High Bush Cranberry


High Bush Cranberry (aka Crampbark, Viburnum Edule)

Small tart red jewels that dangle below the leaves, these edible berries decorate the forest as they sparkle in tiny bunches and as the autumn leaves turn bright red the paint the landscape with color. Plentiful berries are easy to harvest from shrubs that stand several feet tall. Found in forests and near streams across Alaska. Once harvested I spread the berries on a flat pan with parchment paper, pick out any plant debris and freeze. The hard individual berries can then be stored in containers in the freezer for easy access all year long. I love to add a small handful to sparkling water or vodka cocktails as ice cubes that add flavor, color and some health benefits. High Bush Cranberries are high in vitamin C and also provide vitamin K. They make great juices, syrups and jellies, although their small flat seeds make them less than ideal for baking. When hiking they are is great to pop a few in your mouth & enjoy the burst of juice to help quench your thirst.

Medicinally the inner bark can be used topically or internally in a tea, tincture, salve, oil or poultice to relieve cramping. The bark has also been used to relieve sore throats and coughs. The bark offers the benefits of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and several other minerals. The bark should be harvested before the plant energy is sent into berries. Thin strips can then be dried and stored. A jar of the dried inner bark is near the front of my natural medicine cabinet.

Creamy Coconut Ginger Carrot Soup & Sourdough Focaccia

I might be surrounded by the wilderness just outside of my door, but this dinner cannot technically be considered "Food in the Wild" since I cooked it in the comfort of our warm kitchen. Regardless, sometimes I come across a new dish that I love so much I have to share, this was one of those dishes.

We had an abundance of carrots that needed to be used so I began to search for a carrot soup recipe to accompany the sourdough focaccia that I already had rising by the wood stove. I discovered a recipe for Creamy Chia Coconut Ginger Soup on Epicurious.com that sounded good and found myself following the recipe almost exactly as listed, a rare occurrence when I am in the kitchen. The only change that I made was to reduce the chia seeds added to the simmering soup to 1/8 cup and omit the seeds from the garnish. I actually tasted the soup prior to adding any seeds and loved the flavour and creamy texture, but decided to add a few seeds for the health benefit. After the seeds had rehydrated they thickened the soup slightly, but otherwise were unnoticable in texture.  I used a yellow curry and probably added a bit more than called for and I used a chicken stock rather than a vegetable stock as this is what I had on hand.

The soup was amazing! We devoured it all and I am tempted to make more tomorrow, possibly a large batch so I can freeze some as well. The sourdough focaccia was a fantastic accompaniment for the carrot soup and was also gone by the end of the night. Luckily I made two loaves so we could have some with breakfast tomorrow.

My sourdough starter has been with me for a year now, traveling to several locations spending many neglected months in the refrigerator when I was unable to feed or care for it. Luckily my neglect was forgiven and it bubbled right back to life once I started feeding it again. The pungent aroma from the bubbling starter hits my nose as soon as I lift the lid from the liquid and immediately has me craving warm sourdough bread. I followed a recipe for Sourdough Focaccia from Food.com. It was a simple, easy recipe requiring little time other than the time required for rising. The only change I made was to reduce the flour by about 1/2 cup as my starter was already on the thicker side. I  garnished one loaf with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper and the other loaf with kalamata olives, feta cheese and basil. The olive loaf was our favorite by far.

I suppose I could adjust both of these recipes to be cooked over an open campfire in a soup pot and a cast iron dutch oven. The soup would be chunky, but I imagine just as tasty and the focaccia should do well in a dutch oven. Sometime I might try this dish "in the wild", but in the meantime I am happy to enjoy it from the warmth of our cabin with views of the snow covered wilderness just outside our windows.

Campfire Lasagna

As a wandering adventurer whose home is where the tent is I am often asked what I miss most about having a permanent home. My answer is always the same, having a garden and having a kitchen. While I have yet to figure out how to create a traveling garden I have been pretty happy with the culinary creations I have made with a campground kitchen. Cooking with a cast iron dutch oven has allowed me to bake many dishes over coals that I used to think required  a traditional kitchen.

Cast iron is much too heavy for me to consider carrying on back packing trips, but when I am cooking in a front country camp site it is my go to tool. A wood fire can be used as the source of heat, however I prefer charcoal when possible as it creates a more consistent, predictable heat. When using charcoal I place approx. 1/3 of the coals under the dutch oven and 2/3 of the coals on the top. Baking time will vary, but the smell and the sizzle coming from under the lid let's me know it is time to peek and see if it is done.

