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.

Highbush Cranberry Sweet and Sour Sauce

Highbush cranberry sweet and sour sauce is not a delicate condiment; not one with gentle nuances that hint at flavors. This is a no-nonsense sauce that stands up and looks venison right in the eye. It doesn't turn it's back on moose. HBC sweet and sour sauce makes vegetables dance. It gives that extra zing to ham and beans without any kick or burn.

Highbush cranberry (viburnum edule)

I started out making highbush cranberry sweet and sour sauce from the highbush cranberry ketchup recipe that my sweetie developed. With several batches of HBC ketchup stowed in drawers on the boat, it is easy to grab a jar and do this:

  • One pint jar highbush cranberry ketchup
  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup vinegar (to taste)
  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup brown sugar (to taste)
  • 8-10 slices ginger root
  • 1 clove garlic grated or minced
  • 2 tablespoons San-J Tamari Gluten Free Soy Sauce
  • Maybe two tablespoons of corn starch and 1/4 cup water

Put all ingredients into a medium pot and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the flavors have blended and the consistency is to your liking (usually about 15 minutes). If the sauce does not thicken up enough then shake two tablespoons of tapioca starch or corn starch and a quarter cup of water in a jar, stir into the sauce, and simmer gently, stirring constantly until thickened.

The ginger slices will give the sauce more flavor for a few days, and then, if there is any sauce left, remove the ginger slices. Store in the refrigerator and use within a few weeks.

This 'smells the boat up really nice' while it is cooking.

Highbush Cranberries are not actually cranberries, but that is what we call them anyway.

Highbush Cranberries are not actually cranberries, but that is what we call them anyway.

I did make a full batch of HBC sweet and sour sauce and jar it up. It was a seat-of-the-pants affair; adding a little more of each ingredient until it tasted about right. I can't give you an exact recipe right now. It worked just fine, and here are a few notes... I used the highbush cranberry ketchup recipe, adding the ingredient list above in greater amounts. I increased the pectin and calcium water (from the ketchup recipe) by 1/2 teaspoon each, and did not add any tapioca or cornstarch thickener. Starch thickeners tend to separate and get yucky (technical term) in storage. I grated the ginger instead of slicing it. Into pint and half pint jars it went, and was processed in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. With the berries and the vinegar this is a high acid recipe, and does not have to be pressure canned.

If you are not familiar with canning please do some reading on the UAF Cooperative Extension Service site or take a class. Or both! When Roxie of UAF Cooperative Extension Service came through Wrangell I took her canning class and it was great fun and very informative.

May you savor each day,

Alaska Beachcomber

More on highbush cranberry uses: Highbush Cranberry Ketchup, Highbush Cranberry Punch

Lots more good stuff about foraging food here: Food and Medicine From Nature


Today I was deep in a salmonberry patch, gently pushing the canes aside, stepping between, over, and through the tall bushes. I looked up to see berries above my head and slipped back to when I was five years old. My grandfather stood beside me in the salmonberry bushes beside his house on Millar Street in Ketchikan. I pointed up at a plump, red berry, and he lifted me up so that I could pick it. I showed him the gem, a shaft of sunlight making it glow in my palm, and he asked me what I thought it would taste like. I popped it into my mouth, said, “Good!” and pointed to another one.

I've always loved wild berries.  

Like my friend Pete says, "Nothing healthier than a berry-faced kid. " 

Salmonberry  (Rubus spectabilis) blossoms

In early May the salmonberry blossoms are pretty pink promises. They are an edible trail snack, but I prefer the berries, so I leave the flowers on the bushes. Once pollinated the petals drop off, and hard, green berries start to form.

In mid to late June the berries start to ripen. Salmonberries are red, orange, or yellow, are sweet when ripe, and have lots of seeds.


Salmonberries don’t ripen all at once, extending the season.

Yellow-orange salmonberries! 

Salmonberry blossoms

So far this season has been sunny, and the salmonberry crop is excellent – fat, juicy berries,and lots of them. My sweetheart and I went picking in a spot where the bushes were even over his head, and he is tall. Some of the berries are already overripe, but there were plenty of perfect berries for us. He picks into an ice cream bucket strung on his belt. I like to use a sturdy plastic fruit bag, but have to be very careful not to snag it…or me. Salmonberry bushes, being a part of the rose family, have thorns.

I roll the ripe berries off of the bush with light fingertip pressure. They are soft, with shiny skins. Firm berries that want to stay on the bush are not ripe, and berries with dull skins are overripe. There is just no use in picking either of those. Perfectly ripe berries are sweet and flavorful.

Salmonberries must be cared for immediately. They crush in the berry bucket if they are over a few inches deep, or if they get too warm. Like raspberries, salmonberries can mold or ferment quickly. For making juice and jelly we pack them into gallon bags, juice and all (there will be juice in the bottom of the berry bucket!), and freeze them. After freezing they give up more juice than fresh berries.

Salmonberries in an ice cream bucket

When I make salmonberry juice I run the berries through a chinois, pressing as much pulp and skin through as I can. A few seeds escape, too, so I strain the juice once more, through a mesh sieve. It is good straight, over ice, or can be mixed with sparkling apple cider for a little fizziness.

Maybe this year I will have a little self control, and save some juice to make jelly. 

Do you like red, orange, or yellow salmonberries best?

Yellow Salmonberry in Southeast Alaska

Not all berries are meant to make it into the berry bucket. Straight into the mouth! Yum!

Happy Harvesting! 

Alaska Beachcomber

Subsistence food and medicine articles: