A few years ago, when we moved to Alaska from North Carolina, I was very excited about the change. We had been stationed at Fort Bragg for 12 years and had grown to see it as home, but a new adventure was ahead of us. After all those years in one place, we were going to miss all of the usual things – our home, our friends (12 years is a lifetime in military time!) but some of the things I was going to miss were things others might not think of. One of those was being able to pick the wild blackberries that grow in abundance in the Carolinas. I would pick gallons and gallons of them every summer in my special “secret berry patch.” And each summer, I would make blackberry jelly, preserves, gobs of cobblers and other desserts.
Like everything else that comes with a military move, we learn and adapt to our new environment, community and home. The first summer we spent in Alaska, my husband was deployed for the 5th time to Iraq, and I was really anxious to get out there and partake in the natural bounty of the Alaskan tundra. I had made a new dear friend by the name of Mary. Mary and I loaded up one day with the kiddos and headed for the wilderness. We were after berries. Not the fat, shiny blackberries of the Carolinas, no, these were small, deeply flavored wild blueberries! My new friend and I spent the whole afternoon picking these amazingly flavorful berries. We worked our way along the mountainside, surrounded by breathtaking views – and keeping a sharp eye out for the bears that loved the berries, too! A few short weeks later, after the first frost in August this same mountainside was again the destination for a day of berry picking. This time it wasn’t for blueberries, but for the blood red wild cranberries that grew all over the tundra as well.
As is always prone to happen with military life, Mary moved away to Fort Campbell. I didn’t find myself without a berry-picking partner for long though, as a few months later, I had a new neighbor by the name of Erain. She shared with me a great wild red raspberry patch, and I shared with her my blueberry and cranberry spot. Erain was a great neighbor, and was just adventurous as I was about taking advantage of natural abundance and finding ways to put it to use or preserve it. I made many things with the wild berries we picked; blueberry muffins, homemade cranberry sauce, jellies made with a mix of berries, orange cranberry bread, and other goodies.
We recently PCSed from Alaska and are now in the land of grits and sweet tea, also known as Alabama. And while I learn my way around another new town, find the order of the aisles at a new commissary and find places for the contents of the last couple boxes – I look forward to the new adventures that will greet us here. I look forward to the new friends I will make, and the things we will learn from one another. Any maybe, just maybe, I’ll make this bread for them and share my Alaska stories, and they can share their stories of their last duty station with me.
To begin, grease and flour a 9 x 5 loaf pan. Set it aside. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. In a mixing bowl combine 2 cups of flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp baking soda and a teaspoon of salt.
Stir these together and set it aside.
In another bowl, beat an egg, then add in 3/4 cup of milk…
a 1/4 cup of melted butter…
along with 1 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 1 Tb vanilla. Whisk those together until smooth.
Pour the liquid into the dry mixture, and stir together until just combined.
Add in the zest of an orange…
A generous cup of dried cranberries…
and a half cup of chopped walnuts or pecans.
Fold these all together.
Pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle the top with a tablespoon or so of raw/demerrera sugar.
Bake for 75-80 minutes or until it tests done with a toothpick.
Carefully remove it from the loaf pan and cool to room temperature on a cooling rack.
An excerpt of this appears on Military Spouse Magazine’s website, along with the recipe.