This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
This is my favorite time of year. Maybe because I was born teeter-tottering on the cusp of Leo and Virgo, one part holds on to fiery summer, while another yearns for cool winds and fall colors. Or maybe fall is my favorite because I love picking berries.
As opposed to a scene of cake and candles, memories associated with my birthday more often bring me into a damp thicket of blueberry bushes at the base of Girdwood mountains and neck deep in the middle of a hidden salmonberry patch in Whittier.
I don’t discriminate between berries, but if I had to choose, I’d always go for the harder-to-find salmonberries. I also like to try new things. In an effort to hold on to what’s left of summer, I opted for what was left — low-bush cranberries.
Low-bush cranberries are high in antioxidants. They are ideally picked after the first frost, when they are ripe and firm. The berries can be dried, frozen or preserved as a juice, jelly or jam. They can be very acidic. They differ from high-bush cranberries because they grow low, close to the ground, whereas the high-bush cranberries grow on a taller stem.
Low-bush cranberries, also known as lingonberries, connect me back to my Swedish roots. My great-grandmother enjoyed them. She was Swedish and owned a Scandinavian gift shop in downtown Anchorage decades ago. My grandma’s house is now filled with Dale horses and memories of kladdkaka, a type of Swedish cake, as a result.
I’ve picked these before, but it’s been awhile. Picking them can be a backbreaking task, as the berries sit literally on the ground. I’m lucky, though. The small, jewel-colored berries are scattered across the land on which I live.
Before moving to the peninsula, I lived with my grandma in the home my grandpa built in Anchorage’s Spenard neighborhood. Through her kitchen window, you can see my family’s original homestead from the 1940s.
Living with her gave me an appreciation for family. Living with my grandpa in his last year gave me an appreciation for what’s past and what should be remembered.
It’s easy for me to remember food and recipes. They transcend time and generations. Maybe it’s the journalist in me trying to make a record of what I can before it’s lost forever, but I’ve spent the last few years learning the recipes and food of my ancestors in an effort to preserve their memories for generations to come.
In the 1970s or 1980s, my grandma won a holiday cookie contest put on by the Anchorage Times. She can’t remember the year or the date. I attempted to look for the article, scrolling through microfiche for hours, before I finally gave up. She doesn’t remember the recipe, but she remembers some of the cookie elements, the most important of which was the cranberries.
In an attempt to re-create this award-winning cookie, I would need cranberries and grandma’s memories.
Grandma said the cookies were simple, like chocolate chip cookies, but instead of chocolate chips she used cranberries. She said she rolled the dough into a ball and baked them. She said things, like chocolate chips or nuts, could be added, but it wasn’t necessary.
I plan to use that ever-classic Nestle chocolate chip recipe, but instead of chocolate chips, of course I’ll use cranberries.
I’m making the cookies before I see my grandma next weekend. Our thing is usually making blueberry crumble, another legendary recipe of hers, but this fall asks for a change, and for something new.