Author Archives: Hortalaska Berries

What is shrub?

     A new agriculture consumer magazine has come to town,the first edition of Edible Alaska were in readers hands summer 2016 !  I was doing my usual quick thumb thru  when I was handed my personal copy  while I walked thru AG Day 2016 @Palmer Experiment Farm when I came upon the article, Shrub A new Twist on an Old Tradition by Evie Witten.
     What the heck is shrub you say?? Well according to Wikipedia in terms of mixed drinks, shrub is the name of two different, but related, acidulated beverages. One type of shrub is a fruit liqueur that was popular in 17th and 18th century England, typically made with rum or brandy mixed with sugar and the juice or rinds of citrus fruit.
     The word “shrub” can also refer to a cocktail or soft drink that was popular during America’s colonial era, made by mixing a vinegared syrup with spirits, water, or carbonated water. The term “shrub” can also be applied to the sweetened vinegar-based syrup, from which the cocktail is made; the syrup is also known as drinking vinegar. Drinking vinegar is often infused with fruit juice, herbs and spices for use in mixed drinks
     The history of Shrub is early English version of the shrub arose from the medicinal cordials of the 15th century.The drink gained popularity among smugglers in the 1680s trying to avoid paying import taxes for goods shipped from mainland Europe: To avoid detection, smugglers would sometimes sink barrels of spirits off-shore to be retrieved later; the addition of fruit flavours aided in masking the taste of alcohol fouled by sea water.As a mixture of fruit and alcohol, the shrub is related to the punch, however punches were normally served immediately after mixing the ingredients, whereas shrubs tended to have a higher concentration of flavour and sugar and could be stored for later use, much like a pre-made drink mixer.The shrub was itself a common ingredient in punches, either on its own or as a simple mix with brandy or rum. It was also served during the Christmas season mixed with raisins, honey, lemon, sherry, rum and other spirits.The shrub was sold in most public houses throughout England in the 17th and 18th centuries, although the drink fell out of fashion by the late 1800s.

     The American version of the shrub has its origins in 17th century England where vinegar was used as an alternative to citrus juices in the preservation of berries and other fruits for the off-season. Fruit preserves made in this fashion were themselves known as shrubs and the practice carried over to colonial America.By the 19th century, typical American recipes for shrubs used vinegar poured over fruit—traditionally berries—which was left to infuse anywhere from overnight up to several days; afterwards, the fruit would be strained out and the remaining liquid would be mixed with a sweetener such as sugar or honey and then reduced to make a syrup.The sweet-and-sour syrup could be mixed with either water or soda water and served as a soft drink, or it could be used as a mixer in alcoholic cocktails.Shrubs eventually fell out of popularity with the advent of home refrigeration.

The serving of vinegar-based shrub drinks became popular again in 2011 and 2012 in American restaurants and bars. The trend has also been noted in bars in Canada as well as London. The acidity of the shrub makes it well suited as anapéritif or used as an alternative to bitters in cocktails. Unlike cocktails acidulated with citrus, vinegar-based drinks will remain clear when shaken.

The reference materials listed at the end were interesting reads for sure, but back to the article in my new magazine edible Alaska that started this blog post.  Shrub A new Twist on an Old Tradition by Evie Witten.  Helen Howarth of Fromagio’s Artisan cheese in Anchorage is bringing this refreshing drink to the local consumers but she shares a recipe how easy its a DIY 3 ingredient start to deliciousness.  1pound of fruits or vegetables,3/4 cup sugar, 314 cup vinegar; chop the fruit or vegetables, place in a bowl with sugar and macerate. cover bowl, refrigerate for a few days, then pour off the juice and add any type of vinegar. shore in corked or closed jar.

Plus as its mentioned making shrubs allows you to use the whole harvest of not just fruits but also crab apples, rhubarb. carrots, herbs, ginger, and many endless more choices.

