There are around 3000 residents on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska, and while we're diverse in many aspects, a major similarity between us all is a reliance on locally-sourced and wild-grown food to subsist throughout the year. While food prices are a factor in this reliance, many of us live here specifically for this reason. We want to live as close to nature as possible, which means much of our "free" time is spent harvesting, gathering, hunting, catching, trapping, and most critically PROCESSING!
Some of my favorite things to harvest are spruce tips, devil's club buds, bull-kelp, berries, and fish. Each of them are ready to harvest at different times of the year, so there's always something to be out doing. At least once a month throughout most of the year you'll find us out adventuring, and coming home with some of natures bounty ready to process and enjoy!
In the spring, the spruce tips and devil's club buds are the first big harvest. Nature is waking up from winter and getting ready for summer, and throughout the abundant forests you can find the fresh green growth on trees and devil's club plants. Spruce tips are full of vitamin C and make excellent tea, syrup, jelly, and candy. The flavor is slightly piney and lemony, which is very refreshing... adding a bit of orange extract to recipes brings out an amazing flavor profile. Devil's club buds are tricky to harvest, but with a good pair of gloves and careful navigation anything is possible. Before the buds begin to open up into leaves (and develop hard spines), pick the buds by twisting gently. They are best processed by blanching for 3 minutes and then either sauteing for immediate consumption or frozen for later use. The flavor is that of fresh greens with a bit of spiciness, somewhat like mustard greens.
In the early part of summer, the bull-kelp, salmon and halibut are ready to harvest and catch. Bull-kelp has many uses, but my personal favorite are spicy dill kelp pickles. The whips are sliced into 1/2 inch rings, put in jars with spices, and covered with a pickling brine before processing in a water bath. These pickles are bright and crunchy, with almost an olive-like texture and are perfect enjoyed by themselves or chopped and mixed with canned smoked salmon, mayo, mustard and pepper for a tasty sandwich spread. Halibut can be frozen and canned which are great for a variety of uses. For a special treat, try making a ceviche with fresh-frozen halibut using the bits that don't end up in the vacuum bags or jars.
Later in the summer, the berries are out in force. Blue and red huckleberries are abundant, as are salmon berries and thimble berries. While most people prefer to keep their berries separated, my preference is to use them all together to make jams and pie filling. There's nothing better than a big bowl of vanilla ice cream and a large dollop of mixed-berry jam, or a mixed-berry cobbler using the canned pie filling.
Hmm... now I'm getting hungry! All the food we put up throughout the summer keeps us well fed in the fall and winter. Because our summers are so busy, many people will put their wild harvests in the freezer with minimal processing and then wait for a rainy and cold day which is perfect for staying inside next to the hot stove!