Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

Cleaning Huckleberries and Blueberries

Coming home with several gallons of blueberries and red huckleberries that you picked is so-o satisfying! Thousands of small, self-contained orbs sparkling with taste and nutrition, a bucket of rich color and sustenance, the day of quenching your very, very deep gathering thirst condensed into a container of beautiful food that you are holding in your arms.

And it has all kinds of pretty leaves and bits of sticks in it. Nice color accents, but not nice in the pies and jam. Okay, don't let the cleaning portion of berry picking be a downer. Cleaning the berries doesn't have to take two whole days, but it will take some setup to clean them more efficiently. If you picked two quarts of berries then cleaning them by hand is faster, but if you came home with your five gallon bucket feeling heavy then you might keep reading.

There are three steps to this process: Blow out the leaves, rinse, and pick out any remaining stems. The first step is the one with the most setup.

You need

  • a couple of fans that are eventually going to get ruined (a box fan works well for one of them)
  • something to brace the box fan up
  • string or wire ties
  • a piece of 1/4" or 3/8" hardware cloth about 2'x3' (3/8" mesh is best, but harder to find)
  • duct tape to wrap the edges of the hardware cloth screen
  • a large, deep container to roll berries into (shallow bowls don't work because the berries roll right out the other side!)
  • a table or other flat surface
  • an extension cord

All of this stuff should be outside, because this gets messy. Berries will escape and get squished underfoot. Leaves will blow all over.

Setup on the back deck of the boat for the first step of cleaning blueberries and red huckleberries.

The box fan is tied to the laundry basket to keep it braced up. The second fan provides extra lift. Turn both fans on high and then sprinkle the berries onto the top of the screen. As the berries roll down then the leaves should blow away. Move the fans and adjust the angle of the screen to get the best lift.

Rolling red huckleberries down the screen. Bend the sides of the screen up to keep the berries going the right direction.

Tips...If the berries are wet then it helps to run them over the screen twice. Pick out sticks and berries that won't roll as you go. Tiny berries will fall through the screen to make you giggle when they go "ping!" in the fan.  Keep one hand on the screen to jiggle it to help the berries roll well. Shake out the screen when stuff gets stuck in it.

Step Two...

After blowing the leaves off then the screen is handy again. This part works well in a double sink, but can also be done using buckets and a garden hose.

Gently rolling the berries around while rinsing them.

Gently rolling the berries around while rinsing them.

Red huckleberry jam ready for labeling. I thank my wonderful sweetheart for preserving this goodness in jars.

Pour a small batch of berries onto the screen. Roll the berries around with one hand and move the sprayer with the other hand. Pick out any yucky looking berries. When the little bits of stick and moss are washed down through the screen then roll the berries into the colander.

If you were lucky enough to find 3/8" hardware cloth then a lot of the small, unripe berries will fall through and you won't have to pick them out.

As a final check (step 3) I pick through the berries for stems that didn't get knocked off in the first two steps.

The setup and cleanup take some effort, but devising this method has saved me so much time that it is well worth it.

Berry Goodness to You All!

Alaska Beachcomber

For a lighthearted look at blueberry picking - Q&A About Picking Blueberries in Southeast Alaska

Visit the Food and Medicine from Nature page to find more cool articles about foraging.

Q&A About Picking Blueberries in Southeast Alaska

Q: Where can I find the best blueberries in Southeast Alaska?

A: Growing out of a steep, mossy, wet slope overhanging an abyss.

Q: No, really, where do I go to find good blueberries?

A: No, really, Southeast Alaskan blueberry bushes love wet, difficult places. They love it even better if they are surrounded by devil’s club. But, okay, there are lots of good places to pick blueberries.

Roadsides, especially along logging roads, often have nice berry patches, but the best place is an old clearcut where the trees haven’t shaded the berries out yet. That said, clearcut areas can be VERY difficult to walk in. Think caulk boots (boots with spiked soles), or at the very least Vibram soles. Plan to encounter steepness, slipperiness, holes, and rotting wood giving way under your feet. You won’t be able to see your feet through the dense bushes much of the time. Just pay attention to where the big devil’s club leaves are, and stay clear of those if you can. Oh, and hang on as you climb up and down the mountainside. Grab berry bushes, hemlock and cedar trees, but not spruce trees. You'll be very aware of the difference the instant you grab hold of a spruce branch.

