🕔Aug 04, 2010

When my husband Hector and I go berry-picking our dog Bella, a 10-year-old Lab-shepherd cross, is an essential part of the expedition. She entertains us, shows us where the berries are by her enthusiastic grazing and keeps the program moving at a quick pace. In August of 2009 the three of us drove down the South Klondike Highway to Fraser, BC to pick blueberries. The South Klondike Highway winds through gorgeous country from the Carcross cut-off 20 kilometres south of Whitehorse, through Carcross to Skagway, Alaska. The highway climbs up into an alpine moonscape of tundra and small lakes as you approach where the blueberries are, on a high plateau near the summit, before the road plunges down to sea level at Skagway. Bella sat between us with her nose thrust forward into the air-intake vent, picking up all kinds of information about the landscape we could not discern: bears, moose, squirrels, someone’s campfire, someone’s lunch! When we arrived at our favourite patch between the highway and the Tutshi River, usually so rewarding, we discovered it was all picked out, so we scrambled down the bank and walked over the railway bridge to check out the cliff tops on the other side of the river.

The cliff face is a bank of granite going straight up from the gravel, and the only way we could climb up was over a heap of broken stone and through a steep and narrow cleft. Bella, usually so game, didn’t like it. At the bottom of the cleft she tried to turn around and nearly knocked me over, turned to face uphill, balked, and tried to come down again, whimpering and shaking. I wedged myself into the rock, put my hands on her hindquarters and shoved while Hector reached from above, hanging from a bush with one hand, and hauled on her collar. Bella’s claws scrabbled on the rock, I pushed, Hector pulled and together we got her through the cleft and up onto the top. Poor Bella. But dogs forget, and soon she was grinning and wagging her tail as we pushed our way through willow and dwarf bush looking for berries. Humans don’t forget so quickly, and I wasn’t looking forward to the return journey.

The berries were not plentiful, but they were big, and we followed them up small hills and into tiny valleys with pools of water at the bottom, picking here and there, enjoying the long view north towards Teepee Mountain and the cold September air. The White Pass and Yukon Route tourist train from Skagway racketed by below us and we waved from the cliff top to the folks at the windows: “Look at us, way up here, picking berries with our dog!”

Then it was time to go. When we reached the edge of the cliff Bella sat down and shook. The butterflies started up in my stomach. Hector stepped neatly over the edge and danced from one foothold to another like a mountain goat. At the bottom he turned around to encourage us. I inched downwards on my bottom and Bella followed, pressed against my back with her nose in my ear, whimpering. She pushed ahead of me, panicked, tried to come back up, couldn’t, turned around and took a huge leap, scrambling down the cliff wall as the rocks tumbled and flew around her. At the bottom she raced along the gravel, stopped, shook herself and turned to face us, with a big grin on her face. But Hector didn’t let her off the hook. “What was all that about, Bella? Eh, you tough mountain guide? Do you charge extra for the squealing, or is it part of the package? Shall we call you the Mountain Squealer, Bell? I think so!” I saw no point in telling him that I’d felt like squealing too, so good old Bella took all the heat. The following chutney is named in her honour.


1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
1 Tbsp (15 mL) toasted cumin seed
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
8 cups (2 L) wild blueberries
3 cups (700 mL) sugar
Zest and juice of 2 limes

Sauté the onion in the olive oil until translucent, add the garlic, jalapenos, cumin and salt and sauté a few minutes more. Add the blueberries, sugar and lime zest and juice, stir well to combine, bring to a boil, turn heat down and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, until the mixture passes the saucer test: pour a drop of the mixture into a saucer and let it sit for 2 or 3 minutes. Then tilt the saucer to see if the drop runs. If not, it’s ready. Pour into sterilized jars and seal with a two-piece metal lid. Immerse in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Remove from the water and let cool to room temperature. Store in a cool dark place.

Makes about six 1-cup (250-mL) jars


Do we ever lose our hankering for a basic blueberry jam, one that tastes of berries and not much else? Here there’s just enough sugar to take the sour edge off and help the jam set.
8 cups (2 L) wild blueberries
2 cups (475 mL) sugar

Mix berries and sugar in a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the jam sets. Pour into sterilized jars, seal, and immerse in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Remove, cool to room temperature and store in a cool dark place.

Makes five to six 1-cup (250-mL) jars