Alaska, where I accidentally came face to face with the precise reason I wrote this book.
This whole trip started as a vacation with my mom. She had some work to do in Anchorage and extra flight miles burning a hole in her computer cache pocket. I announced my impending arrival in the port city to the Facebook page and a reader, a very hip homie based in Eagle River, put together an event with friends and fellow military spouses.
That Saturday afternoon, 20 people gathered around the kitchen in a cool community church to watch me cook up a super-small batch of rhubarb hibiscus vanilla preserves. One novice jam-maker sent me a message after the event telling me she headed to the farmers’ market immediately after our event, secured some rhubarb and proceeded to make preserves “all by myself”!
The rest of this post will attempt to share with you one-zillionth of the enchantment I encountered as my mama and I roadtripped around Alaska’s south central regions. Let’s start with the fruit.
These may not look like much, but when they’re free [foraged] they’re all the more delicious. Wild raspberries dotted the Seward Highway, the road winding along Turnagain Arm (a really long inlet where Captain James Cook, after numerous attempts in the various inlets thought he’d found the Northwest Passage but then had to ‘turn again’).
A raspberry farmer off the Old Glenn Highway (en route from Anchorage to Palmer) granted me access to his personal stash of rhubarb. He owned a few acres at the mountain’s edge where he farms and offers u-pick raspberries. When I asked where I could get some rhubarb around these parts, he handed me a knife and told me to go along the ridge all the way past the raspberries.
I told him what I’ve paid for rhubarb in markets in other parts of the country and when he suggested $8 for my ~3lbs, I suggested $10; after all, this was a private reserve crop.
Snacks were in order on my way back in from harvesting.
I found rhubarb heaven in Palmer’s Visitor Center garden later that day. It was obviously a food garden that was regularly harvested/tended, so I couldn’t very well lob off any stalks from this heavenly sight. Though, I must admit, I thought about it.
They were also growing gooseberries. Until then, I’d never before tasted a gooseberry.
Crabapples, of which I pilfered 3 underripe ones for a super-small batch of pectin-enhancing in a jelly. After my pilfering, I popped inside the visitor center to ask if the crabapples get harvested, in hopes of receiving permission to snag a few more. Great news for the community: yes, the local school kids come harvest when they’re ripe and make jelly. I kept quiet about the three little guys in my pocket.
Flowers galore! Gladiolas, foxgloves, peonies, oh my!
Inside the Palmer Visitor Center there was a cool exhibit featuring the first transplants to the area, homesteaders brought over by FDR’s New Deal, folks from Minnesota and Michigan (my parents’ people!), people coined the “Cream Puff Pioneers” for all the assistance they received in their ventures. I ogled the old timey washing stand, the butter churn, wooden ice cream maker, a pressure cooker, the cream separator and thought about how all this stuff would be so chic at hipster flea markets.
The exhibit and all the fascinating treasures really got me thinking about today vs. yesteryear and how history can offer a basket of things from which to choose, the things that worked well (co-operatives, conservation, economical approaches, well-built equipment) and other things that beg of a different approach (settling a land that was already very settled, taking for granted the limitations of natural resources).
Earlier in the trip, the Kenai Fjords Glacier Cruise struck me deeply. Not just because of views like this.
But because of a comment our captain made at the culmination of the 9-hour journey. He said something to the effect of we’ve seen things today that seem like part of another world, but in reality, they’re just as much a part of the world we currently live in. The world is small, take good care of the part of the world in which you reside and that is what will ultimately ensure that places like this continue to thrive and offer insight for future generations.
Thank you, Alaska. Let us all charge forward doing the best we can with the resources we have at hand.