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USA | Thursday, 18 August 2011 | Views [421]

It started on the Denali Highway. We had pulled off the road for a few pictures of the Susitna river valley, a break from the potholes, and at that moment it was not raining. Perfect time to stop and walk around. As we stretched our legs, there were blueberries a plenty. We had seen blueberries previously on the trip, but never had then been this plentiful and this sweet. Yummy, yummy. We picked until our fingers were too numb from the cold, damp air. What to do with all these blueberries? Previously we had only used time in our morning oatmeal or sprinkled in with a cup of hocho (which is delicious by the way). We decided to make jam. Have we ever made jam before? Nope. Did we have any idea what we were doing? Nope. But with the berries, some sugar (a lot less than we expected), a little bit of heat, some secret (proprietary) ingredients and we had a delicious tasting jam. Not too sweet, not too tart, plenty of flavor and no preservatives. You could taste a huge difference between our fresh jam and the preservative, corn syrup filled jelly we had from the store. That was the start of it, the turning point; berry picking moved high up on the list of things to do in Alaska.

Then came the EPIC blueberry day. I never thought I would be describing a day of picking blueberries as epic, but that is what this jam can do. It is that good! We were hiking the Kesugi ridge on a three day, two night backpacking trip. It was a great hike. We had views of Denali, the trail pretty much to ourselves and for two of the three days, the weather was superb. On the second day hiking, the trail veered off of one ridge and backtracked a bit through a valley until it rose onto a second ridge. Hiking off the ridge was depressing. We were walking further away from the endpoint, we lost views of Denali, the brush thickened and the trail was muddy and overgrown. The highlight, the savior, was a combination of a swim in Skinny Lake, the beauty of Skinny Lake and a blueberry patch. It wasn't a great patch, the berries were well spaced, but there were blueberries and we were motivated to pick as many as we could. We picked for two hours, filling all of our berry containers (an empty plastic Kleenex box, an empty jug of peanut butter and our nalgene bottles). Feeling satisfied in our accomplishment with our backs too sore to pick anymore, we continued on the hike. Up we climbed onto the second ridge; more mud and overgrown trail to contend with along the way. Once we were on the ridge, we could see clouds moving in and rain falling in the distance. It looked as though our good weather streak was over. We pressed on, picking up our pace. We wanted to cover as much ground before the rain hit so we could minimize our hike out in the rain the next day. Then we saw it, the most epic blueberry patch. You could fill a bottle just sitting in one location and the patch extended for almost half a soccer pitch. It was incredible, but left us with a very important decision. To pick, or not to pick. We could press on and have less hiking to do in the rain tomorrow, or we could set up camp and pick until the rains came. Let's pick blueberries! We filled another Nalgene, cooked dinner and then filled our Mountain House bag we just ate out of (reduce, reuse, recycle). We were at the point of sacrificing water while hiking for more containers to hold blueberries. It was worth it. We picked until the rain hit. When all was said and done we had close to a gallon and a half of blueberries. The only question left was how much jam would that make?

The next day we hiked out in the rain, it was a soaking rain. I lost a tent pole on the hike down and spent an extra two hours in the rain looking for it with no luck. Dreadful. But we had our berries! That night, after getting dry and having a beer in the town of Telkeetna (which is a neat little town) we drank beer and made jam until the wee hours of the night. It was raining on and off, but luckily we had figured out a way to use the tarp off of the car providing enough of a shelter to sit and cook. By the end of the night, we had to stop the jam operation for a few accounts. First off, we were out of sugar but more importantly we were out of beer. We still had plenty of berries; perfect for oatmeal, pancakes and hocho. 

With our first official jar we had to make and label. This meant deciding on a name and artwork for our brand. The label was simple yet effective, sharpie on duct-tape. And for the brand name: Campsman &the Shuester, EPIC JAM. With the additional information: hand-picked, wild Alaskan blueberries. Hopefully this product will be coming to a store near you so you can help us fund the next big adventure.

Tags: blueberries, hiking, jam


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