This story originally aired July 17 on KDLG's Bristol Bay and Beyond.
Transcript: Finally this week, we hope you’ve put your fish away by now and are turning to other pursuits this fall like hunting and gathering. Yesterday I had a young visitor stop by the studio to tell me how she makes her famous jelly from a plant, or rather a weed, that is coming into colorful full bloom all around us.
REIGH: Gisa Reigh and I’m 8 years old.
BENDINGER: So you’ve come to talk today about what?
REIGH: Making fireweed jelly.
BENDINGER: And you know how to make fireweed jelly?
REIGH: With a recipe.
BENDINGER: First of all what is fireweed jelly?
REIGH: It’s a plant that grows and it blossoms pink flowers in the summer. When the summer slowly turns into fall, it blossoms all the way and people pick it and make jelly out of it.
BENDINGER: Fire-weed … it sounds gross, is it gross?
REIGH: Ah, no, but if you don’t tend things like my strawberry patch then fireweed will grow there.
BENDINGER: I see. That must be why they call it a weed.
REIGH: Mm hm.
BENDINGER: Do you like seeing it when it comes up in the late summer?
REIGH: It’s kind of weird to look for small ones, but yes it’s really fun to watch them come up.
BENDINGER: Ok, before I ask you for your recipe, for your famous fireweed jelly, tell me about picking it. Do you look for specific types, or sizes, or colors of fireweed to pick to make jelly, or do you just go grab everything you can?
REIGH: Well, we try to look for the biggest with the most flowers, because then we won’t have to pick that much. Like for instance, if you see a patch with a bunch of small ones, if you want a lot of jars you’ll have to pick most of it. But if you have big ones, you can leave others for next summer.
BENDINGER: Alright, so now you’ve gone out … how long does it take to pick a bunch of fireweed?
REIGH: Well, it depends on how much you want. Or, how late it is … like last time we went there was lots of mosquitos, so half the time we were swatting instead of picking.
BENDINGER: So that can determine the success of your fireweed jelly making huh? Mosquitos and the time of day?
REIGH: Well what I mean by time of day is, mosquitos come out more in the afternoon.
BENDINGER: Oh, I see, ok. So you’ve gone out, and if you want to eat fireweed jelly for the whole year, how much should you pick, like a big bucket’s worth? Two buckets?
REIGH: Yeah I think two buckets.
BENDINGER: Ok so you go out and get you two buckets, and you bring it inside. And you’ve got a good recipe. Let’s talk about how to make it. What do you do first?
REIGH: You have to clean the blossoms. Last year since it was so buggy I had to pick out bugs on some of it. You have to wash them. And then add to them to lemon juice and water. You put them in a pot and boil them for ten minutes. You strain the liquids and get rid of the blossoms. You have to reheat the liquid to lukewarm and add pectin, and bring it to a boil. Then you add the sugar, and bring it a full boil for one minute. Then you have to pour it into hot jars, and seal it good. I don’t know what to do next, but I know you have to wait for it to cool.
BENDINGER: So you pour the hot liquid into the jars, seal it, and let it cool. Is that it?
REIGH: Yeah, mm hm.
BENDINGER: How much sugar do you put in? A lot, a little bit, is that what really makes it taste good?
REIGH: Um, Mom said last time that we made jelly, she said she knew now why her diet thing she was on didn’t let her have jelly. Because it was one of those big pitchers almost full.
BENDINGER: Is that what makes it taste good, yeah?
REIGH: Those big glass pitchers that are kind of fat … yeah.
BENDINGER: What color does it come out as, by the way. Fireweed’s beautiful, does it come out the same color? How would you describe it.
REIGH: Um, kind of pinkish. It’s kind of like the pink as the blossoms, but a little darker, since fireweed blossoms are kind of light, it’s a little darker.
BENDINGER: Ok. So, let’s say … how long does it take to pick? Maybe …?
REIGH: Maybe an hour, if there isn’t mosquitos.
BENDINGER: Ok, so an hour there. And then you come inside, how much longer till you have it sitting on the corner waiting to cool?
REIGH: Maybe an hour or so.
BENDINGER: Oh that’s not bad. Do you enjoy the time?
REIGH: Ummm …
BENDINGER: Kind of a chore?
BENDINGER: Is it fun to do with your family?
REIGH: Yeah, it is.
BENDINGER: What’s your favorite thing that you put fireweed jelly on the rest of the year?
REIGH: Bagels for breakfast.
BENDINGER: Bagels for breakfast. Well Gisa Reigh, thank you so much for sharing your fireweed jelly with us. Maybe you can bring some by sometime and we could try it.
BENDINGER: Good talking to you.
REIGH: You’re welcome.