92 Years Young

Mark and Paul wearing Old Piss shirts

You’d think 92 years would be a ripe old age to die. Not for Paul, it wasn’t.

I talked to him a few days ago. My usual report in on current fishing or sports or politics. Paul sounded good. He had nearly all of his marbles, right to the end. Since I spoke with him often on the phone and not on video chat, and saw him a few times a year in person, I wouldn’t see the physical declines those closer to him would, and maybe his passing was more expected by them. He was one of my best friends and I spoke with him more often than I did my family, and was closer to him than my own dad.

The photo of Paul and I was taken when I went down to his house to watch the Egg Bowl with him, I think. Paul loved sports and that, and fishing and hunting, were our main topics of conversation. I think he cherished the “Old Piss” shirt I sent to him more than anything else I ever did for him, along with the $500 van I bought from Rorie that he said was so perfect for him he’d hug it everyday. I saw the van over by Steve’s apartment when he was helping me scavenge at the Petersburg dump, one of my favorite activities when I was in town,  on a Sunday a few months ago. If you don’t know the meaning of Old Piss, it might be because you never lived in Mississippi, but I’ll let you look that up yourself. My late friend Jimmy introduced me to the phrase.  We both went to Mississippi State.

I met Paul in about 1988.  On a dusty road in Sierra Leone. All of us on motorcycles. They were going one direction and me the other.  I was about 22,  in the Peace Corps in the same country as his younger daughter, and he was there visiting her with his older daughter. We chatted briefly in the West African heat and humidity, and then went our separate ways.

A few years later, I found myself moved to Juneau and working as a state fishery management biologist for the salmon troll fishery. Each season, we’d take a trip to ports around southeast Alaska to talk to fishermen about the upcoming season. When we stopped in Petersburg, a shorter man with glasses walked up to my boss and said “Well, this is a long way from West Africa”. Or something like that. My boss soon realized Paul was looking for me, and he came over and that reintroduction started an increasingly close relationship that lasted til the day before yesterday.

Paul grew up in various places – Nebraska. Montana. California.  If I remember right, he told me he stuttered as a kid, and found he liked running as it was a sport he could do alone and not have to be part of a team where he’d have to talk. I think long about his 8th grade year, the gym class was doing some kind of running test of sorts, to see how fast each could run some distance.  Paul apparently impressed the crap out of the gym coach, which lead to a high school career in California and a later college career at Cal. Paul followed track and field the rest of his life, and could tell me who were the standouts even to the high school level in the US.

Paul graduated in Geology from Cal and then went to Korea just after the end of the war, and worked in the engineering corps, building bridges. When he got to Alaska, he worked in geology around the state. He showed me an article in a geology type journal of a story he was a part of exploring Mount Fairweather, out between Cross Sound and Yakutat. He also worked up on the Yukon River and out of Dillingham doing exploratory geology for mining companies. Later he was a surveyor for the Alaska Pipeline, laying out the corridor for the pipeline out of Valdez, which is where he also bought his first troller, The Wooden Shoe, if memory serves.

I can’t remember if it was before or after the girls were born, but he said he wanted to get a job where he didn’t have to travel so much for his family, so he went to UAF and got his teaching credentials. He got hired on in Petersburg as a science and math teacher at the high school, and taught there til retirement. On his own initiative, he started a surveying class at the high school. He said some kids who didn’t care much for school otherwise would have to buckle down and pass some preliminary math class requirements before they could take his class, and many did. He was so proud of his students who went on to become surveyors. The highlight of the class was a trip to the nearby LeConte glacier. He talked the helicopter charter service in town to flying them out there each year for free (I think). The annual surveys became, of course, very important right up to now as baseline data for the glacier’s retreat over the past 40 years. There’s an old “Rain Country” KTOO video episode of him and the students there. He was named Alaska Teacher of the Year, which I only know because there was the award certificate hanging in a frame in his house. I’ve never met someone as humble as Paul. He’d never tell you himself about his accomplishments or awards like this. But he would always talk proudly of his daughters.

