Thoughts, ramblings, experiences and joys of an Alaska girl. Home is where the heart is, and my heart is firmly rooted in the Great Land of Alaska.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

When Alaska Hands You Fireweed

There's a saying that "when life hands you lemons, make lemonade." Well, when Alaska hands you fireweed, make fireweed jelly.... or fireweed honey.... or fireweed ice cream.

I went berry picking up Arctic Valley in Anchorage yesterday. We parked at the lot at Alpenglow, and began the hike up the trail that leads to Rendezvous Peak. We'd hiked it a few days ago and found berries on the way (crowberries, lowbush cranberries or lingonberries, and blueberries), but Alex had a goal and a mission to reach the Peak. That goal didn't include berry picking. So, yesterday I went back and I found about 2 pints of Alaska blueberries (the ones with the green meat inside), but didn't stay long enough to find more than that. I'll go back some time the end of next week when the berries have had more time to ripen.

There is, however, a lot of fireweed up near Alpenglow: thick, long, flower-filled stocks of fireweed in bloom. Seeing them, I decided to change my jelly strategy and go for the fireweed instead of the non plentiful berries. I'd taken my scissors to trim the fireweed to place in bags to take home where I picked the petals off. I stuffed two grocery bags full of fireweed stems and headed home to petal pull. From the two bags of stalks I'd cut, I pulled off 2 quarts of flowers. Since most of the recipes I've found for fireweed jelly call for 8 cups of petals, I got exactly the right amount.

I've never made fireweed jelly, honey or ice cream, but I've tasted all three. Most of the fireweed jelly recipes I found were exactly the same. Here are the jelly, honey and ice cream recipes I am going to try:
Marylin's Fireweed Jelly Recipe
8 Cups fireweed blossoms
1/4 Cup lemon juice
4 1/2 Cups water
2 pkgs Sure Jell (or other powdered pectin)
5 Cups suger

Pick,wash, and measure fireweed blossoms (flower part only, no stems). Add lemon juice and 4-water. Boil 10 minutes and strain. Take the strained juice and heat to lukewarm. Add pectin all at once and bring to a boil. Add 5 cups sugar and return to full boil.
Boil hard for 1 minute. Pour into hot clean jars and seal. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Homesteader's Fireweed "Honey" Recipe
50 pink clover blooms
10 white clover blooms
18 - 25 fireweed blooms
3/4 tsp alum
5 pound bag white sugar
3 Cups boiling water

Wash blooms in cold water (gently rinse) to remove little critters. While rinsing blooms, boil water. Put all ingredients except water in pan, then pour boiling water on. Let sit for 10 minutes. Bring to boil and boil for 10 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth or jelly bag.
Put in clean canning jars and water bath process for 10 min.

OR, another I was told by a friend for fireweed honey that calls for more fireweed than clover:

Fireweed Honey
45 pink clover blossoms
25 white clover blossoms
100 fireweed blossoms
1 tsp. alum
10 Cups sugar
2 Cups water

Wash blooms in cold water. Put all ingredients except water into pan, then add water. Let sit for 10 minutes. Bring to a boil and boil until fireweed turns gray and water is a purple color. Strain through cheesecloth or jelly bag. Put in clean canning jars and water bath process for 10 minutes.

The fireweed ice cream recipe I am going to use is one I modified from a rose petal ice cream recipe I found. I'll see if it turns out. I couldn't find ANY recipes for fireweed ice cream online, so this will have to do. I'll post the final product and review.

Fireweed Ice Cream
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 1/2 Cups fireweed petals only, no stems, no stamen
2 large eggs
3/4 Cup fine sugar
2 tsp. honey
1 cup milk

Put the cream, milk, and petals in a saucepan and bring to just below the boil***. Remove from heat, cover and leave to infuse for 25 minutes until cool. Whisk egg yolks in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Whisk the sugar and honey a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended. Strain the rose-infused milk into the egg mixture and return to the sauce pan or a double-broiler. Cook very gently until slightly thickened, but do not let it boil. Chill this mixture (custard now) and then freeze or process in an ice cream maker. Store in the freezer.

***An alternative to adding the petals full to a saucepan with the cream and milk is to place the sugar and the fireweed petals in a food processor fitted with the metal blade and make paste. Then, place the heavy cream, milk and sugar/fireweed paste in a medium sized saucepan with the honey and completely blend, then place on medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer and turn off heat then continue by adding the egg mixture as above.

