A Prescription for an Over-Stuffed Pantry
Among the many inspiring aspects of living in Alaska is our sense of place within the food chain. Our strong relationships with food stir the soul. The act of collecting, hunting, catching, and growing food in this bountiful landscape is a priority—a way of life. Sometimes by necessity, but mostly for the sheer joy and meaning it brings.
I don’t know what it is. Perhaps the effect of the northern latitudes, or living in a characteristically wild place, but the innate need to fill the larder is deep and visceral. Beyond all rationale, I can procrastinate any—and I mean any—responsibility if it means a few hours to gather food from the land. My sense of what is valuable and important changes completely. And when the berries come online, all bets are off. As the short-lived, but oh-so-full Alaskan summer speeds by like a freight train, the need to “squirrel stash” is ferocious.
But beyond stuffing the pantry, hunting and gathering fills the soul in an inexplicable way. Spending contemplative time alone in the wilderness, taking in God’s country. Laughing at berry-stained teeth and butts while relaxing in a ripe lingonberry patch. Enjoying friendly competition with compatriots or the local wildlife, harvesting late under the midnight sun. A kayak trip to the mother lode of the elusive nagoon berry.
Taken home, and meticulously transformed, these memories are siphoned into quilted jelly jars—one batch at a time. With the gratifying pop of the canning jar lids, the seasons are captured, preserving moments to be enjoyed and relived later.
The sun inevitably lowers on the horizon, and the pungent smell of cranberries drifts through the delta. The last of the berry season slips into the fall decay. We stand back, proud of our fully-stocked pantries, with a sense of wealth that can be acquired no other way.
And then we think, “What the hell am I going to do with all that jam? No one can eat that much toast!”
Holiday gifts from the heart are a perfect solution, especially the lesser-known berries and those antioxidant packed delicious blues—but what about the rest of your stash? It is a seasonal conundrum; willful amnesia will set in again next summer. So what’s to be done in the meantime?
Here is some inspiration to spark your culinary creativity for the holidays and winter days beyond. The word ‘jam’ is used here, but feel free to try any jelly, compote, conserve, or chutney of choice— and interchange the types of berries in the ideas on the next page to suit your fancy!
Low-Bush Cranberry Glazed Meats
This can be as simple as whisking jam with a few spoons of water over low heat to a thick but pourable consistency, and basting the meat during the last half hour of cooking. Try adding fresh herbs and savory spices over roasts, or grated orange peel and jalapeño to glaze roast chicken, turkey, or other fowl.
Tawny Port Blueberry Sauce
Every single jam on earth goes well with cheese. One of my favorites is a tawny port-blueberry sauce over a mild, soft cheese like chèvre or cream cheese. A half pint of blueberry jam in a saucepan over low heat with a few tablespoons of tawny port (or more if you so desire) and voila! Let cool and pour over cheese of choice.
Panna Cotta Glaze
Any wild jam – think strawberry, and nagoon! Thinned with a little water if necessary and spooned generously over panna cotta or layered into homemade cheesecake.
A charcuterie plate with a variety of meats is well complimented with a jam alone, or one dressed up as a chutney. Low bush cranberry jam works great by adding a touch of vinegar, some chopped raisins, a pinch of salt, a spoonful of mustard seeds, and a little citrus rind or finely chopped candied ginger. Can be combined fresh or cooked down for 10 minutes or so, stirring constantly on medium-low heat. Chutney also goes wonderfully with turkey.
Wild Raspberry Balsamic Vinaigrette
Winter greens never tasted so good. Whisk together a few tablespoons of raspberry jam, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a pinch of salt, and a teaspoon of mustard. Thin with water if necessary. Great over any salad, but especially on warm spinach with bacon.
Still jamming? Here are a few more ideas:
• Dipping sauces for meatballs, prosciutto-wrapped veggies, or sliced sausages
• Crepe fillings (paired with soft cheeses)
• Swirled into homemade ice cream, plain yogurt, orcottage cheese
• Worked into any pie, crumble, or tart recipe