Thursday, October 3, 2013

Cranberry Bliss

The temperature dipped to a cool 24 F last night, leaving a blanket of frost across the open sections of trail and meadow, and in unprotected patches along the riverbank.
We sat at the table, sipping coffee, watching Trumpeter Swans glide across the early morning sky, waiting for the sunshine to kiss the frost, waiting to capture it.
I got in a 2.5 K run (on the tready), and scrapped it due to soreness and a persistent tight tendon from the ankle sprain last Monday. I ran 5K yesterday, so I suspect it’s a bit crankier today as a result from the inclined progression run yesterday.  Mostly I did not want to run the risk of missing an opportunity to photograph a morning such as this one.
We headed down the trail.  Parke in search of birds for supper.  George in search of mud and puddles, in the now dry boat launch. Me in search of awe and wonderment.  
It didn’t take long before my camera battery died and we hoofed it back up the hill to get a fresh battery pack and a couple of containers to collect frosty high bush cranberries - still clinging tightly to their branches, though the leaves have all been ripped off by the wind and carried away.  
Me and George picked to our hearts content, hopeful that we could transform these tart berries into something edible, perhaps even something tasty.  

In all we spent two hours romping through the woods, picking berries, taking photographs, searching for birds and taking in the morning glory.  
Back at the house we washed the cranberries, weighed them (1 lb.) and mixed them in a pot with three cups of water and placed them on the wood stove to simmer.  
George weighing his harvest on the scale.
Once I was satisfied that the juices were primed for the second phase of the project: pressing and extraction, they went into the fine mesh strainer.

Juiced and tart as ever, the left over mash will be fodder for the compost while the remaining juices will be doctored with sugar in hopes of the juice being drinkable.  
I remember one fall at The Cabin in Denali State Park, I was no older than 10, and got excited about picking high bush cranberries along one of our favorite fishing trails - Honolulu Creek.  My parents showed little to no interest in my fascination and I just couldn’t understand their reluctance, as these berries were much easier to pick than blueberries.  Back at The Cabin my mother was kind and generous with her patience and sugar.  She let me experiment with my larder.  Water, sugar, berries and an old cook pot over a fall campfire.  I stirred and observed the mixture until I was satisfied and decided it was time to cool the juice down.  Once it was drinkable, I eagerly took a sip and made a face like this one:
Suddenly I understood my parents lack of joy and enthusiasm for this tart and tempting berry.  I am hopeful that this batch will yield a sweeter tasting juice, as the berries have had a couple frosts to sweeten them up.  

While the berries sit on the wood stove simmering away, we sit at the table sipping hot cocoa, nibbling on fresh baked bread (gluten-free brown rice bread for me; honey-wheat-flax gluten bread for George).
Honey-Wheat-Flax (Gluten)
Brown Rice (Gluten-Free)

Gluten-licious Sliced Bread - Pure Perfection! 
Simmered, mashed, strained, and sweetened, the end result yields a rich full-bodied red.  The juice, not-to-tart and full of body and sweetness.  

Mini-adventures, like this mornings bird hunt, hike, berry-picking, and photographing session allow us take a moment to enjoy this place and revel in its awesomeness. Then it is back to work at making this place home.  Constructing an energy efficient third floor, if there is such a thing  in the Interior of Alaska.  Making firewood.  Pondering how we will stay warm this winter, how we will survive the darkness, and still manage to be captivated by this place. 
I could smell snow in the distance, across the landscape at the base of Mt. Sanford, late yesterday afternoon.  Winter will be here soon, flash freezing the landscape until May when this place is re-born, and we will begin to thaw out and warm-up to the idea of living wild. 

While the cranberry juice cooled, George and I headed outside to enjoy the afternoon and rake up some leaves.  He was particularly helpful and offered the Tonka dump truck up for assistance.  
While George and I were raking leaves, Parke was working on the third floor.  
He took a moment to look out the window and saw two caribou crossing the
 road coming over to our house. 
 He came out and we went to see if we could get a better look.  We got to the edge of the clearing on the back side of the barn, just in time for one to kick up on its hind legs and take off.  No time for photos.

Then we came back inside for a warm-up....and guess what was waiting for us?
Pure Cranberry-Bliss.  Wild. Organic. Local.  Awesome.

Libations, anyone?  

 Fill a pint glass half-way with ice, pour in 1.25 oz chilled Vodka, then add  8 oz chilled cranberry juice, finish off with 1/4 C fresh squeezed orange juice. Garnish with an orange slice, serve it up with a straw if you wish.  Alternately you could strain the ice and pour into a sugar-and-spice rimmed martini glass and then garnish with an orange.  This concoction would lend itself well to cinnamon  nutmeg and cloves.  I think it would go especially well around Christmastime, perhaps warm, mixed with a spiced wine.  I will definitely be harvesting more high-bush cranberries next fall. 

In the meantime....
here's to -50, winter winds, frost and darkness.  Cheers!  

Stay tuned....