His girls graduated from little Petersburg high school and never looked back. One commercial fished in Yakutat during the summer, and her marriage to the local APR reporter in Petersburg took the two of them all over the world for his work as a foreign correspondent for NPR. The younger daughter was the state’s first Rhode Scholar and worked for USAID all over the world as well, from Indonesia to Africa. One currently lives in Turkey and the other in Zambia. Paul visited both daughters all over the world until the travel got to be too much for him. By then, his girls and nephews and son in laws were well established and could take extended trips back home to Petersburg, where Paul was still able to go out with them fishing for salmon on his troller, right up until last year.

I met Sara here in Juneau through a mutual friend from UAF.  When we started our short dating courtship, I mentioned my friend in Petersburg and she said she had a best friend since high school from Petersburg. My friend was Paul. Her friend was his oldest daughter. A seemingly big life coincidence, but not so much in our big state of few people.

Paul and I corresponded here and there after our reunion meeting in Petersburg about 1997. My first big break was getting invited to the annual duck hunt with Tyler. He was always somewhat secretive about where he and Tyler went, so being invited into the club was a big honor for me. It must have impressed his daughters that I was let into the exclusive little club. Over the years, the three of us hunted in their spot. Paul on one end of a tree washed up there for decades. Tyler on the other. The first time we went hunting, we hauled box after box of shells from the little boat to the dead tree hunting blind. More shells than most people would shoot in a lifetime. I was right on that account. He’s given me countless shells in the last decade that I’ve mostly passed on to friends and family that duck hunt.  Then Paul said I hope you don’t mind, but the way we hunt here is we throw out the dekes at low tide when we get here, and wait for the tide to float them, and then the ducks start coming in. Which takes a while. So we like to have a beer while we wait. Next he said, I hope you don’t mind, but while we’re waiting and drinking a beer, we like to listen to the Seahawks game (it was a Sunday), which was carried by the local Christian station in Petersburg. I said “Paul, I think we’re Siamese twins separated at birth!”. What a crew.  I could see I would fit in here.  Tyler would occasionally ask Paul if the game had started yet, and Paul would reply “No Tyler, It’s Time to Pray!”.   Paul was a crack shot with a semi-auto Browning that was a lot of gun. The barrel went out there forever from the stock. He gave me that gun a few years ago. We went on more hunts over the years with Tyler, and later with Paul’s son in law and the son in law’s brother.

As he aged, my visits were more often to the house, either on trips passing through Petersburg, or on the annual gathering to watch the Superbowl. Dick, Kris, Steve and I were the usuals, and Paul went all out with platters ordered from Hammer and Wikan.

I unfortunately never met his first wife – the mother of his daughters.  She passed away young from cancer before Paul and I were good friends. So, so many of his stories started with “Me and Neva”. She was quite an outdoorswoman from the stories. He later married Penny, who ironically and tragically passed away from the same cancer as Neva. She and Neva could not have been more different people from what I gathered. Penny was a thespian and loved being in the local theatre and Little Norway festivities. She even got Paul to like her little red dog. She was so welcoming when I’d come down to visit, and a great cook.

I last saw Paul when Kurt and I took the boat to Craig in April. Paul and Erik took us to lunch at the great little diner near the harbor in Petersburg. Paul couldn’t figure out how to use his card to pay for lunch (which he always insisted on doing), and when he tapped the card and the payment went through, I said “welcome to the 21st Century, Paul”. Both he, and state Senator Stedman, who was seated in a table nearby and doesn’t know me from Adam, laughed. We always had fun.

I last talked to Paul a few days ago. He was recovering from illness caused from not remembering to take medication for one of his health conditions. This was not his first time from recovering from something, and he sounded like he’d rebounded and was his old self again. Kurt noticed he was alot more frail than when we’d stopped to see him 9 months earlier bringing the newly purchased tug up from Ketchikan. I guess I did, too.

But old age didn’t get Paul, really. Being old did, though, as he had a bad fall that he couldn’t recover one more time.  I thought he would, but I didn’t realize how bad this incident was as compared to others in recent memory. His daughters were both at his side when he passed, and I’m sure he was content going quickly. I’ve lost several friends and family and friends in their 50’s and younger  – Jimmy, Jeff, Heather, Terry and Emily – in just the past few years –    I thought I’d be better prepared for a 92 year old’s transition, but I guess I’m not. I thought for sure he’d make it to 100, and sometimes wondered if I’d go before he would. Really a privilege to be his friend.

