Cloudberries and Freezer Jam

Ball Jars filled with freshly-picked cloudberries (often locally called salmon berries). We’ll add a little lemon juice, pectin, and sugar to the crushed berries, mix and simmer this in our bread maker for an hour-and-twenty minutes, pour the mixture back into the jars and put them in the freezer to set. This will provide us with some of the most tantalizing jam imaginable. Cloudberry jam… 

The morning was cool and cloudy, with mist and banks of fog rolling across Point Hope. We’d been told that we’d find berries about three miles east of town along Seven-Mile Road, and so seven of us had gathered to make the hike out. Two of the men carried 12 gauge shotguns and a third carried a side arm. Bears are always a possibility.

The wildflowers which all but carpeted the tundra when we arrived here nearly a month ago are mostly gone now, though here and there a few tiny yellow Alaska poppies and beautiful blue but deadly monkshood and other flowers are still blooming. And then, right about at three miles just as we’d been told, there they were… cloudberries, growing together in small patches where mounds of earth were just high enough above the boggy tundra to allow roots to drain. The unripe cloudberries (Rubus chamaemorus) were deep red and beautiful. The ripe ones are the amber-orange color of Chinook salmon flesh, giving their close relatives, salmon berries (Rubus spectabilis), their names.

Wherever cloudberries grow across the upper latitudes of North America and Europe, they are a prized delicacy, agreeably tart when barely ripe, becoming creamy rich and sweet as they continue to ripen. They contain twice as much vitamin C as oranges. Growing very close to the ground, the berries were surprisingly inconspicuous at first. But once our eyes adjusted to what we were looking for, the tundra seemed to sparkle with their red, orange and amber glow.

We picked for about two hours, happy to have worn Muck Boots as we slogged through the soft, wet ground. By the time hunger caught up with us and it was time to head back, Barbra and I had about three pounds of berries between us–enough for a few jars of the freezer jam which would make the hike well worth the effort.

On the walk back, the sun began to push its way through the thinning clouds, lighting the land around us. It was then that Barbra and one of our friends spotted a large white bird perched motionless on a hump out on the tundra. “It’s got to be an owl,” I said. “Let’s see.” We made our way toward the white shape until there was no doubt we were looking at a large snowy owl. These owls are huge, the heaviest in North America. When it finally spread its magnificent wings and lifted off, it revealed an underside of almost pure white–a male in its prime, grown fat on ground squirrels.

3-Egg Dungeness Crab Omelet

The previous evening, we had split a bottle or two of Willamette Valley Chardonnay and enjoyed a late dinner, watching the Fourth of July fireworks over Resurrection Bay from our camper while leisurely picking a couple of beautiful Dungeness crabs which I’d steam-boiled in miso soup. One of the things we love about meals like this is anticipating the omelets we’ll enjoy the next morning made from leftovers. Crab omelets run neck-and-neck with omelets made from fresh halibut or yelloweye rockfish as our very favorites. And, as it happens, I have an 11″ Swiss Diamond frypan that is perfect for making a three-egg omelet. (If you haven’t experienced cooking with Swiss Diamond cookware, we highly recommend you give it a try. Cooking eggs and fish, in particular, is a revelation.) One of the keys to making a good omelet is to heat ingredients in a separate pan before placing them on the egg.

Three-egg Dungeness Crab Omelet

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I often use Tillamook cheese, and sometimes English-style cheddars.)
  • Cholula hot sauce (Cholula is more robust than Tabasco without being hotter)
  • mixed Italian seasonings. (You can add separate ingredients, but the mixes made by Morton & Bassett or The Spice Hunter are very good)
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • olive oil (or butter)
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons of sherry (The better the sherry, the better the final product. I often use Dry Sack.)
  • 1/2 cup (or more) of cooked Dungeness crab meat

1. Place olive oil (or butter) in a 10 to 11 inch frypan and heat over medium-low heat, making sure to coat the entire bottom of the pan.

2. In a small bowl, add the eggs, Cholula, Italian seasonings, sea salt and sherry. Whisk thoroughly.

3. Pour the egg mixture into the pan. Make sure it doesn’t cook too quickly. You want it to be gently simmering, not frying.

4. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat a little olive oil and warm up the crab meat over low to medium-low heat.

5. When the egg is nearly cooked through but still a little moist on the upper surface, place the shredded cheddar and the crab meat on the egg. Add an additional couple of grinds of pepper, seasoning or salt, if desired. Place the cheese and crab in the middle of the egg and fold the two sides toward the middle, or arrange evenly on one half and fold the other half over.

6. Cover the pan with a lid and continue cooking on low heat until the cheese is melted–about two minutes.

Serve the omelet with  your favorite salsa, slices of avocado, or seasonal berries and a slice of bread pan-fried in olive oil. This dish isn’t just for breakfast and pairs equally well with a dark roast coffee or a good Chardonnay or Viognier. White meat fish such has halibut, rockfish or walleye can be substituted for the crab. Serves two.

