Sunday, June 17, 2012

No Patrushky Yet...Will Spruce Tips Do?

Putting a few things together, I'm wondering whether I don't have just a little problem with some sort of attention deficit issue.  Too much trouble to sit and read a book, working in the office is boring, can't stay put at my desk for longer than about 10 minutes at a time, can't stand to watch television unless it is very good or very funny or very gripping, VERY, being the key, which eliminates 99.99999999 % of programming.  Can't stand spending time on anything I consider to be mediocre.  And the commercials over and over? Fuggitabout it!

I have lots of patience for looking around for things to take pictures of, though.

Does my travel schedule at work just have me always at the ready and that's why it's hard to sit still when a weekend comes around?  Hard to tell.  But a couple of weekends ago I planned another short personal day trip to Hope, Alaska.  It's a little mining ghost town, but the charm is that to get there, you might remember, I have to drive through the rainforest.  Nice.  I asked some friends to go with me and even though they have accompanied me on other short road trips, I keep forgetting that other people have ideas about things to do that might not necessarily appeal to me, given that most things usually do appeal to me.

For one, they wanted to just drop in on some relatives in Chickaloon at dinnertime one Sunday.  Just drop in.  I've never met them, and we weren't even going to call ahead by a few minutes, at least.  I'm a friendly enough sort, but I sure don't like even approaching the danger of being an imposition like that.  Although, I do have to admit, they almost had me pointing the car in that direction when they said they would be having native food for dinner.  I told them that the next time they talked to their relatives and mentioned that we may or may not be in the area and we might then drop by, that would be enough of a forwarning for me to be ok to do that without a specific invitation.  NEXT time.

Instead we went to that beautiful fishing area at the confluence of a glacier-river and ocean inlet that my last post depicted. (Eklutna Tailrace River and Knik Arm of the Cook Inlet.)  But even there, their purpose was to check out the fishing.  They love fishing.  They sat down to talk to others about fishing.  Fishing.   And while I wandered around looking for good camera angles, they talked fishing with others and watched the ground for abandoned sinkers.

I mentioned before that I would really love to go berry picking while here in Alaska and to me that translates into pulling over to the side of the road and snagging a handful of blueberries just to see if they really do taste that much better than what I've tasted before.  Just to sample that part of life.  I could also spend enough time to pick enough berries to make a little something with, too. Pie, jelly, sauce for crepes.  But they say we need to plan a whole day for berry picking.  Find the right place, be bear-aware and prepared, take a lunch and lots of buckets...oh, and a couple of berry pickers.

When I mentioned Hope to them, one of my friends said "I was you have your knee-high rainboots, yet?"  Because there are some "herbs" that grow in the wild in that area and they are good for steaming and eating guessed 

I said, "Are you going to make me traipse around in the marshes and pick herbs all day?  Cause, that's probably not going to be all right with me."

"No," they say, "Probably not much longer than an hour.  Or so.  Maybe a couple." 

These friends were raised in an island village where they lived largely on what is called in these parts, "subsistence activities;"  Alaska's PC way of saying "off the land," which is not necessarily politically incorrect, but , whatever.  They've been in Anchorage for many years, now, and I understand the part about their not being able to live the old way so much.  They are always looking for ways to teach something interesting to me, too, so, I  guess I get where they're coming from, but I'm not so sure I'm all over the idea of picking pootchki or devils club or whatever is up there.

Besides being more like work than driving and looky-looing, those things are toxic to certain body parts, like any part that's exposed to it.  I had my nightmare encounter with poison oak several years ago and I have PTSD from it.  I'm not being cavalier about that, either.  It truly traumatized me.  

 (In Eklutna, they pointed out some pootchki and the only thing she told me about it was that the roots tasted a little like celery.  I looked it up later and found out it can cause skin irritation and burns and/or scarring.)

I don't have beach-herb-picking boots, yet, but that's ok because we ended up not going to Hope, after all, to pick "patrushky" (Scots Lovage--ligusticum scoticum, I found out after a bit of research.)

A bit relieved, but more disappointed, I tried to think of a good replacement activity and noticed  these spruce trees right in my own back yard!  Actually, in my front yard, too, which I share with numerous other condo/apartment dwellers. Notice the new growth.

I felt a bit conspicuous standing in the common area pulling spruce tips off the branches and pocketing them.  Several months ago I tasted someone's spruce-tip jelly and was quite surprised at how much like a tree it didn't taste.  I would never have guessed it was made from any part of a tree, but somehow as I tasted it, I could sense the "spruceness" of it.  I determined then and there I would have to make some for myself at some point during this Alaska sojourn. 

Of course, almost anything with enough sugar tastes good to me.  I remember once in Korea my friends put a bunch of tomatoes in the blender and added sugar.  They were more surprised at my never having heard of such a thing than I was at hearing such a thing.  And then of course, the real surprise was how really good it tasted.  I expected it to taste wrong, but with ice on a three-digit hot day, it tasted so very right.  Almost as good as strawberry jam on boiled potatoes.

Anyway, spruce tips may rival corn cobs for the most unsual ingredient I've ever used with which to make jelly.

Some of the tips were larger than the others, by quite a bit, depending upon which tree I looked at.  Trees that stood mere feet apart from each other.  Trees on the same side of the knoll.  Tips on the same sides of the trees, even.  Larger, but still soft like these.

And then a couple of the trees had tips that were just barely breaking from the papery casing, like these.  These were stickier, too, and for some reason, I thought they were the right ones to pick.  I haven't made jelly yet, but I have boiled and steeped the tips so I can freeze the liquid and will make some jelly when I want to take the time to do it.

I did however try some spruce-tip tea, which is supposedly medicinal and therapeutic. Vitamin C or something. I didn't dry the tips first, and I wonder if that would make a difference.  I didn't think I would like the flavor as much as I did (because, you know, I didn't add sugar.  I wanted to first taste it as it is.)  As the tips were sticky when I picked them, I thought I would taste the resin, but I don't think I did.  At least it didn't remind me of pine tar.  It tasted like a previously unknown citrus.  Just couldn't put my finger on it.  Lemony but not lemony.  Something was familiar, almost identifiable, but so fleeting I never really figured it out.  Pretty good, though. 

Yes, of course, I strained it, but if I had taken a picture of the strained tea it would just look like water.  It didn't color it at all.

1 comment:

Buzzard said...

Tea made from a Grand or Noble Fir is very good too, almost Tangerine like in taste..great post Penny.