Teenage boy waving from a boat in Alaksa

Nephew: Take 3

My 14 year old nephew arrived for his 3rd consecutive year. He’d come for a week or 10 days before. He asked for 2 weeks this time!  A glutton for punishment, he is.

We headed out the day after he arrived, starting at Pt Retreat in Lynn Canal and fishing our way south. We caught some smaller coho. I noticed that the coho that had anything in their bellies had herring, and not krill or needlefish. So I switched from flashers and hootchies to King Kandy and caught 2 big cohos at Funter Bay. We set dungy and king crab pots in Funter Bay, tied up to the dock, and processed our catch.

On day 2, we had one big dungeness crab, my nephew’s favorite, and some undersized king crab. We across Lynn Canal to the Clover Islands to try there. We caught a coho and lost two, then caught a nice king an hour later. The king kandy lures were doing what we wanted – not catching pinks and catching larger cohos and even a nice king.

We continued  around the corner at Point Couverdon and on out Icy Strait. We caught 4 coho, a king and a pink for the day. I decided we’d need to shake pinks now or run out of freezer space on the boat. We processed our fish, and got into a daily routine. I would fillet and portion the fish, and my nephew would double rinse the portions, then wrap the fish in plastic wrap. I’d then place then on racks I recently built for the freezer out of coated mesh wire, and they worked great to keep the fish separated so it would freeze properly.  We anchored at porpoise islands and went to the beach to explore and get some exercise. Eaton was starting to see a daily pattern now. We are gonna limit our daily catch to 5 or 6 fish and beach comb the rest of the day so we have freezer space when Eaton’s dad gets here.

On day 3, we fished Pleasant Island, a brand new spot for me. I caught 3 on the Pleasant Island side of the reef while the nephew slept. All decent sized cohos on king kandy. Next we went to Point Adolphus and got one right away. There were about 10 whale watch boats out of Hoonah there; when I trolled here 25 years ago, it would be just me and the whales. We decided we weren’t going to go to the outer coast, and we ran to Hoonah to tie up for the night. I suspect my nephew is going through withdrawals without cell service as his provider Verizon doesn’t work out in Icy Strait, and that was part of his reason for wanting to return to Juneau for awhile before his dad arrived. I walked up to the Hoonah store while the nephew watched a movie maybe too mature for him, but that’s what uncles are for.

The corvids are my favorite. On my walk to the store, there was a raven sitting atop a little stone chimney top that was coming out of a little old house above the harbor. It was croaking and , it seemed, enjoying the amplification the chimney gave to its song. It also seems a little more like a religious event seeing a raven in a Tlingit village. Like it’s a member of the town.

On day 4 we planned to fish the mainland around to Couverdon and tie up there. We caught 3 coho, then the wind came up and we couldn’t get to Couverdon in the heavy seas. We headed out Icy Strait with the wind, looking for an anchorage. We wandered around the Porpoise Islands and the east side of Pleasant Island and could not find an anchorage out of the wind, so we went to the Excursion Inlet dock. This was my first time here.  After a short rest at the dock, we set a halibut skate and crab pot up the inlet. I had my nephew practice docking the boat on the empty dock when we returned. After pouring rain and rough seas all day, the evening was calm and the sun came out. We walked around the mothballed Excursion Inlet cannery compound, which was in well kept condition at 116 years old. There were free bikes to ride around on, a little apiary, and a little museum, which was locked so we looked through the windows. A big doe deer let us walk right by her.

On the morning of day 5, I was surprised to find the boat battery still on full charge, even with Eaton having watched a movie and the freezer on full time. I think since the freezer is mostly full now, the thermal mass is keeping the freezer cold, and it has to work less. I learn something every trip. I’ll try to collect a bunch of large plastic containers like milk jugs or the big pop bottles to fill with water and freeze to keep in the freezer. I can remove them as fish takes their place, and we’ll see if that’s less stress on the dc system.

We fished at Couverdon for an hour where we had caught a few nice coho, but no luck. We snuck across north Chatham Strait to Admiralty in the calm seas. We fished from Lizard Head up to Funter, and only had one coho on, which was lost at the boat. We decided with the fair seas and poor fishing to head to town, and arrived in Auke Bay in the evening, where Sara picked us up. We’ll relax for a couple days til my brother in law arrives, then do it all over again.