Cannot wait to experiment with all the new combinations from local freshly harvested produce with a new preserving method. R from Mat-Su Valley

edible Alaska Magazine summer 2016 No. 1, Shrub A new Twist on an Old Tradition by Evie Witten, pg 38

Restoring peatlands

This document talks about how to grow berries in peatlands after peat extraction.  It includes most of the acid-loving berries such as blueberries and cranberries. It is  a nice reference for growing berries!

Peatland Ecology Research Group.  2009.  Production of Berries in Peatlands.  Available online:  Accessed 17 Oct 2016.

Cornell Berry Diagnostics

The Cornell Cooperative Extensions Berry Diagnostic Tool is an excellent resource for anyone growing or interested in strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, currants, and gooseberries. This online tool allows anyone to select a berry crop and then from a variety of descriptions of plant growth issues, deformities, discolorations, damage, or other indicator that occurs on the whole plant, flower, fruit, or vegetative to continue to diagnose the issue. Lots of photographs and links to in depth articles are included about many diagnoses to really get to the “root” of the issue. Finally, recommendations for management of the issue can be selected after referring to the images and descriptions
Citation: Cornell Cooperative Extension. 2016. Cornell Fruit Berry Diagnostic Tool. Available online: Diagnosis. Accessed: 12 October 201

Fruit Soups

Fruit Soup Recipe

2 cups dry red wine 1 cup water ; 2/3 cup sugar ; 2 whole star anise ; 2 cinnamon sticks; 1 (12-ounce) basket fresh strawberries, hulled, sliced;  1 (6-ounce) basket fresh raspberries;  1 (4.4-ounce) basket fresh blueberries;  1 pint vanilla bean gelato or ice cream

Directions: Combine the wine, water, sugar, star anise, and cinnamon sticks in a heavy large saucepan. Add all but 1/2 cup of each of the berries. Bring the liquids to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently until the fruit is very tender, about 10 minutes. Cool slightly. Discard the star anise and cinnamon sticks. Transfer the berry mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Strain the soup through a fine mesh strainer and into a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, stirring occasionally, at least 8 hours and up to 1 day ahead. Cut the reserved strawberries into small pieces. Place a small scoop of vanilla bean gelato or ice cream in the center of 8 decorative dessert glasses or soup bowls. Divide the mixed berry soup among the glasses, being careful to pour around the gelato. Sprinkle the reserved berries over the soup and serve immediately. Thank you to Giada De Laurentiis for a delicious mixed berry soup with gelato recipe. Doing research on berry information is when I learned that people really do make soup from berries. You can heat it up and use it as a topping or throw some whipped cream on it for a cold topping. Sounds delicious!   AK Fairbanks

Bog Blueberries for Health

“Bog Blueberry anthocyanins alleviate photo-aging in UV B irradiation-induced human dermal fibroblasts.”

The fruits of the bog blueberry plant are rich in anthocyanins that contribute pigmentation and the relief/prevention of several chronic diseases. Several studies show bog blueberries remarkably suppress collagen degradation as well as inflammatory response in the skin cells which allow for connective tissue and healing/recovery after injury. The edible berry shows proof it can be protective against skin damage!
Bae, J.-Y., Choi, J.-S., Han, S.J., Ju, S.M., Kang, I.-J., Kang, Y.-H., Kim, S.J., Lim, S.S., Park, J. 2009. “Bog Blueberry Anthocyanins Alleviate Photo-Aging in Ultra-Violet B Irradiation-Induced Human Dermal Fibroblasts.” Molecular Nutrition and Food Research 53(6): 726-738.

Haskap Pie

Pie is one of my absolute favorite desserts and I don’t usually stray far from my favorites apple and cherry, but I found a recipe for haskap pie filling that I would definitely have to try if I ever came across it. I always find that from picking or obtaining the berry yourself, it is always that much more satisfying when you have the finished product!   LF Fairbanks


Haskap berries have twice as much juice in them as any other berry! We have found that frozen berries works better for pie filling instead of the fresh berry. If you use the fresh berry they tend to continue to leak out juice after baked.

