In rural Alaska, it’s really quite strange to encounter a person who does not do some kind of subsistence food gathering.
For many, hunting and fishing brings in fresh local protein. It isn’t exactly free once you consider the gas, bullets, rod/reel, nets, permit fees, etc . . . but it is a lot cheaper than buying meat in town at the local grocery store, or flying it in from a butcher shop in Anchorage.
Residents in this part of the state are also lucky enough to have a summer (usually) warm enough to grow gardens. Some people have even created greenhouses, and there is a fully stocked farmer’s market with many local vendors who sell a wide variety of local, fresh produce for much cheaper prices than the over-ripe produce flown into the stores. I frequent the Wednesday/Saturday market in Dillingham regularly! Here is my last haul:
We have not attempted to grow anything, but we have started our wild plant gathering cycle. This year we are focusing on dandelion and whatever berries we can find that do well. Blueberries, aqpiks (salmonberries), and low-bush cranberries are usually available, but their success really depends on the weather. If the fireweed this year does not coincide with school starting, I may target those too.
Dandelions show up first here in Dillingham. Now, I am no mind reader but I know what you are thinking: Dandelions are weeds. We mow them down. They are a nuisance!
Well, yes. They are weeds . . . but before you judge me, let’s have a history lesson. Dandelions were actually introduced to the US by the Europeans as salad greens; literally the only reason they are on the continent is because humans considered them food! If any of you frequent fancy restaurants, you can often find dandelion greens on the menu. (I only know this because I heart Top Chef.) I encounter them more often as gifts from my son.
Still, I do not intend on eating them as a salad. I bought a TON of pectin in preparation for berry season, so I will mix a box or two with dandelion petals to make a beautiful golden-yellow dandelion jelly!
Dandelions are EVERYWHERE right now. So, off we go!
- 4 cups dandelion petals
- 4 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 box powdered pectin or 2 pouches of liquid pectin
- Large soup pot
- Long spoon for stirring
- Stock pot or canning pot
- Canning jar lifter
- Canning jar tray for bottom of pot
- Jelly jars, sterilized and hot
Step 1: Picking
I picked loads and loads of dandelions. When picking, keep a few things in mind.
- You will only actually be using the petals so just pluck off the flower head. They should come off easily. The green stalks have a bitter milk that you do not want in your jelly, and the green base will make your jelly green. (We are shooting for a sun-gold color). Aim for approximately 10 cups of blossoms.
- Your hands will turn yellow with the pollen. Wear some kind of glove if that bothers you. It comes off easily though, so I did not bother.
- Pay attention to the weather. If it gets rainy, dandelion blooms will close up until the sun returns. In a rainy region like mine, this means don’t be lazy and lose your chance!
- Be sure to pick from areas you are certain have not been sprayed with pesticides or other harmful chemicals. That is pretty much a non-issue in Alaska where I live, but it should be in the forefront of your mind as you pick if you live in an urban or suburban area.
Step 2: Plucking
Once you have a LOT of dandelions, it’s time to pluck! Actually, I ended up using scissors to cut off the yellow florets from the green base. I found it easiest to have to large bowls near me: one to cut the florets into, and one for discarding the green parts. You need to gather enough dandelions for 4 compressed cups of dandelion blossoms.
Step 3: Steeping
Place yellow florets in a large bowl and pour hot water over them. Allow the florets to steep in a tea until it reaches room temperature. I just let them sit overnight. This makes the tea ultra-concentrated . . . plus, I have other things to be doing like feeding children or cleaning the house. (Or just reading a good book in the summer night sun!)
Step 4: Cooking
Once the tea is steeped and cooled, strain the tea through cheesecloth or coffee filter into a pot. Whatever you use to filter the tea, just make sure it separates the plant from the water. All we want is the dandelion concentrate; not the plant itself.
Add lemon juice, pectin, and sugar to the tea. If you want a REALLY yellow jelly, add a drop of yellow food coloring. Boil until the jelly sticks to the back of a spoon. I used regular pectin (not the low-sugar kind) and just followed the box directions. In the future, I intend on ordering the low-sugar kind. To be honest, I was not aware of the option when I first started on the jelly train.
Step 5: Canning
I used jelly-sized mason jars found in a local store. Special note: Before I poured the hot jelly into the jars, I heated the jars. You want to avoid changing glass temperature too quickly and too drastically . . . explosions of glass shards generally ruin the mood and force you to throw away jelly. I warmed mine gradually in hot water in my canning pot while I was cooking the jelly.
So, pour your jelly mixture into warm glass canning jars. Some dandelion recipes do not call for hot canning, but I prefer to be sure mine are shelf-stable for the year so I hot can. However, I do not have a special canning set-up because I’m a teacher and I do things on a budget . . . and I’m an Alaskan, so I must be resourceful. I use the water bath canning technique. Basically, I boil water in a regular stock pot for canning, and throw a cheap canning rack in the bottom that will hold the jars. (You don’t want the jars sitting directly on the bottom of the pot, as water needs to circulate all the way around).
Once they are out of the hot bath, set the jars under a kitchen towel and go about your business. If you are nearby, you should hear the jars pop as they seal. If they don’t seal, bathe them again.
Step 6: Cooling and Consuming!
Once near room temperature, place the jelly jars in the refrigerator to cool and set. If the jelly doesn’t gel by the next day, you might have to pour the jelly back into a pot and cook it again with added sugar. I had to do this with my first batch, and they set the second time wonderfully. Some people purposely add less sugar so it is more of a honey-consistency, so you do not necessarily have to achieve a gel!
Now the jelly is ready to eat! My son says it tastes like honey and calls it Sun Jelly. This can make for a wonderful and unique Christmas present; not many people have ever tasted dandelion jelly! Really, it does taste like honey jelly, which makes sense because it is essentially gelled pollen tea.
Regardless, I hope you enjoy!