The Little Bolivar Bro

Took the little brother of my high school classmate and his wife whale watching and fishing on the tug today. They split their time between Florida and Montana, where the wife is from. Had a great time hearing their life stories. They are on a tour of Alaska, and spent over a week touring the rainy, cold railbelt, then got to Juneau on our first rain in weeks. It was lightly raining in the morning, but by afternoon, the rain stopped and we got some sun.

We saw lots of whales on our way, and then fished Pt Retreat down to Cordwood, then made a couple passes at Cordwood, and then back to Retreat. We caught 3 coho and only one pink. And not many pinks jumping. This was a far cry from a week ago, when we didn’t go 15 minutes it seemed without a pink on. Hard to believe the pink run peaked that fast and is over. It was good while it lasted.  The coho were decent sized, but not much in their stomachs.

I’d adjusted the stuffing box nut in the tug, and moved the bilge pump to a location deeper than the float switch. Now instead of the bilge pump going off every hour, the less dripping and more efficient pump location only triggered it once all day.  Another tug system learned.

The couple only wanted enough fish to eat for dinner tonight, so we dropped the rest of the fish off to the Conteh’s. The wife had been to Sierra Leone through her church during the Civil War time and so was glad to meet the Sierra Leoneons.

A great day all around and glad to meet some good people.

Whales in Alaska

Minnesota Nice

Todd and Renee came to town for a week, including 3 days out on the boat. We headed to Chatham Strait on day 1, and on the way, came across a group of about 14 humpback whales bubble net feeding. The whales were some distance away as we motored on our way, not headed in any particular direction when they dove. They surfaced literally a stone’s throw away from us. I put the boat hard over to starbard to move away from them, then immediately took the boat out of gear. This was an instinctual reaction from my years of work as a whale watch guide. The whales stayed at the surface, then swam right behind the stern of the boat, taking their time. It took awhile before they were 100 yards away and I could put the boat back in gear so we could be on our way.  These encounters never get old, and it’s more exciting with friends who’ve never witnessed this event before.

We put down the fishing gear once we rounded Point Retreat, and soon had a fish on. We caught fish the rest of the afternoon. Most were pinks on a yellow with red stripe hootchie. I had them switch to a chartreuse hootchie and we got a couple cohos, so I switched the other side to chartreuse, too.

About 4 pm, we headed to a very remote state parks cabin, which is my favorite. It has two bays separated by a sand bar, and the cabin is just off the sand bar.  Todd told me a funny story about “Minnesota Nice” on the way over. His step daughter was about 12 at the time, and they were at a cook out. There was one hamburger left, and as the guest, they asked Todd if he wanted it. He said sure, he’d take it if no one else wanted it, eager to please the cook and his offer. When he got his burger and returned to the table, his step daughter was beside herself. “You don’t say yes if someone asks you for the last hamburger. You say no first, and then let them negotiate with you and ask you four or five more times before you accept.”  That killed me.

After anchoring the boat, I filleted fish and Todd wrapped them, then they went in the freezer. Then we launched the punt to go to shore. After never failing me, the kicker would not start. It wouldn’t even fire. So I rowed Renee and Todd in one at a time with the gear.  When I got there, I later realized I’d not brought the spatula for making pancakes in the morning.

I fried the frames from coho salmon we’d filleted, and also fillet pieces of coho and pink salmon. Sara had packed a tomato and basil salad and some shrimp seviche to go with it, along with some potato chips I brought along. I realized that, along with the spatula, I’d forgot any spices for the salmon. This is the stuff Sara does not forget. I improvised and used crushed potato chips, which turned out fantastic. When we finished eating frames, I asked if I should cook the fillets, and Todd said I should. Those two ate those themselves, and I was happy to hear Renee say how much she liked the pink salmon and that it tasted mild like trout. So many here turn their nose up at pink salmon, but I know better. Pink salmon, taken out on the ocean and then bled and chilled like you’d take care of a king salmon, are fantastic table fare. And getting an unbiased affirmation like that made me smile. We had chocolate for dessert. We slept on camping pads in the cabin. I’d brought those to save space on the boat. Not the best, but okay for the night. Next time it will only be full size foam pads, and I’ll figure out a way to keep them on the boat roof and dry.

