The best part of living in Alaska is berry picking, Yvonne Mull says. During this season of the year the bushes and greenery of Alaskan slopes and hillsides are burgeoning forth with gooseberries, blueberries, cranberries, salmon berries, and crowberries.
"This has been a perfect year for the fruit," says Yvonne, a nurse and wife of Gil Mull, a noted geologist. "It started out warm and there was good pollination, then enough rain to nourish the berries when the blossoms started to drop."
Gooseberries flourish next to marigolds and nasturtiums in the backyard of the Mull hillside home, overlooking Cook Inlet and the Chugach mountain range.
Perhaps no land in the world is as blessed with the variety of berries available in such bounteous quantities as the 49th state. There are wild strawberries, raspberries, boysenberries, thimbleberries, cloudberries, bog berries, silverberries, bunchberries, currants, and one called kinnikinick.
Getting to where the berries flourish is yet another story. Alaska's roadway system is scant, so for years the Alaskan Railroad has scheduled trains that stop where you want to get off, and pick you up when you flag it down.
"A friend and I have an annual train-ride pilgrimage to where the big blues are," says Yvonne.
The blueberries are picked over and frozen whole on sheet trays, then packed in airtight bags for use later in pies, cakes, tortes, muffins, and clafouti, a great favorite with the Mull family.
Yvonne admits she travels 25 miles to get her annual "raspberry haul" for jam , but in which direction is anyone's guess. It's a secret.
"Berry rule No. 1 is never reveal to anyone but your most trusted friend the location of your favorite patch," she cautions. "No. 2 is never go berrying alone, and "No. 3 is always wear a bear bell. The bears adore berries, and the noise will send them the other way, one hopes."
Only low-bush cranberries are allowed in the Mull home. "The high-bush cranberries are too tart and smell like dirty socks while cooking," she says.
Her cranberry bread is a staple during the holidays, and fresh commercial cranberries may be substituted for the Alaskan variety.
Here are a few of Yvonne's treasured berry recipes. Cranberry Quick Bread 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted 1 cup sugar 1 tablespoon baking powder 3/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1 egg, slightly beaten 1 tablespoon grated orange peel 3/4 cup milk 2 tablespoons melted butter 1 cup raw cranberries, whole
Combine flour with sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon and sift into a bowl. Combine egg with orange peel, milk, and butter; then pour all at once into dry ingredients.
Mix just until thoroughly moistened. Stir in cranberries. Spoon mixture into a well-greased loaf pan, 4 by 8 inches.
Bake at 325 degrees F. until done, about 1 hour. Serve warm or cold. Keeps 1 week in refrigerator or freeze.Makes 1 loaf. Blueberry Clafouti 1/3 cup blanched almonds 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 1/3 cup sugar 1/3 teaspoon salt 3 eggs, beaten 1/2 cup creme fraiche (recipe below) 2 tablespoons unsalted sweet butter, melted, cooled 3 cups blueberries 1/4 cup sugar
To make creme fraiche, shake 1 cup whipping cream and 2 tablespoons active-culture buttermilk in a sterilized jar. Let sit at room temperature for 24 hours to thicken. Keeps at least 1 week in refrigerator.
Grind almonds with on-off pulse in food processor fitted with metal blade or blender. Add flour 1/3 cup sugar, and salt. Process with on-off method until mixed. While machine is in motion, gradually pour eggs, creme fraiche, and butter until smooth -- don't overprocess.
Pour batter into greased 9-inch spring-form pan. Top with blueberries. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar. Bake at 350 degrees F. until top is golden and center is firm to touch, 40 to 50 minutes.Cool on wire rack until just warm. Serve with sweetened whipped cream. Serves 8 to 10. Fresh Currant Jelly 4 pounds (3 quarts) ripe, frest currants 1 cup water 7 cups sugar 1/2 bottle fruit pectin
Crush currants with potato masher. Add water, bring to a boil, and simmer covered for 10 minutes. Place in jelly-cloth or bag and squeeze out juice. Measure 5 cups of juice into a very large saucepan, add sugar, and mix well.
Put over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin at once. Then bring to a full rolling boil and boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and skim off foam with a metal spoon, then pour quickly into hot sterilized glasses. cover immediately with 1/8 inch hot paraffin. Yield: 11 medium glasses. Blueberry Torte 4 to 6 cups fresh blueberries 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1/4 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup softened butter 1 egg 1/3 cup sugar 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Wash berries and allow to drain thoroughly. In bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, butter, egg, and sugar. With your hands, work mixture until it is of uniform texture, then shape into a ball.
Press dough eveny along sides and bottom of greased 11-inch torte pan or 9 -inch cake pan with removable bottom.
Gently stir 2 tablespoons flour into berries and pour into crust. Bake at 350 deggrees F. for abour 50 minutes.
Cool on a rack until bottom of pan is cool to the touch.Then remove sides of pan. Sift powdered sugar over the top before serving. Best served warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.