Suzanne’s Blog: Local Sourdough Starter

The dough rising on a batch of 100%-local sourdough bread. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

My three kids have been desperately missing bagels.   And toast.

You might recall that last winter, in anticipation of this, I experimented with sourdough rye and barley bread  – with mixed results.

Our first three months of eating local were entirely grain free.  Then, against many odds, a successful crop of wheat and rye was harvested just as winter started to blanket Dawson with snow.  Shortly thereafter I found a way to grind the grains and the miracle of flour re-entered our diet.

I have no yeast.  But sourdough starter has been around the Dawson area for over one hundred years – introduced during the Klondike Gold Rush.  In fact, there are Yukoners who continue to feed sourdough starter from the Gold Rush days.  With regular feeding, you can keep it indefinitely. Therefore, I decided to classify it as a ‘local’ ingredient.

But I wondered – could you actually make a sourdough starter from scratch, from 100% local Dawson fare?  Bev Gray’s “The Boreal Herbal” held a clue – juniper berries.  I thought I would give it a try.

I started with 1 tbsp of flour from wheat grown at Kokopellie Farm, added to that 1 tbsp of Klondike River water and about 5 dried juniper berries that I had picked in the Fall.  I mixed them all in a small clear glass – so that I could easily see any remote chance of bubbling– a successful sign of fermentation.  I covered the glass loosely and let it sit in a warm place.  I wasn’t very optimistic.  When I checked on it later I was rather shocked to see those wonderful bubbles appearing within the mixture!  Now sourdough starter truly is a local ingredient!

I continued to feed the starter for a few days until it seemed quite active and then proceeded to make a loaf of sourdough bread.  For my first attempt, I decided to be decadent and use only freshly ground wheat flour – no rye.  And it worked!  Beginner’s luck perhaps, as it was the best batch I have made to date.  Subsequent batches have varied between bricks requiring chainsaws to slice them and slightly more palatable varieties.

> View the recipe for sourdough starter

Bread dough is like a living organism and sourdough bread even more so.  Every time I make it, it comes out differently.  It has become a luxury (depending if it is a good batch or a brick batch), not a staple.  But great to know that, even starting the sourdough starter from scratch – a 100 % local Dawson bread is possible!

> See the recipe for Yukon Sourdough Bread

A finished loaf of sourdough bread made with completely-local ingredients. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Gerard’s Blog: Handing It to the Stick, Sticking it to the Hands


My memory of last night’s hockey game was that my stick felt like a noodle in my hands.  Every shot was wide.  There was no power. Passes felt soft and uncertain, even indifferent.  It was as if my stick had an alter ego, as if it did not want to be a hockey stick last night.

How does a hockey stick get an alter ego, anyway?  What would inspire it to have another personality?  Since this is the “dark” month, the month of cabin fever, it would not be outrageous for me to go downstairs and have a heart-to-heart with my stick.  Or would it?

Instead of talking to my stick, I took on the equally concerning tact of examining other influences that might have caused the noodle-like behavior of my stick.  That brought to mind, my hands.  Now, that sounds more logical.  Yes, obviously the noodle intrusion was hand-induced.

Yesterday, was a day of sadness.  Rotting squash were discovered in the cold room.  Not so much rot, as soft.  One gentle squeeze from Suzanne (when I wasn’t the recipient), and she proclaimed, “freeze spots.”  As with the pumpkins, we had run the temperature too close to the freeze mark during this last cold snap.  And now we were witnessing the price.

So, to the cutting board and kitchen I went.  Cutting and scooping.  Cooking the salvageable parts.

It was the spaghetti squash that were most affected.  The ones closest to the cold air intake.  So, I spent a portion of the afternoon chopping and cooking and scooping the noodle-like squash.

And recalling that afternoon activity, was my Eureka! moment.  Clearly, my hands had adopted their “noodleness” from the spaghetti squash!  There was a transference of energy during the handling / cooking process, something that seems entirely plausible in January, in Dawson City, in the Yukon, just after a long dark cold snap, when one is feeling a little down, a little needy, a little trapped, and when one is looking for an excuse for poor hockey performance!

But, now having re-read the above, I find myself searching…  Clearly, my hands are controlled by my brain.  Could it be that the problem did not lie with my hands, but that my brain ….

New Kids In Town

freddie-1
Fiona
Freda

New kids Freddie, Fiona, and Freda. Photos by Suzaane Crocker.

There are 3 new kids in town!  Welcome to Freddie, Fiona, and Freda, born 10 days ago at Sun North Ventures in Rock Creek, outside Dawson City, Yukon.

Goats are a marvellous addition to food security in the North.

According to the Northern Farm Training Institute in Hay River, NWT, one person needs approximately 1 million calories per year.  The milk from just one goat provides 600,000 calories per year, more than half our calorie needs!  In contrast, the meat from one goat would only provide 40,000 calories.

Goats are multipurpose.  Female goats will provide milk as long as they are breeding and reproducing.  Goat manure can be added directly to a vegetable garden as fertilizer – it doesn’t need to compost first as does horse, cow and chicken manure.   And goats not capable of milk production or not required for breeding can become a local source of meat.

Becky and Paul Sadlier are two of many farmers who are successfully raising livestock in the North, despite the challenges of overwintering, feeding and breeding.

Becky Sadlier with Freddie. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Larger animals, like goats, pigs and cows are able to produce enough body heat to keep their barns warm without needing any external heat – even at minus 40° C.  Finding local feed is important, as shipping costs are expensive to bring feed from down south.  And then there is the breeding – keeping variety in the gene pool to keep the stock healthy without having to import animals from down south.

Congratulations to the Northern farmers who are finding ways to make it work.

Do you know of other goats being raised further North than Dawson?  Let us know.

The Sioux Chef

Sean Sherman is known as the Sioux Chef and he is on a mission to revitalize indigenous cuisine across North America.

Sean and his indigenous Sioux Chef team create delicious meals using local indigenous ingredients — game meat, foraged plants, and wild grains. They exclude ingredients introduced since colonization such as dairy products, wheat flour, processed sugar, beef, chicken and pork.  No bannock or fry bread! The traditional native foods are low glycemic, contain healthy fats and great proteins.  Amaranth, quinoa, wild rice,  vegetable flour, cedar, juniper, sage, bergamot, squash, corn, maple syrup …. these are just some of the staple ingredients in the Sioux Chef pantry.

The result, says Sean, is “vibrant, beautiful and healthy. It is a way to preserve and revitalize indigenous culture through food.”

As a chef, Sean found he could easily find food from all over the world but he had difficulty finding foods that were representative of his indigenous culture.  So he began researching what his Lakota ancestors were eating in times past.  His research took him into the foundations of indigenous food systems including Native American farming techniques, wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship, salt and sugar making, hunting and fishing, food preservation, Native American migration histories, elemental cooking techniques, and Native culture and history.

Sean and the Sioux Chef team take knowledge from the past, apply it to modern day and create something new from it.

They have just released a  fantastic cookbook “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen”   complete with award winning recipes and teaming with knowledge.  This is Sean’s version of ‘The Joy of Native American Cooking’!

Through the non-profit organization NATIFS, North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems, the Sioux Chef team have a dream to increase access to local indigenous food across North America.  They plan to help set up Food Hubs across the USA, Canada and Mexico, each consisting of a restaurant and a training centre that focuses on local indigenous foods of the area.

Check out the CBC Radio One interview with Sean Sherman on Unreserved with Rosanna Deerchild.

> Get more information about The Sioux Chef and NATIFS

 

Suzanne’s Blog: Winter Comfort Foods

Dawson City sunset in early January. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

It is -42°C in Dawson City, Yukon.  At 4 p.m. the sun sets, transforming the sky into rich hues of pink and orange.

It is the depths of winter.  The time for comfort food.

Brian Phelan, Dawson City chef, shared Rappie Pie with us, a comfort food dish from his Acadian Roots.  Miche Genest, Yukon chef and cookbook author, shared Pork Hock and Rye Casserole another great comfort food.

Here is one more wonderful winter comfort food, thanks to Alfred Von Mirbach of Perth, Ontario, who has shared his mother’s Warm Potato Salad recipe.

And, of course, with every recipe comes a story.  This recipe is from Alfred’s German ancestry.  When he was a child it was served every Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve with sausage, mustard and pickles.  Alfred and his  brothers continue the tradition today.  Yet another example of how food connects us with family, tradition, ancestry and, of course, memories.

I have two precious jars of dill pickles successfully fermented, without salt, in celery juice and decided to use half a jar to make an adaptation of Marianne’s Warm Potato Salad.  It was so delicious that the rest of the dill pickles have now been relegated to three more repeat performances.  I will definitely be fermenting more dill pickles in celery juice next year!