One of my favorite dishes to bake for a large group is a lasagna stacked with many layers of cheese, sauce and noodles. No matter what type of kitchen I am cooking in I tend to create dishes without exact measurements and use ever changing ingredients. Below I will give an idea of the process of creating a cast iron dutch oven lasagna and I encourage you to experiment with your own favorite ingredients.

Briefly saute any combination of the below vegetables in olive oil. (This can be done at home in advance and transported to your camp for a quicker process if you like)...

  • Onions, Garlic, Bell Peppers, Broccoli, Carrots, Zucchini, Spinach, Mushrooms

Add a couple of jars of your favorite marinara sauce.

I typically make a vegetarian lasagna; but if you like add cooked meat such as ground beef, turkey, sausage, bison, moose, caribou, or chicken.

Coat the bottom of a 12" cast iron dutch oven with vegetable oil. Spoon in a small amount of sauce to cover the bottom. Then begin to layer in the order listed below. I like to make 6-8 layers which makes a lasagna large enough to feed a group of 10 or more people. Of course you can adjust for a smaller group by using a smaller dutch oven or making less layers....

  • No bake lasagna noodles
  • Ricotta cheese (spooned on top of noodles and slightly spread)
  • Sauce mixture
  • Shredded cheese (I like to combine mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan)
  • If I have fresh basil on hand I like to include some torn leaves on top of the cheese layers

Repeat layers until the lasagna is the size that you would like it to be, finishing with a layer of cheese.  Cover with a lid and cook over coals or fire. I use about 6-8 coals on the bottom and 12-16 on top. Turn the dutch oven occasionally for a more even cooking. Listen for the bubbling sauce and check to see if the top cheese layer is slightly browned. Try not to peak too often so the heat does not escape. You may need to vent slightly towards to the end if your sauce appears too watery.  

Once your lasagna looks and smells done remove from heat and let it cool for about 15-20 minutes. This resting time will allow all of the layers to bind together.

If you like serve with a salad and bread and prepare to impress your guests and leave the dinner table (or campfire) with a full belly.

I hope you have fun with the process and enjoy your creation! If you would like to share your campfire lasagna creations with me I would love to hear about them! 

Spruce Tea

Whether to relax with a hot drink at the end of a long day in the woods, to mask the flavor of unpleasant tasting water collected from less than desirable sources or snow melt, to get a boost of vitamin C, beta carotene, starches/sugars or because I just want a change from plain water; brewing a pot of spruce tea has become one of my favorite back country drinks.

This mildly citrus flavored tea can be made from needles, tips, pitch and twigs all year long. I prefer the very mild flavor of the tender spring tips and the slightly stronger flavor of the needles collected year round. The tea is soothing when hot and refreshing when cold. When backpacking I like to keep one bottle filled with cold tea each day for a treat and I love the fact that I don't have to carry the extra weight of drink mixes to flavor my water.

To make this tea, use a handful of needles or tips added to two of cups of boiling water, remove from heat and cover to keep the beneficial properties of the tea from escaping in the steam. After about five minutes strain out plant matter and enjoy! Measurements and steeping time can be adjusted for desired flavor intensity. Add some honey for sweetness if you like.

I hope that you enjoy the abundance that nature provides. Please, whenever you harvest from the wild do so with respect, knowledge and safety to ensure that you and all other creatures can continue to enjoy these abundances for all future seasons. Although healthy and tasty for most, it is best to avoid drinking spruce tea if you are pregnant.


Fireweed Shoots with Garlic Butter


Bright fuchsia colored flowers burst from the tops of the tall slender stalks of the fireweed plant. This abundant flower blankets trail and roadsides and fills patches of land across the state of Alaska. A plant with several stages of growth which Alaskans observe to mark the quick stages of summer and as a predictor of the fast approaching fall. 

All parts of the plant are edible during all stages of growth. The spring shoots of the fireweed plant, harvested when the stalks are short and the leaves are close to the stem, is a delicious wilderness side dish. Known as an Alaska wild asparagus, it is a tender fresh treat which can brighten many back country meals. 

It can be munched on raw or added to macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, quesadillas, salads, pasta, rice or any other backpacking or camping meal that could use the addition of a fresh healthy ingredient.

I recently sauteed fireweed shoots in butter and garlic over an open fire. Cooked until the tiny stalks were just tender enough to bite through, but not fully soft. When finished I seasoned with salt and pepper and ate alongside lake trout caught that evening and instant mashed potatoes. It was a gourmet backpacking dinner for sure.

I hope that you enjoy the abundance that nature provides. Please, whenever you harvest from the wild do so with respect, knowledge and safety to ensure that you and all other creatures can continue to enjoy these abundances for all future seasons.