We were foragers long before we met and had both experimented with making homemade jam and jelly. I can remember swapping stories with Marie (Woolsey) about trying to convince our kids that going berry picking was a fun way to spend time. None of them really bought into it. However, Marie’s kids were a little less reluctant since she always promised them a bowl of berries with cream as incentive.
It was after Marie started coming to work with me at the lodges that our jam and jelly making took off. Most years, we had an abundance of blueberries and cranberries at Dymond Lake Ecolodge, and we were both excited when Doug returned to the lodge one day and told us he had discovered a black currant patch rich with berries. It was not unusual to find Marie and me outside during what was supposed to be our afternoon break, crawling around berry patches and keeping an eye out for our competition: polar bears looking for a snack to tide them over until their winter hunting season arrived.
I can recall only one instance where we felt slightly threatened by the presence of a bear. We had been out in the berry patch for a couple of hours and were on our way back to the lodge when our trusty dogs, Daisy and Sheba, took off after a bear, charging it and then running back to us. We were concerned that the bear would come after the dogs and discover us, so we hightailed it back to the lodge with our pups at our heels. Close call.
Marie and I would harvest the berries and then Nancy Ellis and Edith Learjaw, two of our Dene staff members from nearby Tadoule Lake, would help us clean them. Once ready for the kitchen, Marie and I would turn the black currants into jam and jelly, the cranberries into sauce or Cranberry Cake and the blueberries into sauce for pancakes and desserts. Gooseberries were harder to come by than some of the other berry varieties, but each year we would find enough for at least one small batch of jam which we would hoard for ourselves. Once Mike and Jeanne bought Seal River Heritage Lodge, we gained access to cloudberries and even more blueberry and cranberry patches. We were in berry heaven!
In the early days of Churchill Wild, we didn’t make our own preserves, but we did harvest enough to supply the lodges with fresh berries. We sourced jams and jellies for resale to guests from Jeanne’s cousin, Diane, who grew berries in her greenhouse in Churchill. Eventually, Marie and I rallied a team of harvesters made up of kids, grandkids, great grandkids and spouses (Jeanne’s husband Mike and my husband Doug are two of our most productive pickers!), staff members and even the odd guest. Our “picking capacity’” increased and we were able to harvest enough fruit for both fresh consumption and jams and jellies created for guests to take home.
— You can find black currant and cloudberry jams and jelly for sale at our lodges and enjoy a variety of tundra berries in the sauces and desserts served during your polar bear safaris with Churchill Wild. Cloudberry jelly, black currant jam, goose pie with cranberry sauce and blueberry cream cheese tarts — these are some of the many ways Marie and Helen have incorporated the berry bounty of the tundra into our cuisine.
This story originally appeared in our Churchill Wild 25th Anniversary Book, Churchill Wild — 25 Years of Adventure on the Hudson Bay Coast, which is now available online at McNally Robinson Booksellers and at our head office. There are also a limited number of copies available at our lodges from July through November, during our polar bear walking safaris. For more information please call 1.866.UGO.WILD (846.9453) or email [email protected].