4 cups of frozen Haskap berries
1 ½ cups sugar
4 tbsp. cornstarch
¼ cup of strained juice.

  • Place the frozen berries in a colander to thaw and drain overnight.
    • Save the strained juice. One option is to mix the juice with sparkling water on ice with a sweetener of your choice for a refreshing drink.
  • Place drained berries in a medium saucepan with the sugar
  • Bring to a boil , then turn down to a simmer
  • Add the cornstarch to the 1/4 c of juice
  • Add this slowly to the berry/sugar mixture while it is simmering and stir to thicken
  • Cool when thickened and pour into pre baked pie shell


2013. Haskap Recipes. Available online: Recipes. Accessed 19 Oct, 2016.

Salmonberry uses

Salmon berry plants bark and leaves can be cooked down for tea to treat diarrhea or dysntery. The branches are also used  Pena,D. Salmonberry: Food, Medicine, Culture – Part 1. Available online: Salmonberries.  Accessed 19 Oct, 2016.

Maxine Thompson and her haskaps

This article highlights the life of Maxine Thomson for her contribution to breeding of and popularizing the Haskap.  She seems to be a rather amazing woman and this is a delight and an inspiration to read!
Martin, S. 2016.  Sweet Success.  Available Online: Maxine Accessed 17 Oct 2016.

Beyond Beautiful

   The more I learn about fruit bearing shrubs and plants the more I want to learn. Being able to grow one’s own food is very important to me. I want to know what I am putting into my plants so that I know what I am eating and feeding to my family. I am blessed to live in a state where much of its natural beauty is still very much preserved and undisturbed. My home is surrounded by mountains and forests; these expansive wilds were and still are my playground. As I grow older I am learning how important everything around me truly is and how all things have an effect on each other. This is especially true in our great forests for they are a truly impressive ecosystem and even small changes can have extensive repercussion. I have always loved Alaska’s native landscapes; its trees, flowers, berry plants and shrubs all have a special place in my heart.
   In the garden around my house I am slowly planting Alaskan perennials so that I can tend the beauty of a wild forest or meadow right at my door step. Taking care of perennials has its own set of methods and complications. Perennials naturally have many different considerations than annuals and wild perennials can be especially picky about growing conditions, soil content, and other habitat considerations.
In the past if I had a question about how to grow a particular flower or tree in my yard I would ask a neighbor lady; she had lived in Alaska for years and was full of knowledge on all things green and growing. Her entire yard and garden where in fact a series of perennial beds that were full of Alaskan wildflowers which she had found and propagated herself. Many an afternoon I would find her out in the flower beds pulling weeds and happily caring for each plant. She knew exactly where and what everything was in her beds even before they came up. She has since moved away from the area and I must now seek out advice elsewhere.
   I have recently read an article about creating edible landscapes. I find this entire idea intriguing; not only would one enjoy the beauty of flowering shrubs and plants all summer but when the time was right a harvest of great variety would come. These crops could be eaten fresh or processed and stored for the winter. The plants then serve two purposes: providing beauty along with pollen and nectar for good insects, and providing a food source for their caretaker. This sounds like a wonderfully efficient way to create a garden or landscape. The information that I have found recommends that if you are starting from scratch to begin by planning how you want the landscape roughly to look. Plan where the trees and shrubs will be first and then add in smaller plants. Berry trees were my first though for creating an edible landscape but smaller edibles such as herbs, and flowers should not be discounted. These plants can add color and variety when planted near fruit bearing shrubs. Vegetables that are colorful or interesting can also be interspersed with the herbs and edible flowering plants ( As with any landscaping project make sure to plan where each perennial will go depending on each plants needs and characteristics. A detailed plan will ensure a balanced landscape that will provide food all growing season. I am just an amateur enthusiast and would have to, out of necessity, start small with any endeavor to start turning my yard into an edible landscape. I am very impressed by the article put out by Rosalind Creasy; she is an expert and her creations are just lovely. The designs are way beyond my abilities but do show how diverse landscaping with edible plants can be. The Virginia Berry Farm page is also very detailed and explains clearly how best to go about planning and starting an edible landscape.
   I have many ideas now too many in fact. Winter is a good time to think of new and different things to try next spring in my garden. Now as the days grow colder and the nights longer I will research, plan, and create, at least on paper, some designs for my yard. Instead of planting lilacs I can plant Saskatoons or Haskaps. Instead of putting in another delphinium or poppy border I can put in some herbs for cooking and a border of strawberries. The soil in my yard is not very good so until I can focus on improving it, some of my new shrubs could be planted in large pots or raised beds; the same goes for herbs and lettuces all will grow well in pots. I am excited about redesigning my yard. I have wanted to landscape it for some years now but just could not find a design I liked. My new designs will include some edibles and who knows what else, the possibilities are endless. AB Delta Junction
Virginia Berry Farm. Edible Landscaping. virginiaberryfarm. Available Online: Accessed Oct. 19, 2016
Marion O. in a newsletter called Up Beet Gardener. How to landscape with edible plants. PlanTea, Inc. Available Online: Accessed Oct.19, 2016
Rosalind C. 2009. Edible Landscaping Basics. Rosalind Creasy Edible Landscaping. Available Online.

Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake

Every year around October my church conducts a pie auction fundraiser. While this isn’t exactly a pie, it still sold for over $100, which means you can take the whole thing home! You won’t want to share! This recipe is taken from the Taste of Home Annual Cookbook, 2003 Edition. CM Fairbanks
Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake
1 packaged (12 ounces) frozen blueberries, thawed
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
3 eggs
¼ cup lemon juice
In a food processor or blender, process the blueberries, sugar, water and cornstarch until blended. Transfer to a heavy saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook and stir over medium heat for 2 minutes or until thickened. Set aside 6 tablespoons for filling. Refrigerate the remaining sauce for topping. Combine crust ingredients. Press onto the bottom of a greased 9-in. springform pan; set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and milk until smooth. Add eggs; beat on low just until combined. Add lemon juice; beat just until blended. Pour half of the filling over crust; top with half of the reserved blueberry sauce. Repeat layers. Cut through filling with a knife to swirl blueberry sauce. Place pan on a baking sheet.

Mycorrhizal Fungi in Alaska

This is a good informational bulletin about mycorrhizal fungi in Alaska. It provides information about ectomycorrhizae as well as arbuscular mycorrhizae, unfortunately it glances over Ericoid, Arbutiod, and orchid mycorrhizae. The bulletin describes the benefits of mycorrhizal fungi, which include increased: absorption of water and nutrient, phosphorus uptake, nitrogen fixing in legumes, production of plant growth hormones and enhanced soil characteristics. It also discusses cultural practices that might jeopardize existing mycorrhizae as well as an inoculation overview. CZ Anchorage
Ianson, D. and J. Smeenk. 2014. Mycorrhizae in the Alaska Landscape. Available online: Mycorrhizal fungi. Accessed: 17 October 2016.

The bane of baneberries

Janice Schoefield, in Discovering Wild Plants suggests that you might want to plant a Baneberry (Actaea rubra) or other poisonous plant in your garden to teach children about poisonous plants. That’s an interesting strategy considering that just two berries could kill a kid. Of course, Schoefield says that usually kids won’t eat more than one berry because of the taste, unless they accidentally throw them in their bucket and mix them up with cranberries. You still can pick them out if you’re looking for them. I’m not sure how I feel about planting poisonous plants in the garden. At least with my kids who are always testing the limits. But I do like the idea of training my kids while they’re young. I’m realizing that my fear of a couple of poisonous berries has kept me from trying a lot of edible berries because they kinda looked alike. If I was more familiar with the poisonous ones, then perhaps I would’ve been more adventurous with trying other edible berries.