I've also learned through buzzing about online that I could have made lilac jelly from the lilac that blooms in my yard. Also, I've goint to try my hand at rose hip candy, rose hip jelly and rose hip jam. When I do, I'll post the pics of the final products, the recipes and the reviews.

Have I already said I love Alaska????


Stacy Jon Peterson said...

Very glad I found your blog! I, too, live in Eagle River, AK, and am excited about doing exactly the same things you are. My wife thinks I'm nuts -- she loves the fishing (as do I, of course), but I also love the berries / jellies / canning / etc., that goes along with living in this land! I tried a modified version of the fireweed jelly you listed, but it turned out as fireweed syrup! I went to Arctic Valley Road today to pick another batch of fireweed (along with some mossberries and blueberries for jelly) and will try it again soon.

I did find some northern red currants near Caswell Creek on the Parks Highway last week and made some excellent jelly from that!

Fun stuff! Keep up the good work with this blog

Stacy Jon Peterson said...

Thought I'd leave a follow-up to report that Marilyn's Fireweed Jelly recipe you posted above worked like a charm! Also, the mossberry jelly I made from a recipe online turned out well, too!

I'm curious, though -- the fireweed jelly recipes all make a point of saying that the stems should be removed from the flowers before boiling. Why? Do they impart some bitterness to the product?

By stem, I'm assuming they mean the future pod that connects the flower to the stalk. Anyone know the reason for not leaving those on?

Anonymous said...

Possably, but im not sure i just got mine to grow(im a 17 years old and im a botines(curse my spelling)living in Massachusetts. although i do have some tips for you. ONE: the young sprouts can be eaten,TWO: The root can be roasted after scraping off the outside, but often tastes bitter. To mitigate this, collect the root before the plant flowers and remove the brown thread in the middle.
THREE: it has medicinal properties, the fresh cut stem is said to pull the puss out of a infected cut.

Reg & Kimberly said...

I enjoyed your blog. I made Fireweed Jelly last summer (2008). The color of the jelly was very pretty and the recipe made up four 6oz jars. I had planned to give as Christmas gifts but alas!...the jelly had a bitter after taste. Not all that unpleasant and good enough for my husband and I to use but I am sure that my Dad would not like it over his strawberry store bought jelly. Actually, I think the bitter taste was due to my poor preparation. I was not careful in cleaning the flowers and had "only a few bits of leaves". I did not think they would matter. I think those leaves gave the bitter taste. So, I plan to make jelly again this year. I'll be more careful with the cleaning of the petals and see if there is a bitter flavor or not. I'll try to report back as to my success rate.

Sarah said...

I was wondering if you use the stamen while making jelly, or just the petals only? I cant seem to find the answer and was hoping you would be able to let me know! Thanks!

Tyia, with roots and wings said...

I've made fireweed jelly for the last 5 years using this recipe and I love it!!! My first batch ended up being fireweed syrup, as I didn't let the pectin boil long enough so it never set up, but every other time has been a success. I'm seeing a lot of questions about which parts of the flowers to use. Maybe I can help. I always make larger batches because I love giving the jelly away so I get a little "lazy" when picking the flowers. I pinch the stem just below where the blossoms start, then run my fingers up the stem until the blossoms stop. I hold a bag below this so all the blossoms fall right into my back. I don't get any of the buds so that they can continue to bloom and because I don't think it would do much good in the jelly. I do get the occasional leaf which I try to pull out when I'm rinsing the flowers later. But otherwise I use everything I collect. My jelly doesn't seem to be too bitter, at least I've never heard any complaints yet :) Like I said, I do pretty large quantities so maybe the bitterness gets diluted. But overall, I think it's a pretty forgiving recipe. Good luck everyone! It's so fun and so worth it!!!

Kris Knight said...

I have lived in Alaska for 10 years and just now tried to make fireweed jelly. I thought it would be hard but it wasn't at all. My whole family liked it. I wish I would have found the receipe earlier in the season. The blooms are already gone. Thanks so much for sharing!

Cristine said...

