I'm going to try my hand at making jelly this year. I've never made it. I remember my mom and Aunt Joyce used to can vegetables that were grown in our backyard garden in Utah when I was young. I tried to hide the canned green tomatoes in the back far reaches of the hall closet where they kept the canned goods, to no avail. They'd also can peaches and other fruits from the trees in my grandmother's yard. I don't remember them ever trying their hand at jellies or jams.
I don't have a garden here in Alaska. I don't have fruit trees here in Alaska. What I do have are roadsides full of wild fireweed. In a little over a month, I'll have hillsides full of wild berries (crow berries, salmon berries and blue berries). Last year, we picked almost 3 gallons of blueberries. They are in my freezer still, waiting to be turned into ice cream, smoothies, muffins and jam. How time flies! It's almost time to start picking again. I got here too late to pick fireweed in full bloom last year. I'm going to take full advantage of the bounty this year though! I found a recipe online for fireweed jelly, and I'm going to start picking blooms on Wednesday of next week up Hiland Road. We drove up there last night. The fireweed wasn't blooming yet, but there were plenty of buds on the plants.
Fireweed grows plentiful in Alaska. The stalks can grow anywhere between 1 1/2 feet to 8 feet tall. The flowers are a magenta color. Native Alaskans of old mixed the leaves with other greens in the spring and ate them as salads (the plants are high in vitamin C); later in the season they used the plant medicinally. The plants grow best on roadsides or where the ground has been disturbed, and they don't deal well with humidity (that's why I'd never seen them before when I lived in the southeastern United States). I haven't tried fireweed jelly before, but I have become a huge fan of fireweed and honey ice cream.
If my canning experience goes well, what all my Virginia friends will be getting for Christmas? I'll be sending a little bit of Alaska to them in a jar.