> Check out the adapted recipe here

Gerard’s Blog: Seeing Double Benefits

My day started auspiciously with a double dose of sweetener.  First, in my sleepy state, I grabbed the near-empty container of cranberry sauce, boiled some water, and proceeded to stir and slurp.  A spoon was helpful to capture the swirling bottom-lurking lumps.  This was followed by my lucky strike into the empty honey (yes, local!) jar.  Honey is a particularly valuable asset, as the adhesive qualities mean that an empty jar is never really empty.  I added hot water and drank greedily, rapturing in the wealth in remnants.  I’ve since hidden the jar for an afternoon pick-me-up.

So, my day was off to a wondrous start.  And, my actions translated into fewer breakfast dishes, a job that most often falls on my list of responsibilities.  I call these win-win situations, double benefits.

But, not everyone understands the life efficiencies that are intrinsic to double benefit opportunities.  Take, for example, my children.  They walk to school, love sports, and devote significant time and effort to improve their athleticism.  But when it comes to my helpful suggestions about the double benefit potential of the wood pile or of the snow-shoveling, they then become miraculously deaf.  Selective hearing, it seems, is not an affliction of married men only.

Over the holiday season, Suzanne immersed herself into cooking and baking, taking on that responsibility with all the precision of a scientist on the verge of a world-changing breakthrough.  Science, it turns out, is a gold-mine for double benefits.  Each day, there seemed to be burned sugar beet syrup, or soft muffins, or cookies that just didn’t work with pumpkin seeds and cauliflower as their main ingredients.  I readily adopted the double benefit role of consuming all these experimental failures.  And, to keep them coming, I offered my purely scientific observations as fuel for initiative.

And through all this, there were some diamonds in the rough.  For example, I found a lovely wine-substitute for Christmas dinner in the pot liquor of boiled vegetables.  Nothing drained, nothing gained.  And the double benefits!  I no longer have that empty belly feeling, or the perpetual chill, or the problem of my underwear slipping over my absent buttocks.  Science has been good to me.  Now, where did I put that honey jar?

2017: My Banner Year With Local Triticale

Triticale bounty!

by Miche Genest

On the last day of 2017, I’m looking back on a year of cooking with local foods and reflecting on the highlights. I was lucky enough to spend much of 2017 cooking and baking with a locally grown grain: triticale from Krista and Jason Roske’s Sunnyside Farm, located in the Ibex Valley close to Whitehorse. The Roskes acquired some seed from Yukon Grain Farm in the fall of 2015 and planted it on a portion of their land, intending to plow the plants back under to enrich the soil. But 2016 was such a good growing year that the plant actually matured, a rarity for grain in the Whitehorse area.

From that planting the Roskes harvested about 40 kilos of grain, by hand, and sold small quantities of whole grains, bread flour and  pastry flour to customers in and around Whitehorse. I learned about their grain and flour from Jennifer Hall, executive director of the Yukon Agricultural Association, and a great champion of local farmers and their products.

The Roskes delivered one kilo each of grain, bread flour and cake and pastry flour to my house in early 2017. I was in the midst of developing recipes for a cookbook celebrating ancient grains, written in partnership with Dan Jason, a passionate organic farmer and owner of Salt Spring Seeds, and experimenting with all kinds of grains. (Awesome Ancient Grains and Seeds will be released by Douglas and McIntyre in early 2018. Stay tuned for Whitehorse and Dawson launch details!)

The Roskes’s bread flour made a beautiful sourdough pumpernickel-style bread, and the pastry flour produced gorgeous muffins, excellent quick bread, delicious beet gnocchi and most recently, lovely birch syrup shortbread cookies for Christmas.

That triticale got around in 2017. Chef Chris Whittaker of Forage and Timber Restaurants in Vancouver made tiny mushroom tartlets with the pastry flour at a Travel Yukon dinner last February, and in June, chef Carson Schiffkorn and I served whole triticale grain with a morel mushroom-miso butter to guests at Air North and Edible Canada’s Across the Top of Canada dinner at Marsh Lake. I served the very last of the whole grain, with more miso butter, for a media dinner hosted by Travel Yukon on November 26. Everybody loved the story of the accidental success of this beautiful, locally grown grain.

Triticale is not an ancient grain, but a hybrid of wheat and rye first developed in the late 1800s in Scotland and Germany, combining the grain quality of wheat with the hardiness of rye. In 1954 the University of Manitoba experimented with the viability of spring triticale as a commercial crop, and in 1974 the University of Guelph did the same with winter triticale. Winter triticale varieties are particularly good for short-season areas like the Yukon.

For the Roskes, hand-harvesting triticale grain “quickly lost its charm,” reported Krista. However, the success of growing triticale has whetted their appetites for more grain experiments, and Krista said they’re planting spring wheat in 2018. “Fingers crossed we will have wheat for flour by next September. I’ll definitely let you know if it works out!” Last time we spoke, the Roskes were contemplating buying more machinery — perhaps a small combine and a small grain cleaner. “It’s farm evolution,” said Krista.

I’m sad to say goodbye to the last of the whole triticale grains, but very happy that I will be returning from Christmas holidays in Ontario to a few cups more of triticale flour in my pantry at home. Birch syrup shortbreads anyone?

> Click here for a recipe for birch syrup shortbreads.

Follow the story of the Roskes’s grain growing adventures on their Facebook page, @sunnysidefarmyukon

 

 

In Far Northern Norway a Chef Strives for Polar Permaculture

Chef Benjamin Vidmar in front of his domed greenhouse. Photo courtesy of PolarPermaculture.com.

Local eco-chef and self-proclaimed foodie Benjamin l. Vidmar, has a dream. He wants to make the remote northern Norwegian community of Longyearbyen, Svalbard more sustainable, and to produce locally-grown food. Svalbard is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, located about midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. The latitude of the islands range from 74° to 81° North, making them some of the most northerly inhabited places on Earth.

Like many communities north of the arctic circle, there is no viable soil in Svalbard.  How does one grow local food if there is no local soil?

In 2015 Chef Vidmar started a company called Polar Permaculture Solutions, whose goal is to apply permaculture principles and ecological design to create a circular economy in Longyearbyen, and “to connect people back to their food.”

Working at the time as head chef at the Svalbar Pub, he noticed how all the food was being flown or shipped to the island. However, in the past food had been grown on Svalbard, and Vidmar wanted to return to that tradition — but with some modern enhancements and without having to ship in soil.

Vidmar started with hydroponic systems using commercial fertilizer, but felt he could do better. Why ship fertilizer up to the island, he reasoned, when there is so much food waste available to compost and produce biogas? Food waste in his town is dumped into the sea, and he took up the challenge to grow locally-grown food making use of available resources on the island.

Polar Permaculture researched what others were doing around the Arctic, and opted to go with composting worms, specifically red worms, which excel at producing a natural fertlizer from food waste. He got permission from the government to bring worms up to the island, which took a year and a half, but “was worth the wait.”

Vidmar’s company is now growing microgreens for the hotels and restaurants on the island.  Fine dining chefs use microgreens to enhance the attractiveness and taste of their dishes with their delicate textures and distinctive flavors. During the growing process, worm castings are produced, and this natural fertilizer that can be used to grown more food.

In addition to composting with worms, Polar Permaculture has started hatching quails from eggs and is now delivering fresh locally produced quail eggs to local restaurants and hotels. Their next step will be to get a bio-digestor setup and to produce biogas with it. The worms are mostly vegetarian, but with a digestor, the operation will be able to utilize manure from the birds, as well as food waste that would normally be dumped into the sea. This will also allow them to produce heat for their greenhouse, as well as produce electricity that can run generators to power the lights. A natural fertilizer also comes out of the digestor, which will then be used to grow more food for the town.

What started as one chef’s personal journey has become a local permaculture operation that is reshaping the nature of the local food economy, and providing an inspiration for other Northern communities interested in food sustainability.

10 Billion: What’s on Your Plate?

By the year 2050, the world’s population is expected to be 10 billion people.  How will we be able to feed 10 billion people?

Valentin Thurn’s documentary “10 Billion:  What’s on Your Plate?” takes the viewer across the world to examine possible solutions to this question – from insects to artificial meat, from industrial farms to micro-farms.  If you eat food, this documentary is a ‘must see.’    And, although the feature length version is difficult to view from Canada, until Jan 21, 2018 you can watch the 53-minute version for free online thanks to TVO. Ontario’s educational TV network.

https://tvo.org/video/documentaries/10-billion-whats-on-your-plate

The conclusion might surprise you.  Or it might not.