We got up at a leisurely time after a stiff night of sleep. Lots of coffee before I got to making pancakes. Then Todd asked if the boat had dragged anchor, and I realize it had. We’d set a crab pot behind it, and the boat was now even with the buoy. I jumped in the punt and rowed out, and reanchored the boat with a lot more scope this time. And I grabbed the spatula.

We ate pancakes cooked in olive oil and some venison summer sausage til it was all gone. Then packed up for another day of fishing.

We headed back to the Admiralty shore, and put the gear out at Naked Island about 11 am.  It didn’t seem that 15 minutes ever went by when we didn’t have a fish on. By 330 pm, we’d reached our limit of pinks and had a couple decent cohos, too. The kids called uncle. This is enough fish and we don’t need anymore to take home. I’d hoped the chartreuse hootchie would catch more cohos than pinks, but it did not. We headed to the Funter Bay dock to tie up for the day.

On the way, I decided to set a 2 hook halibut skate. It was my first time doing so. I set out a little anchor, then snapped on a ganion line with circle hook and octopus bait, then another hook and bait, then another anchor, and then fed out line til the anchors were both on bottom, and put on a buoy.  Next we set a crab pot filled with salmon  heads and bones amongst many other pots, and tied up to the dock.

I started filleting our catch, Todd portioned and rinsed it twice, put the fish into colanders to drain, then Renee wrapped the pieces in plastic wrap and we put them in the freezer, separating them with chunks of beach combed plastic trays so they froze properly.

Next I got dinner on, and Renee vac packed yesterday’s fish. Tonight dinner was moose brauts Jerry’s meats made from the moose I caught on the Yukon River in April, with lots of garnish choices, including onions and bell peppers I sauteed. I put those and some pickled rhubarb on mine, and some mustard. I have not found anything I don’t like pickled rhubarb on, and will need to can a bunch more to have enough for the year. The couple enjoyed the moose.

We retired early and we all were asleep quickly after a full day.

I got up first in the morning and got the coffee on. This was the first of 4 pots we’d drink today. Next, I started vac packing yesterday’s catch, and Todd soon joined me. We drank cup after cup of coffee. When the fish was done, we headed to check our gear. The dungy pot was full of juvenile king crab, which was great as Renee had never seen them. She took lots of photos for her 4th graders to see in the fall. We released all the crab, shook the bait from the bait jars, and headed for the halibut skate. There was nothing on the first hook, and the octopus was gone. Next came the anchor, with a big loop in the line. The second hook should have been next. Why the tangle?  Because there was a halibut on the second hook!  I got the fish to the side, conked it, and gaffed it on board.  Exciting to get my first halibut on a skate.

We headed back to town. The whales were in the same location as the way out. We watched the big group dive and surface several times, but they never “set” as they call it, coming up with their mouth’s wide open under the bubble net.

We got back to the harbor, and I got a good spot near the ramp. We offloaded the gear, carted it to the truck, and headed for the house.

Sara greeted us in a mask, with masks for us. She got Covid and so was keeping her distance. She had to cancel her coveted trip to Antiques Roadshow in Anchorage, as well as a ride on the train in Fairbanks to celebrate the centennial of the Alaska railroad. Pretty disappointing. None of us had any symptoms and I tested negative so far. Fingers crossed.

Lillify crew in town

Sara’s former student and her son were up for 4th of July weekend. We did an overnight down Chatham Strait, fishing along the way. We caught half a dozen cohos and some nice pinks. Cohos showing up very early this year. Most of the ones we caught were smaller as expected this time of year.

Hanni saw me dress the fish as we caught them, and wanted to learn how to do it. I showed her once, helped her with her first fish, and then she fumbled through the rest of the fish we caught.

We tied up at Funter Bay and were the only occupied boat on the south dock. I got the fish out for filleting on the fish cleaning table there, and Hanni wanted to learn that, too. So, I showed her how to do one, helped her with her first one, and away she went, fumbling through that, too, getting better with each try.

Hanni runs a specialty shop catering to home decor and fashion (I think) in Monterey she named Lillify that she started from scratch. Her business and interests and California world could not be more different from mine. Yet she’s the first person I’ve taken who wanted to learn fish cleaning and processing. Maybe it’s our common experience of having both served in the Peace Corps, along with her growing up in Juneau, of course.