Hi ALL! WOW, I'm so glad people are out there picking the petals and enjoy it as much as I do! I made another batch of fireweed jelly this year also! Silly me, I didn't follow my own directions. I made it with a recipe I'd gotten from someone else, and then had the "genius" idea to add only 3/4 a cup of sugar for each cup of liquid... it didn't set AT ALL. However, I did remake it and only added more sugar, I didn't bother adding another pectin packet. It set up, lickety split, and is wonderful... no permanent damage done. However, I tried another batch, ignoring a post I'd read somewhere about not using too much water or the liquid would turn to a resin light brown color. Well, it did turn brown, and I ended up throwing the whole thing out. I'm hoping there are still some petals up Arctic Valley so I can try again. I only wish the summer season wasn't so SHORT! Happy jarring, all. Let me know your successes, and your failures!

Catherine Constable said...

Help! Just tried making the jelly and found the same bitter aftertaste mentioned above. I took care to clean the flowers of leaves, stems and bugs. Used the whole flower, i.e., petals, stamens and the pod-like stem that attaches the flower to the main stem. Used buds if they were opening, i.e., showing petals. Didn't use any of the longer pods that appear below the flowers on the main stem of the plan. Does this sound right?

The jelly is a lovely colour and not unpleasant to eat, but the bitterness that comes at the end of a bite is going to be off-putting to some. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance!!!!!

Melissa Mountcastle said...

You are a doll for posting this. I have made 24 jars of Fireweed Jelly in the most gorgeous shade of amethyst. I gave the jars as gifts to visitors from a work project. I have even shared this recipe last weekend teaching teens at our church how to make fireweed jelly. Huge success and great taste. I particularly love the delicate floral flavor and mine was not bitter. Perfect compliment to a nice piece of sourdough toast.

I have to say when it comes to jelly making in Alaska this is particularly simple as it's like steeping tea leaves. No seeds or additional squeezing. All the best of summer without all the work. Well done! Thank you so much for sharing.

Angie McPherson said...

This sounds like fun. I only wish o has access to fire weed. I spent a summer in Denali. I to return, but with two kids and a husband now I am not sure when it can happen. I have started making my own jams and jellies and love somethin out of the ordinary, like the carrot jelly I made today.

basketball22princess said...

Question...when it says 2 packages of pectin do you mean 2 boxes? I just tried this and used 2 of the pouches of sure jell or 1 box...thinking it should have used 2 boxes or 4 pouches as mine was definitely a syrup. Any suggestions? Also, Do you strain the blossoms or squeeze all liquid out of them? Thank you in advance for your help!

Caroline said...

I just came across this blog. I was in Alaska in July and brought back some fireweed flowers. My question is...I got the flowers juiced, probably around the first of August, but haven't found time to make the jelly. Does the juice go bad?

ak said...

Hi, I have lived in Alaska since 1968 and I have been making and enjoying fireweed honey since I learned to make it in 1986. Love,Love,
love this honey!

Alan said...

I've lived in Alaska for 20 years now, and frankly, I feel that this silly fireweed jelly is nothing but a worthless waste of time. Despite so many people trying to convince themselves otherwise, it has NO taste to it whatsoever --- aside from the usual bitter after-taste --- other than that of the sugar that is added to it, as fireweed flowers have utterly no aroma nor flavor of their own.

Honestly, I am continually astounded by so many people wasting so much breath, and so much time, on something that is nothing more than a gimmick. With all the wonderful wild berries in Alaska, don't waste your time on fireweed jelly! You might as well just make jellied water, which is all that fireweed jelly (aside from the color) really is.

Alan said...

Dear AK (the commenter above me),

Please note that you are NOT making "honey" with your recipe, as only bees can make actual honey. What you are really making is called syrup. Not that there's anything wrong with that, or your recipe, but people should know that realy honey is NOT made in the kitchen, but in the stomach of bees (as gross as that might sound).

Leanna Dreher said...

Hello- I made some Fireweed "honey" for the first time today, and hope to try making jelly in the near future. I plan to give some away, but not sure what to tell themabout storage. I processed the jars for 10 minutes and they are sealed. However, once they are opened do they need to be refrigerated?

Fern Holloway said...

After opening fireweed honey you do not have to refrigerate. Only the jellies and jams. Fern Holloway Kasilof Alaska.����

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Anonymous said...

Midnight Sun Farms was my first experience with fireweed jelly and there's is amazing! Try some on a PB&J with banana slices, and you're guaranteed to get the best homemade sandwich you've ever had!