Start the New Year with a sense of hope for the future and take 53 minutes of your time to watch “10 Billion: What’s on Your Plate” before January 21st.

Suzanne’s Blog: A Local Christmas Feast!

The 100-per-cent-local Christmas turkey dinner. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Gerard has been suspiciously silent in his blogs over the past three weeks.  I’m not sure if this is because he is taking a holiday from the computer, or because he has lately been so well fed that he has had nothing to complain about.  I suspect it is the former, although I will choose to believe it is the latter.  If any of you have been worried that his silence has been due to weakness from starvation, fear not.  We have been feasting well over the Christmas season!

Our family tradition is to cook up Christmas dinner on Boxing Day.  That way, we can stay in our P.J.’s all day on Christmas Day and hang out together with no time pressures.  (In previous years, we have even been known to have Kraft Dinner on Christmas Day.  This year we had smoked salmon, marinated in birch syrup, and left-over moose ribs).

On Boxing Day, our Christmas dinner feast was complete with all the trimmings!  And it was wonderful to share this 100% local Christmas feast with friends.

Our turkey was raised by Megan Waterman at LaStraw Ranch.  The stuffing was made with celery grown by Becky Sadlier with onion, sage, parsley and cooked whole rye grains grown by Otto at Kokopellie Farm and apples grown by John Lenart at Klondike Valley Nursery.  We had delicious mashed potatoes grown by Otto and seasoned with butter and milk thanks to Jen Sadlier and her dairy cows at Klondike Valley Creamery.  Carrots and rutabagas grown by Lucy Vogt were mixed with parsnips grown by Grant Dowdell.  The gravy was thickened with home-made potato starch.  The cranberry sauce was made from low bush cranberries from the boreal forest (thanks to the wonderful Dawsonites who have shared some of their precious wild cranberries with us during this very poor year for wild berries) and sweetened with birch syrup thanks to Berwyn and Sylvia.

During this year of eating local, I often find myself discovering gems of knowledge from times past, when food was perceived as a precious commodity — perhaps due to rationing or economic hard times, or just the plain hard work of growing your own.  But, whatever the reason, I am struck by the difference in our perception of food today, at least in Canada, where the bounty of food stocked on grocery store shelves appears to have no limits in either quantity or variety.

Steamed Christmas pudding. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

One of the English traditions that stems from times past and has been passed down in my family is my grandmother’s steamed Christmas pudding with hard sauce.  What better year than this to pull out her recipe.  In the past, when I have decided to re-live my childhood by making Christmas pudding, I have had to search in the far corners of the grocery store freezers for the key ingredient – suet.  This year, animal fat is a staple in my own freezer so, thanks to some beef tallow from Klondike Valley Creamery, I didn’t need to search far for a local suet! Christmas pudding adapted itself well to local ingredients and the result was eagerly devoured, despite the fact that I burned the bottom of it by accidentally letting the pot run dry.

As a child, I remember the small dollop of hard sauce allocated to each of us and the way it slowly melted on top of our small portion of warm steamed pudding.  Its melt-in-your-mouth sweetness always lured us back to the bowl for extra hard sauce, knowing that we would regret it later for its richness.  My local hard sauce adaptation this year was partially melt in your mouth – other than the lumps which I optimistically referred to as sugar beet gummies, from sugar beet sugar that wasn’t quite dry enough and clumped together irreconcilably.  But even the sugar beet gummies found fans and were consumed with gusto!

> View recipe for Steamed Christmas Pudding with Hard Sauce
> See a recipe for Birch Eggnog

Christmas – a time for giving, a time for sharing, a time for family and friends and a time for feasting.  We have enjoyed all – during our 100% local Christmas.

Suzanne’s Blog: Nothing Says Merry Christmas Like a Moose Nose

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Victor Henry with fresh moose nose. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Drin tsul zhìt shò ä̀hłąy!

Nothing says Merry Christmas like a moose nose!

Using all parts of the moose or caribou is important when you are harvesting food from the land.  This is one of the many lessons I have been learning during my year of eating local.  For Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elders, the delicacies are not the moose steaks or the moose roasts, but the often-overlooked parts of the moose:  moose nose, moose tongue, moose head soup, moose heart, moose liver, kidneys, and bum guts.  Yup, I said bum guts.  Part of the large intestine (cleaned well!) and cooked.   I am venturing into the world of  moose delicacies.  Stay tuned… Victor and his Moosemeat Men will be cooking up a feast for the upcoming Myth and Medium conference, organized by the Tr’ondëk Hwëchin Heritage Department, and taking place in Dawson City, Yukon from February 19 to 22, 2018.

Happy Solstice everyone – the shortest day of the year a.k.a. the longest night.   It only gets brighter from here!

Sunrise on Dec 21st at Dawson City, Yukon at 11:11 am.  Sunset at 3:21 pm.  In between, the sun stays just below the hill tops that surround Dawson. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s Blog: I Cooked a Steak!

Raw moose steak with its rub. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

I cooked a steak!  This may not seem like such a big deal, but it is the first time I have ever successfully cooked a steak.  For many years, I was a vegetarian.  Actually this only changed when I hitched up with a moose hunter who liked to cook.  I am probably the only person on the planet who has difficulty roasting a chicken.  Steak, has also been a mystery to me.  How to cook it so that it is tender and not over done.  Not my forté.    Moose steak is particularly daunting, as it is not the tenderest of meats, requiring long, slow cooking or marinating.  So I have always opted to leave the moose steak cooking to Gerard.  He manages to cook it, thanks to marinades and the BBQ (a cooking device that I have also never mastered).

Ah, the marinade.  Let’s see – no soy sauce, no vinegar, no wine.  So how to marinade?  Gerard tried marinating in rhubarb juice, but it wasn’t very successful.  Perhaps it just needed more time.  Dawn Dyce of Dawson City to the rescue!   Dawn marinades her moose (and any wild game) in milk.  I had heard tales of Dawn’s most tender moose roasts, so I decided to give it a try.  In my case I had just made some chevre, so I had whey on hand and decided to marinade the moose steaks in whey.  At Dawn’s suggestion, I put the thawed steaks in a ziplock bag, added some whey, removed the air and set the bag in the fridge for 24 hours, turning it over now and again when I noticed it.

Steak cooking on the grill. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Hoping that the whey would impart tenderness to the moose steak, I still had the dilemma of flavour and how to actually cook the darn thing.  Enter Whitehorse chef Miche Genest!  One of the many lessons I had from Miche’s week long visit in my kitchen, was how to cook a moose steak with only the local ingredients I had on hand.  Miche taught me about rubs.  So, remembering her moose rub lesson, I removed the moose steaks from their whey marinade and patted them dry.  In the  re-purposed coffee grinder (no coffee in this house) I blended together dried juniper berries, nasturtium pods, and spruce tips, and then rubbed the spice mix onto both sides of each dried steak.  Then I wrapped the steaks in plastic wrap and set them into the fridge for a couple of hours.  Miche also taught me about cooking – hot and fast.  Miche likes her steak rare so she sears it for 1 ½ minutes per side.  I decided to go a little longer – but I did watch the clock.

The result?  Yummm!  Tender and tasty.  Drizzled with a moose demi-glaze (made from moose bones – recipe to come later).  Perhaps my ears deceived me, but I think I heard 15-year-old Kate say, “You could open a restaurant after this year, Mom.”  Fine praise indeed for the mother who didn’t like cooking!

> View the recipe for Moose Steak with Yukon Rub

Suzanne’s Blog: Cut Off!


For two days the North Klondike Highway has been closed due to unseasonably warm weather causing black ice and massive frost heaves.  This means that my community of Dawson City, as well as the communities of Mayo, Fort MacPherson and Inuvik, are all cut off from the rest of Canada.  No road in.  No road out.  No grocery trucks.  No mail.   Ten days before Christmas.

Air North, the only airline that links our communities to Whitehorse and hence, the rest of Canada, has managed to squeeze in extra flights during the short window of December daylight, to help transport the many people who are now unable to drive south.  But this is not a panacea.  Yesterday the plane couldn’t land in Dawson due to bad weather.  Some folks won’t get a seat on the plane for another four days.  And although the planes can transport people, they can’t supply Dawson  and Inuvik with groceries.

So here it is, another reminder of our particular vulnerability in the North.  It’s not the first time.  It happened on an even larger scale in 2012 when the only road into all of the Yukon was closed due to mudslides – causing the shelves of the many large grocery stores in the Yukon’s capital, Whitehorse, to go bare within a couple of days.

There is no doubt we are seeing the effects of climate change around the world, and especially in the North.

Dawson’s average temperature this time of year should be minus 20° to minus 30° C.  For the past two weeks we have had temperatures ranging from plus 2° to minus 10°C.  Whitehorse has had above zero temperatures and rain.