When she left for the Peace Corps, I gave her my prized Swiss Army knife that a Japanese client gave to me on the Nushagak River when I was a fishing guide in Bristol Bay. I think he was a dentist, and every time I cut the line for a knot, etc., I was using my teeth, and that, of course, didn’t set well with him. After handing me the knife twice to use instead, on the third offering he told me in broken English to keep it. It was the Swiss Army knife of Swiss Army knives, with every gadget from all their models on one knife. Hanni used it for her two years in Guyana, then passed it on to another friend who was going in the Peace Corps to Burkina Faso. I’d love to know where the knife is now.

After cleaning and wrapping the fish and loading them in the freezer, Hanni got me on the dock to continue doing some stretching exercises for my hip, which I’m pretty sure is yoga stuff. Hopefully this get me on a daily routine to help me get my hip flexor back in tune and make walking normal again.

When we left the dock yesterday morning, as we were steaming out of the bay, we got a call on the radio of a boat in distress. He needed a wrench to get off his fuel filter, or a tow in if that didn’t work. It took me awhile to figure out how he hailed me on the radio when I was out of sight. He’d called friends in Funter Bay who saw us from their cabin and relayed the info.

We found him in about 20 minutes. Funny thing was, he is a local lobbyist I know casually, but Sara knows well since she’s in the legislature. He was there with his wife and sister, who I’ve had dinner with at one or two legislative events.

When we got up to his Sea Sport, he tried my wrenches but couldn’t get the filter off. So, he threw over a line tied to his bow pad eye and I lashed it to my port cleat to see if his boat would tow from one side of my boat, rather than on a bridle. It did.

It took about an hour to get back to the north dock, where his cabin is located. My crew and his went up to his cabin while he and I worked on his outboard. He had me try to get the filter off, and it came off without much effort with channel locks. He had been trying to twist it the wrong way most of the time. There was water in his fuel filter, and he said it was a chronic issue. I told him about my problems with water getting drawn in from the fuel tank vents on outside stern of a Grayling boat I had, which Dave Svendsen taught me about, and told him when I moved the vent opening to the inside of the boat, the problem went away.

When he put the filter back on and tried to pump gas to it with the inline bulb, no gas would go in. This was the same problem he had with his kicker. When he switched tanks, he finally got gas to go to the outboard, and the engine started. I related to him about a similar problem I had on the Hewescraft, where the fuel tank water separator filter was too large for the kicker outboard fuel pump to draw through, and so I put a filter rated for my outboards, and that solved that problem. I realize more and more as I approach 60 that I’ve learned alot running used equipment over the past decades. Stuff you don’t learn at a desk or watching you tube.

We went up to his cabin and joined the others. He showed me around his cabin and his shop, which was an old cannery building. Before I left, I asked him some questions about where to catch halibut and crab in the area, and he freely passed on some good intel. So, some good learning for me this trip on towing and fishing.

We left Funter Bay about 2 hours after our original departure, so did not fish on the way back as Hanni needed to get to Jerry’s Meats. Like most people in Juneau, the owner Scott’s smoked salmon spread is a family favorite, and she wanted to take a load of it back, along with some of their sausages, halibut and salmon patties.

Hanni’s son Ames apparently had a good time and wants to come back, so maybe we’ll see them again next July. They may see in later July’s how lucky they were this July to catch so many coho salmon this early in the summer.

Jars of rhubarb jelly next to a steam juicer on a kitchen counter

Rhubarb Jelly Saga 2023

I bought a steam juicer at a garage sale a few years ago. When I picked it up to look at it, the owner raved about all the good things she’d made with it, so I handed her a tenner, and took a chance I’d actually use it. I did, and I love it. A practical, simple contraption for juicing. I think I’ve only used it for rhubarb, and Haines cherries may be next to try.

When we returned from my cousin Emily’s funeral back in NY state, the forecast was for a week of rain. I knew it was time to clear out some freezer space as Sara had to jockey around a bunch of things to make room for all the king salmon we had from this spring, and then I had to find it to pack up a box to take back with us.

As often happens, I think about things to do at home when I’m away. Firewood. Canning. Boat work. Stuff like that. So the day we got home, I dug through both freezers we have working to find (hopefully) all the rhubarb from the past years. The rhubarb patch in our yard, where I’d dug up plants and separated them at the bulb and replanted a few years ago, was now taking off, so I figure I’d use that rhubarb for fresh desserts. I’d already canned a case of pickled rhubarb after tasting some at a birthday party in Craig in the spring.