Razor Clam Fry

Jack has put the finishing touches on our kitchen in our new home and is already feeding us well. The above razor clams were dusted with seasoned flour, dipped in beaten eggs, and rolled in cracker crumbs in preparation for frying in olive oil. Having been frozen fresh, they tasted like they were just dug. Every bite evoked the wonderful memories of digging those clams just weeks ago.

I’m grateful that our school not only has a pool, but also a weight room this year!

Seeking Silver Salmon

Coho Salmon

Trolling is boring, I thought. Two summers ago we drove around in our boat outside of Whittier at incredibly slow speeds dragging a couple of lures only one silly little pink salmon came to bite. Heck, you don’t even get hold the rod!

This was my impression.

That has changed.

This summer while in Seward, we heard the silver salmon (Coho) run on Resurrection Bay was hot. Out on the bay, Jack got gear ready for trolling; I was prepared to enjoy the scenery. But no sooner did he put a lure in the water and set the rod in the holder than we got hit! We quickly strategized–I drive, Jack tends rigs, fish hits, Jack shouts “FISH,” I drop the boat into neutral, Jack reels in the fish, I grab the net, and Voila–major fun! Then we switch–Jack drives, I reel in the fish, and Jack does honors on the net!

The limit for silver salmon in Resurrection Bay is six fish – which meant with two limits, we could keep 12.. The first 11 salmon came easily. Naturally, that last elusive fish took us a while to find. We took a break from trolling by catching other fish that day…halibut, lingcod, and rockfish. When we went back to trolling, a dime-bright silver was waiting for us. When we finally pulled up at the cleaning station at the marina with our beautiful catch (two Chinook, several large silvers, halibut and rockfish)…even the locals were impressed.

Clam Digger

Two hours before low water

the clam digger walks the pebbled beach and waits

clatter of rocks under each stride

eagles silhouetted against the morning sky

on the towering, sand-colored bluffs

the tide edges back slowly

exposing fist-sized rocks

red and veined with quartz

green rocks with speckles

look like eggs

the saltchuck laps at the last fringes of rock

till at last the sand beach begins to show

and dimples

and blinkers

and neckers…


One Hundred-twenty Clams

One-hundred and twenty clams

That’s a lot of razor clams. Back on the Oregon coast, the limit was thirty for the two of us. We love razors, they are THE best eating clams. Driven by our love of clams and the best clamming tide of the summer, we cruised down the Kenai coast to see what we could catch.

We got to the beach well before the peak low tide. The beach was suspiciously devoid of people and very rocky. The day before, a family of campers had told us that this beach was “loaded” with clams. Maybe we had been punked! Patience, Donachy’s, patience.

We walked south in hopes of finding sand or evidence of clams. The day was sunny, and the blue skies were reflected in the glassy waters of Cook Inlet. Shouldered with snow, Mount Iliamna loomed in the distance, catching clouds like wisps of cotton. Bald eagles seemed to be everywhere. We walked immersed in the beauty and stillness, the sun warming us.

As the tide continued to recede, here and there patches of sand began to show. And then, so did the people. Trucks and ATVs drove by and continued down the beach. A-ha! After a few more minutes of walking we joined the two dozen or so people who were beginning to dig. There were old, young, and in between. Dads were coaching kids. Groups of young girls were squealing and giggling with each clam they pulled from the wet sand.

As we joined the diggers, we were amazed at the quantity of shows—the tell-tale dimples in the sand made by each clam’s syphon. Two years earlier, we dug some clams at a nearby beach. They were huge, but we didn’t find many. On this beach, the clams were smaller, but still a good size for eating. After digging for a bit over an hour, we decided we’d better count and see where we were. We were shocked to find we had already dug one hundred clams! We were almost disappointed knowing that we only could dig twenty more.

The morning of clamming and walking the beach had been a blast! We knew we had our work cut out for us cleaning and prepping the razors for cooking. Armed with a six-pack of Alaskan White Ale and the high the two big bags of clams left us with, we went back to camp to finish the task.

Provisioning for a Year in the Bush

Above, Jack is zip-tying the lid to a Rubbermaid Roughneck tub at our storage unit in Anchorage.

Planning for a year in a remote village may seem like a daunting task. After two bush moves and two annual shopping experiences, I think we’ve nailed it.

In Walden, Thoreau lists everything he took with him to his life on the shores of Walden Pond. Fascinated and inspired by Thoreau’s list, we vigilantly documented all the provisions we sent out to Shishmaref last year and monitored what we used and didn’t use in order to prepare our shopping lists for this coming year.

Here’s what the advice of others and our own experiences have taught us.

1. Rubbermaid Roughneck. They come in a variety of sizes and are easy to stack and store. We label each tub and lid so all the holes we drill for the zip ties which keep them closed match up. The manufacturer says they are “unbreakable.” So far, they have been just that. Caution: most other tubs will break.

2. Cardboard boxes. The best boxes are reliable for only one use, and even then they are more difficult to ship and stack than the plastic tubs. We have gone away from using boxes.

3. Media mail. For books, CD’s, DVDs and other media, the post office gives a discount on their already inexpensive rates. Know that these items will be shipped on the slowest boat, at times will be stacked atop each other in huge piles, and will likely be tossed around. In our first move, just about the only boxes that were wrecked were those that had been sent at the media rate. This time around, we shipped our media in rubber tubs.

