On a recent fishing trip to Unalakleet, while in discussion with locals on preparation of egg cures to catch big kings, someone mentioned fireweed jelly. It peaked my interest, since I had never thought to make jelly from this blossom. Alaska natives have been known to use parts of the fireweed plant for curatives, including gastric ailments. On another note, I learned from a Tlingit elder when the salmon are plentiful and jumping, as they are this year, it is a poor berry year.
Given fluctuation in weather conditions during the early spring in Juneau, the prolific wild blueberry and salmon berry have given little yield this year. Talking with folks, I even discovered resident crops of raspberries are in the same situation. Good news for jelly makers, you have an alternative - fireweed jelly. Juneau's fireweed is profuse, healthy and blooming. Midway through summer, with only half the fireweed bloom complete, the time is ripe for picking. From experience, in fair and not so fair weather, the perfect moments for picking fireweed blossoms is during the drizzling summer days in Juneau when you need incentive for a breath of fresh air. The blossoms are clean from fresh rain and contact with nectar seeking insects minimal.
Recently, I made several test batches to affirm the efficacy of this jelly. The jelly itself is beautiful with clarity in color of a rose garnet. The consistency is firm yet speadable. The taste of this jelly is sweet like honey from the infused flower nectar. It is quite delightful even in its simplicity. The jelly is excellent on pancakes, waffles and toast.
As the locals of Unalakleet shared this recipe with me, I share it with you.
Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups packed flower blossoms, 2 1/4 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 3 1/4 cups of sugar and 3 ounces of liquid pectin.
Boil the blossoms in the water until the blossoms turn gray. Strain the liquid (from the blossoms) until clear. In a saucepan, add 1 3/4 cups of fireweed liquid (infusion), sugar, and lemon juice and bring to a rolling boil. Add the liquid pectin to the mixture and boil on high for one minute. Ladle the jelly immediately into prepared jars and seal. Remember to always check your seals after jars cool. This recipe makes about 4 1/2 cups of jelly.