This is the second year that the Yukon River has failed to freeze between Dawson and West Dawson.  Without an ice bridge, the journey to town for West Dawsonites for supplies is now 12 km instead of 2 km – and currently only passable by foot, skidoo, or dog team.

These are quickly becoming the new norms in the North.  Another poignant reminder of the importance of increasing our self-sufficiency and our food security. The importance of lessening our dependence on infrastructure that links us to the south.  The reason why I am putting myself to the test and feeding my family of five only food that can be sourced locally for one full year.

I, of course, have enough food to get me through.   Many others have freezers full of moose meat.   Hopefully, the highway will soon re-open and this event will be considered a mild inconvenience in the memories of many.  But should we pass it off so casually?  Is it actually the canary in the coal mine.  And rather than a temporary inconvenience, a foreshadowing of things to come.  A memory that should inspire adaptation and change.

Many studying global food security suggest the answer will be in the development of  more local, small-scale organic farms and growers.  I agree.  And I believe this will be especially important for Northern Canada along with a renewed understanding of what we can source locally from the land.  The less we need to rely on ‘one road in, one road out’ the better off we will be.

Suzanne’s Blog: Christmas Experimentation


The Christmas season has arrived –  a season for many wonderful things, not the least of which is Christmas baking.  Holiday baking traditions in my family are melt-in-your-mouth shortbread and rum-soaked fruit cake that has aged for 6-12 months.

This year is a little different.

My family recently headed to Whitehorse for various sporting events (and two days of eating contraband!)  So I took advantage of the empty house and settled in for a two-day Christmas baking extravaganza.  Although it might be better described as a two-day Christmas baking science lab.

What is unusual about this year’s baking, is that it is all experimental.  No white flour, no white sugar, no icing sugar, no baking powder nor baking soda nor corn starch.  No salt.  No nuts.  No chocolate.  No candied orange and lemon peel.  No raisins.  No currents.  No cinnamon, ginger or cloves. I pulled out my traditional recipes for short bread, ginger snaps, aspen rocks and fruit cake and attempted to adapt them to the local ingredients I have on hand.  I pulled out old dusty copies of December editions of Chatelaine and Canadian Living and scoured them for recipes that might suit my ingredients.  I have yet to find a recipe for just my ingredients, so adaptations, substitutions and imagination have taken over.

I am extremely grateful for the ingredients I do have available. Thanks to the hard work of Dawson farmers, and the abundance of edibles the Boreal forest can provide, there will be 100%-local Christmas baking in my house this year!

I now have flour (thanks Otto) and sugar beet sugar (thanks Grant, Becky, and Paulette).  I also have butter (thanks Jen), eggs (thanks Megan and Becky), birch syrup (thanks Sylvia and Berwyn), honey (thanks David) and berries (thanks Diana, Maryanne, the forest and the many Dawsonites who shared some of their precious wild berries with me this year).  I have potato starch (thanks Lucy, Otto, Tom, Brian and Claus).  I have a few winter hearty apples (thanks John and Kim).  I have dried spruce tips (thanks forest) and dried nysturtiam seed pods (thanks Andrea and Klondike Kate’s).

Of course, experimenting is also limited by quantity.  Every ingredient I have has been hard fought for.  The sugar takes several days to create from sugar beets.  The butter takes several days to make from the cream skimmed off the fresh milk.  And before I have flour, I need to clean the grains and then grind them.  Whereas I once automatically doubled or tripled recipes for Christmas baking, this year I find myself cutting every recipe in half.  I have become leery of recipes that call for 2 cups of sugar for example – as that would use up almost all the sugar I have on hand before starting the arduous task of processing more sugar beets.

Mixing and matching, substituting, altering quantities – such is the alchemy behind Christmas baking this year.

A few recipes have worked out well enough to be shared and repeated – such as Birch Brittle and Yukon Shortbread.

Brittle made with birch syrup and pumpkin seeds. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

But many have been less than desirable.  My friend Bridget dropped by during my baking frenzy and sampled some of my experiments.  “You can’t call these cookies,” she announced after tasting one of my shortbread trials.  I was deflated.  “But you can call them biscuits.”  She then proceeded to lather some butter onto one of my cookies and declared it quite good.  After I got over my moment of self-pity, I too tried one with butter and then with cream cheese and had to admit she was right. They taste more like oatcakes (without the oats).   So sweet biscuits they are.  The recipe included here for Yukon Shortbread did, however, pass the cookie test.

My family has now returned from Whitehorse and I will bring out the results of my baking bit by bit to see what they think.  The experimenting will continue – adjusting this and adjusting that.  Trying a few new recipes.  But first … I have to make some more butter, grind some more flour, and peel some more sugar beets.

If you have any Christmas baking recipes that you think might adapt well to my local ingredients, I would be more than happy to have you share them!

> See the recipe for Birch Brittle
> See the recipe for Yukon Shortbread

Suzanne’s Blog: Sugar Beets Sweeten the Deal

Sugar beets can be turned into sugar (in jar, at left) or syrup (right). Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

I love birch syrup and am grateful to Sylvia Frisch and Berwyn Larson who are raising their two daughters in the bush and producing birch syrup commercially.  During the past 4 ½ months of eating only local foods, we have consumed 24 litres of birch syrup.  I have discovered that the flavour of birch syrup alone can substitute for the ‘far east’ spices of cinnamon and all-spice.  I have even been known to down a shot of birch syrup, straight up, during those moments when, in a previous life, I would have grabbed a piece of chocolate – to get me through a moment of emotional or physical despair.

I also love David McBurney’s local honey – it is pure, delicate, and divine.  And it is treated like a delicacy in the family.  It also makes the perfect sweetener to enhance other delicate flavours that would be overpowered by the robust flavour of birch syrup.

But there are times, especially in baking, when chemistry is required and a liquid sugar option just doesn’t do the trick.  Now that I have local flour, and Christmas is coming, baking is on my mind.  So what to do when crystalized sugar is required?

Birch syrup, unlike maple syrup, does not crystalize.  I learned this last April while visiting Birch Camp.  So, with birch sugar no longer an option, I ordered GMO-free sugar beet seeds.  I have never had any luck growing regular beets, so I recruited others to grow the sugar beets for me –  the great gardeners Paulette Michaud and Becky Sadlier.  Unbeknownst to me, long-time Dawson farmer, Grant Dowdell, also had my year of eating local on his mind and ordered non-GMO sugar beet seeds to see if they would grow in the north.  The sugar beets grew marvelously for all, confirming that they are indeed a reasonable crop for the North.   They like warm days and cool nights – perfect for a Dawson City summer.  I ended up with 350 pounds worth to experiment with!

Sugar beets contain approximately 20% sucrose, the same sugar found in sugar cane.  One quarter of the world’s refined sugar comes from sugar beets. In Canada, Taber, Alberta is the industrial hot spot for growing and processing sugar beets into sugar.  On a commercial scale, lime (calcium oxide) and carbon dioxide are added to form calcium carbonate which solidifies and pulls out any impurities – thus resulting in familiar white sugar.  No such additions for a local home-made sugar, so the resulting sugar is brown with a richer taste.

There is a paucity of information out there on just how to make sugar from sugar beets at home, so I gave up on research and moved to trial and error.   After all, with 350 pounds of sugar beets, there was room for experimentation and failure.  And failure there has been!  Although no failure has yet to see itself in the compost.  The family seems more than willing to devour the failures – be they sugar beet toffee, sugar beet gum, sugar beet tea.  Even burnt beet sugar has found a use. (Thank goodness because there has  been a lot of burnt beet sugar!)

In the process, I have also discovered the wonder of the sugar beet – a root vegetable that was previously unknown to me.  Sugar beets are often touted as a food for livestock or a green manure crop so I was expecting the taste of the sugar beet itself to be unpalatable.  But it is just the opposite!   Cooked up, it is a delicious, sweet, white beet.  The sugar beet leaves are also edible.  And amazingly, even after the sugar is extracted, the sugar beet pulp remains sweet and delicious.  I’m afraid the local Dawson livestock will be getting less sugar beet pulp than previously anticipated this year.

One thing is for certain – processing sugar beets into sugar requires time and patience.  Here are my step-by-step instructions on how to make syrup (easy) and sugar (difficult) from sugar beets.

Sugar was first extracted from sugar beets in the mid 18th century.   In the early 19th century, during the Napoleonic wars when French ports were cut off from the rest of the world, Napoleon encouraged wide-scale sugar beet production and processing.  France remains one of the world leaders in sugar beet production and most of Europe’s sugar comes from sugar beets, rather than sugar cane.