Schoefield, J. 2007. Discovering wild plants: Alaska, Western Canada, the Northwest. Alaska Northwest Books., Portland.

Blueberry variation

Learning about how much variation there is in bog blueberries in Dr. Pat Holloway’s class makes me realize that perhaps that is partly why I’m attracted to them. If each bush and cluster of berries were the same, it wouldn’t be nearly as exciting to pick blueberries. For instance, bunchberries, while also not quite as tasty, they don’t seem to have near the variability of blueberries. All the plants are about as high, and the berries seem to be very similar in size. HR Fairbanks

Keeping busy until spring

The idea of a plant being able to conduct photosynthesis during freezing temperatures was a novel idea to me. The researchers in this article wanted to see how lingonberries were able to recover to a photosynthetic state during periods of mild temperature during winter months. They tested temperature, photoperiod, and preceding frost for effects on the lingonberry, and what they discovered surprised me. Extreme cold slowed down the recovery, however the berries were able to come back and maintain photosynthesis even at freezing temperatures. These berries amaze me! The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. Check out their findings in the article listed below. CM Fairbanks
Saarinen, T., R. Lundell, and H. Hänninen. 2011. Recovery of photosynthetic capacity in Vaccinium vitis-idaea during mild spells in winter. Plant Ecol 212:1429-1440

Fun facts about strawberries

Strawberry fun facts. The link above takes you to a fun fact about strawberries site that gives you instructions on how to pick strawberries and just fun facts about berries. One of my favorite facts that I read was, “Processing, such as cooking and freezing berries do not affect the phytochemical properties that they contain! This means that value-added products, such as our nectars, ciders, & jams etc… are still high in the healthy stuff!!!” (Fun Facts About Strawberries, Laura, Southern Grace Farms). Often times you find that a certain way of cooking foods can cause them to loose their nutritional value. For example, with vegtables, I don’t like to steam them because all the nutrients falls into the juice at the bottom of the pot. Another thing I thought was cool about the site was that it included how to say the word “strawberry” in a few different languages.AK Fairbanks

Blimp Farming

Blimp Farming

California as an excellent climate zone for growing strawberries in the ground, but water consumption, pests and diseases are always a major concern wherever you grow. Well-designed and managed greenhouses can often help battle these concerns for farmers and gardeners by allowing them the complete control over how their crops are grown including aspects like soils, watering, heating, available light and pest/disease control. Although this control is beneficial to the crop production, it may not always be cost effective to build and manage large greenhouses.  With quality production and cost analysis in mind a relatively new structural design coming out of Oceanside, California has helped encourage greenhouse style gardening at a fraction of the cost. Daivd Chelf is the President of a company called Airstream Innovations and he has designed a unique organic greenhouse that helps conserve water consumption, naturally eliminate pests and diseases and improve photosynthesis making their strawberries more flavorful and nutrient rich all at a relatively low cost.

By using physics and technology Chelf has engineered a 300ft plastic tunnel with constant 3mph air flow. The structure has similarities to the high tunnels we’ve seen, except the constant airflow comes from two giant fans suspended in an intake tower and creates enough air pressure to keep the plastic tunnel inflated without a frame. According to Chelf, “The benefit (of the constant air flow) to the plant is that it ultimately has more water, more nutrients, more carbon oxide to the leaf and more photosynthesis for the flowers and berries” (Pico, P. & Schoolov, K.) The airflow is only 3mph so that it doesn’t damage the plants but can help strengthen them.  We can see that just the wind tunnel effect can be beneficial to photosynthesis, but how can it help reduce water usage or pest and disease issues?

In conjunction with the constant airflow, Airstream Innovations also uses bubble wrap to protect the soil and reduce water evaporation. Plasticulture is used often when farming or gardening productive strawberry patches and the use of the bubble wrap inside a plastic wind tunnel is a similar concept. Minimizing water consumption is a high priority for production farming because water resources are limited and excessive use can lead to high economic and ecological costs.