4. Dry goods. We think of food items in three categories: dry, refrigerated, and frozen. Our first advice is this: if you don’t have a Costco membership, get one! Costco has excellent prices and they seldom stock anything that isn’t of good quality. Unlike some other stores which, for a fee, will pack and ship your groceries for you, Costco is a “do-it-yourself” proposition. That’s fine with us. Not only do we save money by taking care of something we can do perfectly well ourselves, but in doing so we ensure that our items are properly packaged. And in addition to getting butcher-shop-quality meats and excellent produce, in shopping at Costco we are giving our hard-earned money to a business that is known for treating its employees and its customers fairly and ethically. We won’t name any businesses, but personally we can’t justify giving our money to a corporation that is constantly in the news fending off one law suit after another because they simply do not treat their employees ethically and with respect. Once we have purchased and packed our dry goods, we mail them at the parcel post rate of about 70 cents per pound.

5. Frozen goods. Alaska airlines as well as the the smaller airlines that provide service to the bush allow three checked items (50 pounds each) and one carry on item. We were advised to bring coolers as the checked items, so last year, we brought up three 58-quart coolers stuffed with frozen meat, juice, fruit, and vegetables. All the coolers ended up exceeding the airline’s weight limit by 20 to 25 pounds each, which irritated the employees at the ticket counter end cost as overage fees. This year, we are going to use Rubbermaid tubs instead of coolers. The tubs themselves are lighter than coolers, and by going with 14 gallon (56 quart) coolers and using crumpled newspaper for insulation and to take up some room, we should be able to stay within the weight limit. With items frozen solid (we have a chest freezer at our storage place), everything should hold up fine during travel. We’ll supplement what we buy at Costco with the razor clams, salmon, halibut and rockfish we harvest this summer. By the way, the large bags of frozen vegetables Costco carries are superb.

6. Refrigerated items. Last year, we really wanted cheese, yogurt, eggs, lettuce, apples, and tomatoes, and not knowing whether or not we could readily get these items in Shishmaref, we decided that we would pay the extra cost for “overnight” shipping. We knew that we wouldn’t actually get these things the next day, but we were hoping that our delivery would arrive in two or three days. Unfortunately, it took a full week for our items to arrive. As we unboxed our items, we were mentally preparing for the stench of rotten yogurt, cheese and lettuce. But amazingly, the only items we lost were the few small bags of frozen vegetables we had thrown in as ice bags. The vegetables had thawed and had begun turning to compost.

7. Items we forgot or ran out of. Our experience here is that if you forget something or something gets lost or ruined in transit, don’t worry. If the store in your bush community doesn’t carry something you need, you can pick up your phone and call the Fred Meyer store in Fairbanks. (Don’t bother with their online bush order service; it isn’t really set up to be practical.) Fred Meyer will mail or ship any item they carry in their store. They pack things well, their, customer service is excellent, and their prices are reasonable.

We’ve finished our shopping and packing chores for this year, and now we have the rest of the summer to camp, fish, boat, hike and play!


School has been out for a week. The sun is up all day. Children are playing. People are out socializing. Hunters have their boats on the sea ready for the ice to open enough to hunt oogruk (bearded seals). The birds are mating and nesting. Soon it will be time to gather eggs.

The rhythms of Sarichef island hum along.

Found Berries

It was a rainy day in late July. We were driving through British Colombia on our way back from Alaska two summers ago. The forested scene around us was lush and green. We were listening to a book on tape and taking in all the shades of green washed in a fresh downpour. We turned a corner and were met with a shocking hillside of red splashes against the green. Thimbleberries, Jack told me. He said they taste ok – a little grainy. We pulled over, donned our rain gear and headed out armed with empty cups.

The first one I picked fell apart in my hand. I tasted it. Wow! Sweet berry with a smooth seedless texture. They were beautiful. Fire engine red specks begging to be harvested. I picked and ate until my cup was full and I was soaked. These beautiful fragile berries were meant to be eaten right off the bush. My cup of harvested berries looked like a smoothie in no time at all.

Something about the combination of the lush drenched green and fresh picked berries found in the middle of a terrific drive…what a great memory.

Home Baked Bread

A picture perfect loaf of wheat bread.

Back in September, my first attempts at bread failed. I couldn’t get the dough to rise right. I figured the temperature in the house up here must be too cool. I read in my rice cooker manual that there was a bread function. Lo and behold, it worked. Since Jack and I have a little rice cooker, our loaves were cute little round babies. They lasted for two good sized sandwiches with an oddball end sandwich left over. That worked for awhile. Then we decided it was time for a real bread machine. After quite a bit of research, we ordered a Zojirushi BBCC-X20. What a terrific machine. It bakes beautiful loaves of bread. I’ve tried herb bread, cheese bread, wheat bread, pizza dough, and kiwi jam!  All terrific! There is nothing more satisfying than eating a hot slice of bread straight from the oven. I used to always say “I will never use a bread machine.” Ugh, I’ve been bitten by every single “never” I’ve ever uttered! Life is too short to knead and tend home made loaves of bread.

Read the whole review at: