Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How to Bottle Summer

 The title of this blog post is a little misleading. Because really, if you could bottle summer, kids across America would be buying out jars and sucking the universe dry. Picnics, lazy days, vacations, travel and sunshine. Who wouldn't want to save up a little of that to crack open on those dreary January days? After living through one winter in Alaska, I've learned that you must savor all things summer while you can.  

Around the clock sunshine, moderate temperatures, and amazing landscapes are just a part of why so many people flock to Alaska during the summer. But, it’s short lived and there is only a little while longer until the snow flies again. So, imagine my delight at learning that I can bottle up a little of this summer magic.

The ragged beauty of wildflowers is one of my favorite things about summer. The jeweled blues of the regal bluebonnets, wide fluffy clusters of queen anne’s lace, and even the bright yellow dandelion create the color of summer. Alaska is abundant with color. One of the most well known wildflowers here is the fireweed.  Fields are blanketed with the thick, pink flowers.  

It's a delight to see these flowers along the sides of the road. Even better is that they are edible, and right now it's jelly making time in Alaska. These little pink petals become sweet, fragrant goodness in a jar that will surely put a damper on this winter's blues.

This is new to me, since I haven't lived here long. So, my friend Deanna showed me the process. It turns out that this was really easy,fun and something great to do with kids. 

Start by picking the wildflowers. We got most of ours from our back yard. You'll need enough to fill two cups tightly packed with the blooms.  

Pluck the blooms from the stem being careful that you look them over as you will find a few bugs here and there and you don't want that in your jelly.

Once you've done that, you need to pour 2 1/2 cups of boiling water over the petals. Almost immediately you'll see the color drain out of the flowers. Let it cool for a bit, then cover the bowl and leave it in the refrigerator over night. 

When you're ready to begin making your jelly, strain the flowers and juice through some cheesecloth or another jelly straining bag. You just want to keep the juice. I thought I had messed up here because the juice was a dirty brownish color. However, here's where the kids will have a lot of fun.  Put the fireweed juice in a large stockpot and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. The color will change before your eyes to this really pretty electric pink. 

Add 3 1/4 cups of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of butter to the mix and stir, heating the mixture to a full rolling boil.

Let the mixture boil for  one minute, then add 6 tablespoons of pectin. Stir, allowing all the pectin to dissolve and bringing the mixture back to a boil for one more minute, then remove from the heat.  Some locals swear by liquid pectin. I used the powdered pectin and it worked just fine. I'd say just use what you're most comfortable with. If it doesn't set, you'll be left with fireweed syrup which would be awesome too.

Fill warm, sanitized jars with the mixture and place in a water bath to seal. 

There you have it. A little Alaska summer in a jar!  Thank you to Deanna and all my local friends for sharing their tips and tricks.

Fireweed Jelly

2 C. tightly packed flower blooms
2 1/2 C. water
2 Tblsp. lemon juice
3 1/4 C. sugar
1/2 tsp. butter
6 Tblsp. pectin (This amount may change depending on the type of pectin you are using.)

Place only the blooms in a mixing bowl.  Bring water to a boil and pour over the blooms. Let cool, seal and place in the refrigerator overnight. Strain bloom mixture through a cheesecloth  keeping only the juice. Combine fireweed juice, lemon juice, sugar and butter in a stockpot and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Allow the mix to boil for 1 minute. Mix in pectin bringing to a boil again for another minute. Remove from heat. Add jelly to warm, sanitized jars. Place jars in a water bath to allow them to seal.