Consider adding non-GMO sugar beet seeds to your next seed order.  In Canada, they can be found from Salt Spring Seeds and from T&T seeds.  Sugar beets grow well in the north and are a delicious root vegetable in their own right.  But don’t throw out the water you cook them in, as this water is sweet and can easily be used to make beet syrup and beet syrup candy.   And, if you are brave, sugar!  If you live in an area populated by deer, be warned that sugar beet tops are a great attractant for deer.  Word is now out to the Yukon moose so perhaps next year Dawson’s sugar beet rows will require fencing!

> View the recipe for Sugar Beet Sugar and Syrup

Gerard’s Blog: Patchy Pumpkins Pose Problems


Who would have guessed that “the diet” would become a vehicle for enhanced weekend variety?  Previously, I had mentioned that driving kids to Whitehorse for recreational opportunities is a weekend pursuit familiar to me, as well as to many Dawsonites.  But last weekend I shirked that responsibility, displacing the schlepping responsibility to another unsuspecting parent.  And why, you might ask?  Well, the truth is that another task of joyful potential was imminently presenting itself to the arena of daily responsibilities.

Suzanne had been dutifully storing the year’s supply of pie pumpkins in our cold storage room, which really isn’t a cold storage room at all, but rather, my otherwise cozy workshop / recreational room, which has been repurposed “for the greater good.”  Now the room stores food, and my main purpose for the space has been diminished to a cold storage place for my coat, boots, and hockey gear, so that my climatization process might begin well before I even step outside.

So, with grave urgency and a voice of impending doom, Suzanne woke me, advising that her inspection of the food stores revealed a situation of calamitous proportions.  There were “soft spots” appearing on the pumpkins.  The dreaded soft spots that we all live in fear of.  The harbingers of rot, the messengers of mold, the precursors of peril.  And with all the vitality of Saint Nick on Christmas Eve, I leapt from my bed to save the pumpkins.

So, the initial examination revealed that 45 of the 75 stored pumpkins were in need of some sort of resuscitation, presumably tainted by a touch of frost.  Suzanne did the initial triage, finding only a few code blacks.  These were quickly dispatched, put out of their suffering by cold immersion in the great outdoors.  We set to the code reds and yellows with some haste, fearful that the warmth of our working kitchen would disseminate the contagions, contaminating all that we have worked for, diminishing the project to a wasteland of sorrow.  We put the code greens aside for the next day, knowing that they were not in immediate danger, reconciling that this was an undertaking with great magnitude.

Perhaps it is my training as a doctor or perhaps it is just human nature, but there is immense tactile joy when you insert your hand through the mold of a pumpkin, pulling out the diseased mush.  In some ways, extracting the soft spot of pumpkins is better that dealing with human rot, as it does not have the same intensity of smell, which is unmistakably pervasive in the case of humans.

Anyway, back on track … the process was extensive.  There was the washing, the debridement of mold and mush, the separation of salvageable parts, including those seeds that were not black, or tainted in a cobweb substance that reminded me of the dendrites of neurons, as demonstrated in electromagnetic images of the brain. There was the scrapping of the pulp, the peeling of the skins, the chopping, the packaging and finally, the freezing for future processing.  We roasted seeds the whole while, using them as nourishment to fuel the event.  We collected the discarded parts, marveling that there was not so much waste after all, and that most of it was being commissioned as food for the pigs and chickens of Dawson.

And at the end, using the logic that we were already in chopping mode, Suzanne pulls out more of the ubiquitous sugar beets for washing, peeling, chopping and boiling …

Since I retired, one of the common questions I field is, “so, what are you doing with all your free time now?”  The truth is, the surgical part of my job is not much changed, it is just that my patients have.

Suzanne’s Blog:  Chef Miche Gets Me Into Hock

Pork Hocks, Cabbage and Rye Berry Casserole is another delicious dish Chef Miche Genest helped create for Suzanne with 100% local ingredients. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Recently, I had the distinct honour to have Yukon chef, Miche Genest, in my kitchen, devoting a week of her time helping me cook!

The week went by all too fast, but we covered a lot of ground – soups, dinners, sauces, desserts.  And we started experimenting with grains (more on the grains later).

I promised to share some more recipes and here is another.  (See also previous posts with Brian Phelan’s Rappie Pie and Token Gesture Custard)

One of the favourite supper recipes was Pork Hock Rye Casserole, although it doesn’t have to include pork hocks – it is adaptable to any slow cooking meat.  And the rye could easily be substituted with barley (once I thresh it) and probably even with wheat grains (although I think I will preserve every precious grain of wheat for baking!) This, like Rappie Pie, is another excellent one dish winter comfort food – filling, delicious and 100% Dawson City local!

> View recipe for Pork Hock Rye Casserole

Gerard’s Blog: Weighing In On Temptation


I feel like Pandora’s Box has been opened.  What with the great cooking from Miche Genest, the effective grinding of flour reintroducing grain into the diet, and the discovery of my wife’s “freeze-up” stash of birch syrup ice-cream, all on the tails of months of hunger and craving, there is now a flood of dietary temptations to which I am succumbing.

Today is weigh-in day.  On the first of the month each household member must step on the scale, the scale of truth, transgressions and temperance.  It is a little like the confessional booth, each of us enticed to tell all, once the weight is announced, collectively rejoicing in the euphoria of cleared conscious.

And for the first time since committing to “the diet,” I have added a few pounds to my atrophied skeleton.  Of course, this is hardly earth shattering news, so I am not really letting the cat out of the bag about the propensity of dietary grains and sugars to round out one’s figure.

And I could tell, even without the scale of truth, that things were changing.  My belt was a little tighter, my skin folds a little thicker, and there was an absence of the constant emptiness.  But my cravings are still relentless, well beyond the normal cyclical changes of winter that most of us northerners are familiar with.

All this has me now wondering about rebound.  Are these the first days of my new self?  Will I keep growing and growing?  Should I submit my Christmas clothing wish list now, or would it be best to wait, monitor my growth daily, plot it out so that I could have a more accurate estimation by Christmas Day?

In the meantime, I smell fresh bread, and like a burbot after rotting meat, I am out of here!

Suzanne’s Blog: Flour Power and the Ol’ Grind

Gerard and Tess grinding fl;our by hand. Photo by Miche Genest.

Despite a very cold November, with several weeks of -35° to -40°C, it looks like it is going to be a long freeze-up for the Yukon River again this year. I am lucky enough to have 25 kg. of wheat grains and 25 kg. of rye grains that were secured from Otto at Kokopellie Farm just before the ferry was pulled.   But Otto’s wonderful grinder is on the other side of the Yukon River.  So, for now, I am left to my own devices.

I tried to grind the grain with a combination of blender and flour sifter.  It took many, many passes.  It was possible to eke out a small amount of flour, but certainly not very efficient.

Although Dawson is small (about 1,500 people), it is the kind of community where you can put out a request for an obscure item, such as flour grinder, on the local Crier Buyer Facebook page and expect to get a response.

I was not disappointed.

Within a day, I was very grateful to receive a call from Louise Piché.  She had a hand crank flour grinder, not yet tried, that she had picked up somewhere or other and I was welcome to borrow it.   A flour grinder is a wonderful thing!   A couple of passes through the grinder along with a bit of an upper body workout and voilà – flour! Flour!!  Flour means the possibility of bread and baking!

We have flour!

Subsequently, I received another call – this time from Becky Sadlier who has an electric flour mill that we could borrow.  However Becky lives on the other side of the Klondike River, now filled with slush.  But Yukoners are never too daunted by the weather.  Loren Sadlier was making one last canoe trip across the Klondike, through the slush, and the grinder could go with him.  I had thought the hand grinder was a gift from the heavens.  The electric grinder was able to make an even finer flour!

There are still a few obstacles to overcome, such as the lack of yeast, baking soda, baking powder and crystalized sugar.  But where there is a will, there is a way. Let the baking experiments begin!  (And let me remember my lesson in grain moderation! )

Miche Genest sent me this wonderful breakfast option, Breakfast Caflouti, which only requires ½ cup of flour and no leavening agent.  It was a tremendous hit in our family – and a very welcome change from our usual fried eggs and mashed potato cakes.

A close look at the hand flour grinder and its handiwork. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s Blog: Moderation Goes Down the Grain


Grains have now entered my local diet.  And, unfortunately, I did not heed the concept of moderation with their re-introduction.

Spending almost four months entirely grain free was very interesting.  Certainly, it was the one food that haunted me.  When I ventured outside my house, the smell or sight of baking was associated with a sense of longing.   Plates of bannock at Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in feasts, the smell of Nora Van Bibber’s cinnamon buns at Fall Harvest Camp, the desert table at potluck dinners, the baking at Christmas bazaars – those were the difficult times.   Those were the times when I realized how important it was that my family agreed to the ‘no grocery store food in the house’ policy.   I do have will power, but I’m not sure how much.

