Picking Spruce Tips - 2

Typically, I think of fall as the time to find wild edibles in our little corner of Alaska. The berries and the mushrooms appear in August and September just in time to put up for winter. This is the first spring that I’ve been aware of all the fun things around to forage.

I’ve already missed fiddlehead season… the ferns are now unfurled. But if they’re still around in your neck of the woods try and taste some!

Fiddlehead Ferns

Our friends Rion and Chrissy went out the road to hunt for Devil’s club buds today.

Devil's club, Oplopanax horridus, in bud

Apparently this prickly plant produces some tasty buds early in the season that are also quite nutritious. They’re also gathering nettles for tea and other plants for salves and balms.

We had another gorgeous sunny day today. We worried as we hiked up Mt. Eyak that this might bode the end of our “summer” instead of the beginning as it sometimes does. Summers can be quite rainy and cool here, but so far we’ve been really lucky.

Mt. Eyak Hike Memorial Day - 09

Alaskan kids know how to celebrate a warm day.

Mt. Eyak Hike Memorial Day - 05

Mt. Eyak Hike Memorial Day - 04

Mt. Eyak Hike Memorial Day - 06

While we were hiking we chewed on salmonberry blossoms. They were tender and tasted mildly of salmonberries. Very nice. But I reminded myself that any blossom I ate would not be a berry later, so I held back.

Mt. Eyak Hike Memorial Day - 01

At the Midway, where we stopped for a snack, we ran into a friend who was telling us about fireweed shoots. It turns out the tender stalk of the fireweed plant is delicious. You can sauté it like asparagus, and Toni told us it’s amazing pickled. I found this image on flickr of a fireweed shoot omlette:

fireweed shoot omelette

There’s a wonderful Alaskan food blogger, Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska, who has a great post about harvesting and using fireweed shoots. (She blogged about the Devil’s Club too.) The fireweed shoots are best before the leaves start to poke out, when the stalk is mostly red and about 6-8 inches tall.

When we got home from the hike it was so warm we (well the crazy among us) jumped in the lake. The air was about 63 degrees. A warm Alaskan day. The water was probably a bit chillier than that.

First Swim - 04

I stayed dry and made cocktails using another foraged edible: Spruce Tips. This is possibly my favorite new drink. It’s a shame the tips are only available for a few days each year. Spruce tips are out right now, and I’ve been harvesting them for a few days with my friends Alyssa and Erica. The tips can be eaten fresh in salads, they have a tart herb-y flavor, and are a little resiny, but I like them. They’re very high in vitamin C, and they were used in pioneer times to ward off scurvy.

Picking Spruce Tips - 1

We’ve been cruising the web for recipes and found some great ones at the Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska blog–she has recipes for Syrup, Mayonnaise, Shortbread and even flavored salt. Rainsoaked, a Juneau Alaska blogger has a great recipe for jelly, and another blog has one for Sorbet which I really want to try. I made the syrup last night, and found it came out a bit on the thin side, but it tasted so lovely. Citrus-y with a light herbal flavor. The first thing that popped into my head was Cocktails! So today, I devised one based on the syrup:

Spruce Tip Cocktail

1 oz. Gin
2 T. Spruce Tip Syrup (I used this recipe)
Club Soda
A few fresh Spruce Tips
Salmonberry Blossoms for Garnish

(By the way–I’ve heard that fir and other pine tips can be substituted for spruce tips in any of these recipes).

Fill an 8 oz glass half-full with ice. Add gin and spruce tip syrup. Crush a fresh spruce tip between your fingers and add to glass. Fill the glass with club soda, stir, and garnish with a salmonberry blossom.


Spruce Tip Cocktail

Spring Abundance