The following day, Sara left for Bristol Bay for a fish processor tour, so I got the juicer out and started making juice. The juicers are such a simple contraption, and if I’m doing it right, take very little work. The juicer is comprised of 3 pans that nestle into each other The bottom is the water bath pan that needs to be checked every once in awhile to be sure there’s water left. The top pan has holes in the bottom and is where the cut up rhubarb goes. The middle pan has a chimney of sorts in the middle, like a sponge cake pan, that allows steam to go up to the fruit in the top pan, and as the juice comes out of the fruit, it falls into the middle pan, which has a drain nipple on the outside with a clamp hose attached. As the juice collects in the middle pan, you put the end of the hose in a container and unclamp the hose to drain of the juice.

As the rhubarb in the top pan has the juice steamed out of it, it reduces to a pulp, and I just pile more new rhubarb on top as I’ve seen others do in stories and videos. I might try doing it in batches next time, letting all the juice come out of a batch in top colander, then dumping that and starting again. I’m not sure it matters much. The pulp goes in the compost so is recycled anyway.

The juicing part was easy. I got enough juice – about one and a half gallons – for 2 cases of half pints of jelly,  plus an extra gallon I canned raw in quart jars.

Unlike the juice making, the jelly making was a learning experience. I’ve not made jelly very often. Just from high bush cranberries, I think. And maybe some jelly from cherries or salmon berries I let sit in a colander before processing or freezing.

Jam is a lot more forgiving because the fruit pulp gives even runny jam some consistency. Unset jelly can be as fluid as the juice used to make it. The runny jelly is useful for a syrup over ice cream or in yogurt, but not much of a spread.

I first used regular pectin, which requires a good amount of sugar for it to work. Finding a specific rhubarb jelly recipe was somewhat difficult, so I tried to wing it on the amount of sugar and pectin. The jelly didn’t gel at all. Next I used Sure Gel no sugar / low sugar pectin, thinking maybe the amount of sugar I’d used was off. Some of the batches gelled a little, but not much. After the jars cooled, I them in the fridge overnight, but it didn’t help much. The jelly tasted great – fantastic, really – but just never gelled.

Yesterday, Kurt, Jeff, and I took the boat around Douglas to Auke Bay for the summer. We dropped a car for Sara at the airport and a car at Auke Bay for us to get home, then took the boat around the island from the downtown harbor. We tried for salmon and got a Dolly Varden, which made Kurt happy as he loves eating it. We tried several spots for halibut, and no fish. When I got home, Sara had left a message that she took a paid bump for her trip home, so would not be back til the evening.

I saw the jars of runny jelly in the fridge, and couldn’t take it. I would try again.

I removed all the reuseable Tattler lids and gaskets from the jars and poured all the jelly into a pot and put it on to boil. I went to Foodland, and they only had one jar of no sugar pectin – Ball brand. So I bought that figuring it was enough. It was not. When I read the directions, I realized I needed two jars. I didn’t want to drive all the way to the valley to find more, so I tried Rainbow Foods to see if they had pectin. Good choice. They did.

They had Pomona Pectin. I hadn’t used that since I was in Kodiak and Sand Point making salmon berry jam. I think I ordered it out of Mother Earth News. It’s a pectin that uses calcium and pectin to gel the jelly, not pectin and sugar. So the amount of sugar in the jelly is not critical. And the recipes allow for up to tripling a batch recipe, which regular pectin recipes frown on. I followed the directions, reading them over and over, and calculating and recalculating, for a triple batch.

Once I measured and got the triple batch going in one pot, I had a double batch of juice still left. And not quite enough pectin to do it. But the instructions say you can vary the amount of pectin used to vary the consistency of the gel, so I used what was left. I also followed the Tattler lid instructions exactly, including letting the jars sit for 5 minutes after coming out of the canner before retightening the rings, and letting the jars sit overnight before removing the rings and checking for lid seals. I’ve regularly had problems with their lids sealing, and mostly from my impatience, I think.

All came out perfect. The jelly gelled and tasted great. All the jars sealed after sitting overnight with tight rings. Success.

We are through about half the summer growing season, so likely will see a case or two more of pickled rhubarb go in the pantry, and then a bunch more into the freezer or given away.