I have also come to realize how much grains contribute to a sense of being full.  Without them, potatoes help fill the gap.  As does a mug of steamed milk.  In the absence of grains, these have become my go-to’s when I need a quick snack.  Mashed potato cakes have become the morning staple to replace toast, bagels, or cereal. I have really become quite fond of them and haven’t yet tired of eating them almost every morning.

At the start of this local diet, there was an almost instant melting away of extra pounds.  Gerard’s weight loss was the most noticeable, losing 30 pounds during the first two months!   Was this due to being grain free? The other unexpected result of eating local was a distinct lack of body odour. Could that also have to do with being grain free?  Have those folks who live a gluten free existence noticed the same phenomena?

When Yukon chef, Miche Genest, came to stay with us last week I had to clean up the grains that had been drying in the loft floor so that Miche would have a place to sleep.  The barley is not yet threshed.   And I haven’t figured out how to de-husk the buckwheat or hull the oats. But thanks to Otto and his combine, the wheat and the rye were threshed and just waiting for me to find a way to grind them.  So, one evening, when 12-year-old Tess started talking about how much she yearned for a bowl of cereal, I came up with an idea.  Why not boil the whole rye grains!  And so Tess did.  Accompanied by warm milk, the first mouthful was an extremely comforting and satisfying experience.  All my grain longings seemed to come to the forefront as I ate spoonful after spoonful.  Somewhere in the logical side of my brain was a small voice suggesting that downing a giant bowl of cooked whole rye might not be the best way to re-introduce grains after four months without.  But I couldn’t stop.  So I ate the whole bowl.  I had a fitful sleep that night.  For the next 2 days, I felt like there was a brick in my stomach. I produced enough gas to power our house.  Short-term gain for long-term pain.   Lesson learned.  I will attempt a more moderate re-introduction once I recover from this one.

> Check out the recipe for Mashed potato cakes

Bee Whyld Produces “the Champagne of Honey”

Despite its sub-arctic climate, the Yukon is blessed with several apiaries. With care, bee hives can survive the harsh winters, even as far north as Dawson City. This is the profile of one of the Yukon’s honey producers.

Bee Whyld is a small apiary in Watson Lake, Yukon, specializing in producing Fireweed Honey. Owned and operated by Courtney and Joel Wilkinson, Bee Whyld was officially founded in June of 2016, although it had been in the works for a few years prior.

Bee hives around a field of fireweed - Photo Courtesy of Bee Whyld
Bee hives around a field of fireweed – Photo Courtesy of Bee Whyld

Courtney originally had a job as a salesperson for an Alberta honey company, and was working towards keeping her own bees. On a visit to the Yukon to visit her then-boyfriend Joel, she noticed the fields of fireweed common in the territory.  Courtney knew from her experience selling honey that Fireweed is not only one of the rarest honeys, and also one of the best for flavour and medicine, and this sparked the idea to bring bees up to the Yukon and make Fireweed Honey.

Bee Whyld’s hives have managed to successfully overwinter – Photo courtesy of Bee Whyld.

Beekeeping in the North is quite challenging, especially overwintering and maintaining the health of the hives, but through trial and error Courtney and Joel have learned what it takes to successfully produce honey in the Yukon.

This brood frame was attacked by a bear, who killed more than half the population of bees - Photo Courtesy of Bee Whyld
This brood frame was attacked by a bear, who killed more than half the population of bees – Photo Courtesy of Bee Whyld

Their honey bees gather all of the nectar that they turn into honey from the Boreal Yukon forests, with fields of flowers that are untouched by pesticides, and not genetically modified. Their honey is also both unpasteurized and raw, meaning they don’t heat it at all. This ensures all the natural antibiotics, pollen, and Royal Jelly are still intact within the honey,  making it a good choice for medicinal uses (such us helping to heal wounds, helping to fight off infections, helping to reduce allergies, and alleviating sore throats).

Bee Whyld’s Yukon Fireweed Honey has been called “the Champagne of honey.” It is a rare honey prized around the world for its medicinal qualities, and its light sweet taste.

Bee Whyld’s Yukon Fireweed Honey – Photo Courtesy of Bee Whyld

 

 

 

Gerard’s Blog: Rinse and Repeat

This “diet” is an inspirational opportunity, a chance to demonstrate creativity, an exercise in economy of action.  Clearly, life would have been amiss without it and I would have felt like I had been abandoned in a black hole for eternity.

Lately, I’ve found new joys in drinking dishwater.  Sans the soap part.  And also sans the multiple and varied particles that typically inhabit true dishwater.  So, to ensure that I am communicating properly (and in order to be politically correct), let’s just call this “false dishwater.”  Or, to be even more politically correct in the nostalgic eyes of Canadian baby-boomers, we can condense this to F.D.

So, F.D. has become one of my staples.  And the variety of flavors and textures offers enough intrigue that it competes with the best of the addictive alternatives.  I’ve referred to F.D. in the past, so as a refresher, this is how I recommend it:  take an “empty” birch syrup container, add a bit of hot water, swirl, pour into the cup that was once your treasured coffee cup, drink lavishly and selfishly of the elixir of F.D.  When finished, repeat the process for an entirely different richness of flavor.  Keep repeating until the original container is virtually clean (and thank whomever that the days of wooden kegs is all but past!).  So, while experiencing a variety of unique and flavorful drinks, one can do the family a favor by cleaning dishes using F.D.

There are an abundance of missed opportunities; the joys of ingestible F.D. can be found everywhere in the kitchen, literally awaiting discovery and daring.  For a more savory mid-afternoon winter tea, try F.D. from a pickle jar.  An experience in globular texture can be readily had through F.D. yogurt.  Or if that is too stimulating to the regurgitating reflex, then one can tame it down by trying the more subtle and less distinct curds of F.D. milk.

With time, tolerance overrides tact.  I sometimes find myself unscrupulously indulgent, thinking selfishly that there are no other cravers of F.D. in the room.  Why, just the other day, I casually picked up the nearly empty pot of stew, added some boiled water, swirled, and proceeded to drink directly from the pot, entirely skipping the stage of soiling a clean mug.  My kids were appropriately aghast: clearly I should have shared my bounty.

 

Sugar Beet Syrup and Homemade Potato Starch

By Miche Genest

Sugar Beet Syrup and Homemade Potato Starch

When I came to Dawson to cook with Suzanne, I was prepared for frugality, for the careful husbanding of food supplies — I had read Gerard’s blogs about the one onion a day, the rationing of juniper berries.

I was prepared for ingenuity, too, the experimentation with flavour in the absence of salt, sugar, spices, and oil. What I was not prepared for was how Suzanne’s frugality and ingenuity would change my way of thinking.

I’ve always thought I was experimental, and I am, given a cupboard full of nutmeg and cinnamon and garam masala to complement the juniper berries and spruce tips, the many varieties of sugar and syrups available to me, the wine for wild berry reductions, the fresh leeks and fennel for moose stock. I’ve always considered myself a frugal cook, wasting little, using the whole vegetable, saving scraps for stock.

But here, in this kitchen, frugality and ingenuity have taken on new meaning. Here’s how. Ingenuity: Suzanne has figured out how to make sugar beet syrup. Simply put, cover chopped sugar beets in water, bring to the boil, simmer for several hours, strain, squeeze excess juice from the beets, boil down cooking liquid into a delicious, complex, earthy syrup, a syrup that goes well with everything on the table, sweet or savoury, livens up a cup of warm milk, and substitutes for sugar in baking (with some adjustments, but that’s for a later post). Sugar beets grow well in this climate, and we speculate: is there a future Yukon industry in sugar beets?

Frugality: Chef Brian Phelan came over and taught Suzanne and I how to make Rappie Pie, a favourite Acadian comfort food. The recipe involves juicing 10 pounds of potatoes and cooking the pulp in boiling chicken stock — there’s more, but that’s for another post. The by-products of the juicing are as many as 14 cups of potato liquid covered with a layer of stiff foam, and, at the bottom of the bowl, a cement-like residue of potato starch.

Suzanne would not allow any of this by-product to be composted. I cooked the potato liquid for use in soup. She skimmed off the foam and baked it into an odd but tasty version of potato chips — a recipe that still needs perfecting, but the basics are there. And she chipped the starch out of the bowl, crumbled it onto a drying screen lined with parchment, and put it in the food drier. The next day, she ground some in a coffee grinder, made a paste with cold water and it thickened our moose stew to perfection.