 

Q: What is blueberryitis?

A: Bruise-like marks that take three days to wash off. See below.

Side effects of extreme blueberry picking.

Q: What makes a berry picker crazy?

A: Finding the mother patch just as it’s getting dark.

Q: What makes a berry picker’s hair stand on end?

A: Finding bear slobber on the berry bush they are picking from. (Yes, I've had this experience! The bear turned out to be nearby, too. Well, nearby is relative - the bear was about 150 feet away. We both departed in separate directions.)

Q: Is blueberry picking worth it?

A: YES! How could you even ask a question like that?

Q: Can blueberry picking be addictive? 

A: I can stop any time I want. 

Q: What is the most common lie a blueberry picker tells?

A: “I’m done. My pack/bucket/ bag is full. I’m going to walk straight out of this berry patch without picking any more berries.”

Q: Why did the blueberry picker cross the road?

A: To pee in the woods.

Happy Foraging!  

Alaska Beachcomber

Abundance

In the whirlwind of July and August - harvest time - with amazing weather this year, there have been many things that I want to share with you. I've been a little bit tied up. 

I sense the stick. Let me slip the bounds of responsibility and chase the stick. 

Pressure washing decks all decked out in raingear and safety glasses. 

In this temperate rainforest algae grows in the corners, even on the painted metal of the boat deck. Scrubbing with a brush just doesn't get it all, so I chased it away with the pressure washer.

There has been more painting, cleaning, moving stuff around....but all of that is pretty boring. The early blueberries are ripe, thimbleberries are coming on, and a few mushrooms even showed up after a recent rain!

I am headed out to the berry patch. Must pick berries! 

 

Untie the seine line. I will chase the stick!

Oval-leaved blueberry (Vaccinium ovalifolium

Oh, climbing through a blueberry patch in the sun, picking those delightful blue orbs! Berries on cereal, sweet jam, and enough in the freezer for blueberry pie in January when the world is white!

I use a picker to harvest blueberries, gently combing the tips of the tines through the branches. The weather has been a bit dry for this type of blueberry, but the darker Alaska blueberry is coming on, and they might have had a better year.

Time for a walk with my sweetheart. 

Darner dragonfly stopping by for a visit.

We went for a walk near a stream and the dragonflies were flitting about. One flew near and turned toward me. I said hello to it and held my arm out, and it landed on my wrist!

Grinning dragonfly. 

It sat contentedly, seemingly smiling, even grooming its eyes with its legs, while the love of my life pulled a point-and-shoot camera out of the backpack so I could take a few photos.  After spending time with dragonflies and posting about them recently, this small connection made me giddy!

My sweetie and I continued on after the dragonfly went about its way. The forest was dry enough that we could sit on the moss without getting soaked, which is unusual in Southeast Alaska! The creek was very low. We watched fingerlings in the water, spiders on their webs, and commented on how the highbush cranberries are going to take another week or two to ripen. Then, just a little ways from the stream, his sharp eyes caught a hint of golden brown in the forest floor.

Chanterelle mushrooms

Golden chanterelles

A golden chanterelle, just right for harvest. 

I check each mushroom to be sure that it is a chanterelle. On the underside of the cap it has ridges that often branch like veins.

Chanterelle in Southeast Alaska

On the way back to the boat I admired thimbleberries growing by the roadside. 

Thimbleberries (Rubus parviflorus

The red ones are ripe. Picking these delicate berries will turn your fingers red. They must be eaten or processed right away, or they will mold very quickly. Thimbleberries are small and have LOTS of little seeds, so they are not a favorite of many people, but I pick a few each year, and enjoy them.

They have showy blossoms earlier in the year.  

A bumblebee working thimbleberry blossoms. 

And it is time to go back to the boat and ready it for a small adventure.  

Enjoy your summer outings! 

Alaska Beachcomber

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