Monday, August 6, 2012

Salmonberries - Field Notes from Kodiak

My family and I have been thoroughly enjoying our extended stay in Kodiak this summer! We've explored mountains, beaches, rivers and the ocean. I was worried about not being able to go berry picking this year in my favorite spot back home outside of Anchorage. Kodiak has proved to be even better! I may not be able to move back!

My favorite part of the year is always berry picking season! It's in my blood, literally. My father is half Finnish, making me a quarter and the Finns are avid berry pickers as their climate is very similar to Alaska. Even those who immigrated to the US, kept up this tradition. My great grandmother owned a blueberry farm in southern New Hampshire. My grandfather made sure to have a bounty of blueberry bushes on his own property. My dad grew up picking berries at my Great Grandma Liimatainen's farm.

Alaska is a land where people take the utmost pride in their ability to subsist of the land. So be careful when you ask someone where their favorite blueberry spot is... they may lead you astray. Like favorite hunting grounds and fishing holes, we guard our berry picking spots with great secrecy, only to be shared with family or close friends.

My little forager.
This year was a new first for me in my long line of years picking the wild fruit... Salmonberries! What is a salmonberry you might ask. Well it is a beefed up close relative to the raspberry. The leaves and stems are very reminiscent of the raspberry, but the flower is big and bright pink. You can take the flower off the stem and suck the sweet fragrant nectar from it, much like you would with honeysuckle. The berries themselves are again much like the raspberry, with the same fruit structure, but much larger. They change in color from green, to orange to a deep blood red when ripe and are called salmonberries because they look strikingly like salmon roe (eggs). Not quite as sweet as their cousins, they make for the best pie I've ever had! They are great for making jam, sauces, wine and ice cream too.

Due to the cold, very snowy winter, they were a little later in their ripening this year. While my family was on one of our almost nightly walks on the docks, checking out the fishing boats and more importantly the new sailboats in from all over the world, I overheard a funny conversation between two burly fishermen getting their nets ready for their next run. They were cursing up a storm, when one stops and says "Hey what's up with the salmonberries this year? But this f*&%$ing time last year I was f#%^@ing making jam!" It seemed so comical to me that such a rough and tumble guy would be swearing and talking about one of the most historically domestic tasks. Even cussing, giant, weathered men have a soft side.

While the fisherman like salmonberries, so too do many of the birds. It is amusing to watch them after they've gorged themselves on the fruit, then try to take off and fly, markedly larger than when they had first landed. Flying much lower to the ground they take a while to gain altitude.

While at storytime at the local library, the children's librarian read a great story about berries, harnessing the many connections and experiences the children have with them this time of year. The craft to go along with the story was to make a berry bucket, complete with bells, so you can easily locate your child and in Kodiak hopefully warn the bears of your presence, as they love berries too. If only Sal in Blueberries for Sal had a berry bucket with bells... ah but then there wouldn't have been a good story to tell.

Here are the materials needed for the bucket:
  • a yogurt container with lid
  • hole puncher
  • yarn
  • pipecleaners
  • bells
  • stickers to decorate
Here's a link to my berry season post last year with a variety of lesson ideas, activities and books that focus on berry picking: Blueberry Buddies and Lessons from the Land.

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