I helped with all of these endeavours, but Suzanne was the driving force; fierce, committed, consumed with curiosity. I was prepared for her fierceness, but did not know exactly where it might take us.

Now I do. It takes us to ingenuity and frugality, sugar beet syrup and homemade potato starch; it takes us to new ways with food we hadn’t thought of.

Suzanne’s Blog: Guest Chef Dishes Out Warmth and Memories

(From left to right) Brian, Suzanne, and Miche with a big bowlful of potato pulp.

Miche and I were very privileged to have Dawson City chef, Brian Phelan, join us in the kitchen this week to teach us how to cook a dish from his Acadian roots, Rappie Pie.

Rappie Pie is a total comfort food and definitely a great winter dish, especially this week in Dawson with temperatures hovering between minus 35° and minus 40°C.   The three hours in the oven required to bake Rappie Pie helped keep the house warm!

In many ways it is quite a simple dish, requiring very few ingredient:  basically a chicken and some potatoes.  One of the most interesting things about Rappie Pie is the preparation.  You juice the potatoes but only use the pulp.  However, you measure the juice produced to determine how much hot chicken stock to add back to the potato pulp.  The magic ratio is 7:10.   (For every 7 cups of juice produced, you add 10 cups of boiling stock to the pulp.)  The timing is critical, as you don’t want the potato pulp to oxidize.  The boiling chicken stock that you add to the potato pulp actually cooks the potatoes in the bowl – even before it goes in the oven.  Then you add your herbs or spices (traditionally sautéed onion and salt and pepper; in our case onion and ground celery leaf) and layer the potato pulp mixture with chicken in a large casserole dish.  During the three hours of baking, the casserole absorbs the chicken stock, becomes firmer and develops a delicious crust.  It’s not the kind of dish that looks great on the plate – the word ‘mush’ comes to mind.  But it is delicious and filling and oozes comfort.

Traditionally, the potatoes would have been grated (hence the name ‘rappie’ from the French word “râpé” which means grated) and then the juice squeezed out.  But juicers definitely make that process much more efficient.

One of the wonderful things about food is how it gathers people together and the memories we associate with certain foods. Listening to stories from Brian of Rappie Pie suppers past, reminded me of this and how important food is – not just to sustain us, but all the traditions, gatherings and memories that go with it.

I’m not sure if this year of eating local will become one of those fond memories in future years for my kids or if it is scarring them for life.  Some days it’s hard to tell.  But I will keep my fingers crossed for the former.

Click here for our adaptation of Rappie Pie for a totally local Yukon meal .

The chefs admire their finished Rappie Pie.

Gerard’s Blog: Liquid, Solid, and Gas


Another weekend of “balls and braces” has passed.  This is my new term for those weekends that I take one or more of the kids to Whitehorse for sporting events and orthodontic work.  There have been many such journeys over the past couple of years;  so much so that when people ask about Dawson recreational opportunities, I glibly respond that on weekends, we like to drive to Whitehorse.

Another notable aspect of these trips is the inherent opportunity for dietary transgressions.  What could be more stimulating, after prolonged periods of personal restraint, than experimental observation of the effects of self-indulgence?  Who could have ever imagined the joys that this year would provide?

Coffee is generally one of my first dietary infractions when I find myself succumbing to temptation “on the road.”  And with alarming consistency, the taste of real coffee is always less enjoyable than that conjured up in my memory.

But soon enough, I find bread, and that’s a different story.  Whether it is a bun with butter, or garlic toast, or a muffin, donut or morning toast, it doesn’t matter.  All forms of pastry are absolutely enthralling, urging me to have just one more…  And so I do!

The grains are satisfying, quelling the emptiness that is so familiar to me now.  But, the downside is some bloating, which unfortunately is paired with enough gas to make the concealment of dietary misdemeanors problematic.  Between the caffeine and the grains, my guts awaken!  The grumbling and gurgling, I feel, is almost orchestral.

Sadly though, my family is disinclined to appreciate the musical genius contained within my body.  And to this, I remind them of the notable scientific advancements through personal experimentation, and that my gas production affords them a critical role as participants in this ongoing process of discovery…

 

Suzanne’s Blog: Cooking Up a Storm With Miche

Suzanne (left) and Miche admire one of their creations.

It has been a wonderful and very busy first two days in the kitchen with Yukon chef Miche Genest. Despite several interruptions for broken down cars, 40 below temperatures, dog walks and Christmas bazaars, Miche and her sous-chef (me!) have still managed to cook up a storm!  In between meal preparations we have been boiling down sugar beets into syrup, hand-grinding flour, experimenting with sprouting rye and wheat grains, making yogurt and preparing chevre.

Saturday’s supper: scalloped potatoes, baked spaghetti squash glazed with butter and birch syrup and rare moose steaks prepared with a savoury rub from both garden and forest, served with a morel mushroom cream sauce.

Sunday night’s supper: was a delicious pork hock casserole cooked with whole rye grains and a yummy custard with cranberry sauce for desert.

Eventually we will post most of the recipes.  But for now – here is the recipe for the delicious custard with cranberry sauce, otherwise known as ‘Token Gesture Custard’ by Gerard in reference to a portion size that was incongruous with his desire for more.

> View the Token Gesture Custard Recipe

Let the Experiments Begin!

By Miche Genest


It’s my first night in Dawson, it’s -22C, and there’s a starry sky up there. I just walked home along First Avenue in the quiet, snow-lit darkness. I’m staying at Bombay Peggy’s on the last night they’re open for the season—maybe I should be down in the bar but instead I’m up here in the Gold Room enjoying the solitude and the feeling of a season coming on, the winter revving up. The trees are heavy with snow.

The cold, the quiet, the snow, the dark trees, the deep excitement of winter, remind me of when I first arrived in the Yukon, 23 years ago. When I was a kid growing up in Toronto, Collingwood was our version of the North. We skied there every weekend in winter. I loved the pillows of snow, the slanting light, the blue shadows of those winters.

But coming to the Yukon was like coming to where winter began. The stillness at night, the snow sparkling like diamonds—I’d never seen that before, snow in Southern Ontario doesn’t do that.

Winter began here.

I got that feeling again tonight. And, buzzing underneath the crisp cold air, was the low-voltage, warming hum of possibility. That’s another thing I remember about first coming to the Yukon. Anything is possible here.

Tomorrow I move up to Suzanne’s house, and we will start a week of  experimenting with the food she  has grown, gathered from farmers and the forest, processed, preserved and stored over the past several months. The work she has done is mind-boggling. There is enough in her larder for a rich and sustaining menu of delicious local food all winter long.

Our task list is lengthy. Transform 350 lbs of sugar beets into syrup. Figure out what to do with the delicious pulp. Lessons in meat cooking. Discover new quick ways to cook potatoes. Devise snacks that the kids can grab and go. Crackers—how are we going to make crackers? Pizza crust with steamed cauliflower—can we make it work?

Yes we can.

Anything is possible.

Suzanne’s Blog: Miche to the Rescue

The kitchen is not my natural habitat. It used to be the one room in the house that I tried to avoid. (Having a husband who is, or should I say ‘was’ a good cook, certainly helped with my kitchen avoidance issue). But for the past 110 days, the kitchen has felt like it is the only room in the house that I occupy – from early morning till bedtime. I am thinking of setting up a cot beside the fridge. And it has been quite the learning curve. Clearly, necessity is also the mother of creativity in the kitchen.

So you can imagine how thrilled I am that celebrated Yukon chef and cookbook author, Miche Genest, is arriving in Dawson today for the sole purpose of spending ONE WHOLE WEEK in my kitchen. I feel like I have won the lottery! In fact the whole family, feels like they have won the lottery!

Michele Genest, also known as The Boreal Gourmet is passionate about cooking with local ingredients from the North and from the boreal forest. She is the author of several best selling cookbooks including The Boreal Gourmet, Adventures in Northern Cooking  and The Boreal Feast, a Culinary Journey Through the North . She also collaborated with community cooks from Old Crow, Yukon to help create recipes for Vadzaih, Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof. And, in collaboration with Jennifer Tyldesley, will soon be launching “Cold Spell, Cocktails and Savouries for a Northern Winter.”

Miche has been invited to share her passion and skills for Northern cooking at events across the country – both north and south. This summer, Miche was a guest cook on Canada C3 expedition, a 150 day expedition from Toronto to Victoria through the Northwest passage to celebrate and share the stories of coastal communities and connect Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

When Miche arrives in Dawson today, she will be taking stock of the local ingredients I have in the house and then tomorrow, we start cooking!

Expect some great 100% northern local recipes to be coming this way soon!

