a lot of sugar.
I attempted to pick cloudberries in Kotzebue this year, but they have a very short season and I missed them. They are high on my list for next year although I'm not sure if there are good places to pick them near Anchorage - someone please share their secrets! There is a great patch of trailing raspberries on the South Fork trail of Eagle River and next year I think I will dedicate some time to picking enough for a small batch of jelly. Maybe I'll even be able to get a few nagoonberries down by the river as well.