With all this plastic in a plastic enclosed structure, pests and disease seem like they could be a big problem, but because the pressure of the constant airflow, it actually reduces the number and variety of pests and diseases and Airstream Innovations uses no pesticides, not even organic ones. Instead, the airflow forces intruding bugs into a thick insect net in the greenhouse. The net is near the fans and if the insects can get through the new they must also make it through the network of fans and mechanical equipment. Of course some pests must make it inside and to help fight those company imports ladybugs and other predator insects that are not harmful to the plants.

Not only do these new Airstream greenhouses improves berry quality, reduce water consumption and avoid pests and pesticides, they seem to be doing with high cost benefits. The business is saving money on structure materials and setup, electricity, water and by not purchasing pesticides. Although you can farm strawberries very successfully outdoors, you can also use this system very productively at a relatively low cost.  LH Fairbanks

There is a video and a short article about the strawberries grown in one of these Airstream greenhouses and a little connection to the strawberry market here.

And the home page for Airstream Innovations is here.

Both of these are worth the browse. Getting a good visual for this tunnel style greenhouse is helpful to understanding the cultivating properties it encourages.

Airstream Innovations Inc. 2015. Online: Accessed: 18 Oct. 2016.

Pico, P. & Schoolov, K. Berry Farm in a Blimp. 2011. KPBS News. Online: Accessed: 18 Oct. 2016

Raspberry Bushy Dwarf virus on Nagoonberry (Arctic Bramble)

“New Host for Raspberry Bushy Dwarf Virus: Arctic Bramble (Rubus Arcticus)”

RBDV was identified in three new host plants of the rubus species : Arctic Bramble, Alaskan Arctic Bramble, and their hybrid. It was identified through the same symptoms found in the test plants,  Chenopodium quinoa and C. Amaranticolor. The presence of the virus affecting sucrose density, protein analyses in gel electrophoresis, and experimental plots are studied. KH Fairbanks

Haimi, P. Karenlampi, S. Kokko, H. Lemmety, A. 1996. “New Host for Raspberry Bushy Dwarf Virus: Arctic Bramble (Rubus Arcticus).” European Journal of Plant Pathology 102(7): 713-717.

Wild berries along the Tanana

From one of the last screencasts in the Wild and Cultivated Berries class, (NRM 154), it was mentioned that certain berries could be found along the Yukon and Tanana rivers. I am from a village along the Yukon River and have to travel along the Tanana River in order to get home by boat. I had never even thought about looking for any other berry besides blueberries along the river. Now that I know what all of these berries look like and where they are likely to grow I can definitely be on the lookout next time I travel home 🙂  LF Fairbanks


Soapberries are a berry I was not familiar with, but I found that these berries were smoked. I had never heard of smoking a berry before, it then is pressed into cakes and other sweet desserts. An example article about soap berries is referenced bellow. Vierek,E.Soapberry. Available online: Soapberry. Accessed 19 Oct, 2016.   BE Fairbanks

Pollinators of Haskaps/honeyberries

Here is a link to a journal article comparing native and non-native pollinators of Haskap.  They concluded that native bumble bees (compared to orchard bees and honey bees) have the highest pollen deposition per visit, visited the most flowers in a given period of time and could fly at the coldest temperatures, making them the most suited for successful pollination at least in cooler springs.  Another interesting thing to note is Figure 1c in the paper.  It shows a fruit in which the bracteoles have not fused around the two ovaries of the paired flowers.  I find this interesting because I observed several fruits shaped like this and wondered what caused it.  Understanding the biology of the flower, the formation makes more sense! KD Fairbanks

Frier, S.D, C.M. Somers and C.S. Sheffield.  2016.  Comparing the performance of native and managed pollinators of Haskap (Lonicera caerulea:  Caprifoliaceae), an emerging fruit crop.  Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 219:42-48.