Gerard’s Blog: Showing Some Humidity


Our house is dripping.  The windows are sweating and there is rime on the outside soffits wherever the moisture has found breaches in the vapor barrier of the house.  Opening the door releases a cloud of humidity into the starkly contrasting cold world outside, engulfing everything in a fog dense enough to cause nightmares in a Newfoundland fisherman.

Three of the stove-top burners are blasting away at pots of boiling sugar beets.  The stove fan is humming, desperately trying to do its job of ridding the house of moisture.  Our daughter’s fiddle is out of tune.  There is a new scrape under one of the doors and another needs unusual persuasion to close properly.  Suzanne’s hair is a mass of tight ringlets.  Everyone’s skin is nice, wrinkle-free, offering a glimpse of our appearances a decade ago.

We have had another assembly line of production.  Sugar beets have been double washed and scrubbed.  Then peeled and sliced thinly or grated.  Then boiled to extract and concentrate the sugar.  And there is so much boiling that I worry that our ancient repurposed camp stove might take an early and unexpected retirement, even before it runs out of propane. Or that the outside of the house begins to resemble a quinzhee as the inside becomes resurfaced in slime mold.

I’ve taken to closely examining my appendages for early signs of webbing.  Last night I awoke in a sweat, dreaming that the pain I felt in my leg was the first indication of its metamorphosis into a mermaid’s tail.  After reassuring myself of the nonsensical nature of dreams, I feel comfortably back to sleep, only to awaken this time in a panic, thinking I was a goldfish trapped in an aquarium.

And so it will continue today; another assembly line of working children is planned.  But first we must wait till they surface for the day and swim out of their rooms to demonstrate their new adornments of scales and slime.

Gerard’s Blog: Contained Culinary Creativity


I’m an uninspired chef these days, attempting to navigate unfamiliar territory.

The problem is that I am the type of person who needs visual cues to achieve inspiration.  Normally I would shop by walking every aisle, identifying the things needed or wanted as I see them.  I pack for trips similarly, wandering from room to room, recognizing things that I might need.  And if I don’t see them, then there is a high probability that there will be no spontaneous reminder of the need.

And similarly, I’ve always cooked that way … browsing through the cupboards and fridge, praying for visual cues and inspiration, looking forward to getting this duty over with.

But now, when I open the fridge, I am met with an unknown terrain.  Certainly, I can identify the cheese, the eggs, the 4 containers of milk and the vegetables.  But then, things get challenging.  Almost all that remains in this packed fridge is an unrecognizable assortment of containers.  And even though they are dutifully labeled and dated with strips of masking tape, I still have trouble navigating my way through, to find any relevance to my plans for meal preparation.

This is an example of some of the items in the fridge: two containers of chicken broth, bottles of pickles that do not resemble pickles, bottles of kephir grains labeled “do not throw out,” (for which there is neither worry of me throwing out, or of ever, ever, using them).  There are bottles of apple cider, rhubarb vinegar, two creams, one yoghurt, tomato sauce x 2, the very dark colored “ketchup,” sausage water, and water kephir (whatever that is!).  To continue, there are containers of spruce tips, separate containers of boar fat, bacon grease and butter.  There are 3 buttermilk containers, all with different dates, and one with visible separation and worrisome coloring.  There is one labeled “moose thickener,” which I imagine is a body-building supplement for the aspiring young moose.  And it continues:  there is one labeled crushed tomatoes, another called ghee, another of boar “scrunchions,” and one of “moose in veggie stock,” (who I imagine is praying for his eventual release, much like a genie in a jar, or a man on a restricted diet).

It could be just me, but this is a difficult supply list for my creative juices.  So, I resort to the very recognizable and mundane vegetable and meat.  Sorry, family.  But I intend to make up for all this.  Having recognized all the masking tape we are going through for labeling, I intend to buy shares in the company.  With this new-found profit, I will have a celebratory feast when these difficult times come to an end!

Rooting Around in The Root Cellar

by Miche Genest

Sheila Alexandrovitch at Mount Lorne Community Centre in September 2017

Sheila Alexandrovitch has homesteaded on the Annie Lake Road, 40 kilometres south of Whitehorse, since 1981. Over the years she’s raised goats, llamas and sled dogs; she’s brought up her two children on the farm, and pursued an artistic practice there, working with materials like willow, beads, precious stones and wool. These days she raises sheep (producing beautiful felted work with their wool) and as always, vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables.

Alexandrovitch is locally famous for her vegetable ferments, selling jars and jars of them at the Fireweed Market in Whitehorse and the weekly market at the Mount Lorne Community Centre on the Annie Lake Road all summer long. At Mount Lorne’s last, stock-up market of the year, on September 26, she and her helper stood behind two tables groaning under her ferments, and giant mounds of fresh carrots and potatoes. As I purchased a few pounds for our house, we struck up a conversation about root cellars — I knew she was pretty much self-sufficient, and curious about her storage methods.

Every winter, Alexandrovitch stores an impressive weight of vegetables in her root cellar — this year, she’s got 135 pounds of potatoes, 80 pounds of carrots, 40 pounds of beets, 20 to 30 pounds of parsnips, 35 pounds of turnips and 7 or 8 cabbages. Asked when she runs out of supplies, she replied, “I don’t. By the end of June I’m out of carrots, but I always have rutabagas and beets, and I always have potatoes. And by the end of June, we’ve got greens.”

The cellar that stores this bounty is a hole dug into the ground under her house, accessed by a trap door in the kitchen floor. The cellar is framed in with 2 x 6 boards, insulated with Styrofoam, sheeted in on the inside and completely sealed. In the 2½-foot crawlspace between the earth and the floor of the house, the walls of the cellar are exposed, so the above-ground portion is wrapped with Styrofoam and foil and banked with dirt.

The space is 7 feet long by 6 feet wide and around 4 ½ feet deep — about chest height for Alexandrovitch. There’s no ladder — she just lifts the trap door and jumps in. She piles whatever supplies she’s retrieving onto the kitchen floor, and then jumps out of the cellar, the same way you’d push yourself out of a swimming pool. (She finds this athletic feat unremarkable.)

In winter the temperature in the root cellar is around 2° or 3°C above freezing. There’s no air circulation system, but she’s never noticed any ill effects from ethlylene — not surprising, because most of the foods she stores don’t produce ethylene. (Learn more about the fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene here.)

Alexandrovitch keeps endive, leeks and chicory in pots, in another cold space, this one on her porch. She runs out of those greens sometime in January, but then she’s got all her ferments, plus frozen leeks and kale, kept in her freezer at a neighbour’s place. She has canned goods and grains in the root cellar, and she might drive to town for coffee, butter and oil, but she prefers to use goose fat—she’ll render 6 to 8 litres this year–or pork fat, which she’ll also render.

Alexandrovitch estimated that she spends about 95% of her time growing, processing, preserving and preparing her food. “But what a good way to spend 95% of your time,” she said. “It’s not so hard. It’s just a bunch of work.”

Some of Sheila’s work.

 

Gerard’s Blog: If the Juniper Berry Could Talk

Moments of unscrupulousness sometimes have the redeeming quality of offering insight into one’s behavior.  I seem to find or create many such moments in the normal course of my day.

Suzanne and I share the meal preparations so I decided to marinate some moose steaks a couple of nights ago.  First, I grab the rhubarb “vinegar” from the fridge, only to be redirected to the rhubarb juice department.  The vinegar, I was instructed, had a separate specific purpose.

Then I grab the container of juniper berries, take a liberal portion, and proceed to crush them, adding them to the lovely evolving marinade.  This was duly noted.

Suzanne suggested that the flavor could be enhanced if they were ground in the now repurposed coffee grinder.  When I did not respond to this suggestion enthusiastically, she tried once again, stating that the supply of juniper berries was perilously scant, and that grinding them would make them last longer.  But by this time, the deed was done, berries stubbornly crushed and added.

In the time it took for the unmoved grinder to gather an infinitesimal modicum of dust, I was offered a generous portion of humility.  The visibly upset Suzanne delivered a composed and articulate commentary on the scarceness of juniper berries this year, which I had clearly not appreciated.  She outlined the cold and prickles she endured, and reminded me that she bore the lone responsibility for gathering those berries.  As I said earlier, the only redeeming aspect of the moment was the personal insight I acquired.

Clearly, this was about more than juniper berries.  This was about respect and appreciated effort and shared commitment to a course.  It was about meaningful communication and the need to understand potential ramifications before acting.  It was about the value we place on personal involvement in the acquisition of security, and how even the simplest of tactile tasks can foster feelings of tremendous individual engagement and ownership.

So, the things we grow, gather or build have more personal value than their monetary value would suggest.  Might this explain the disproportionate satisfaction we enjoy with a shed full of firewood?  Or a freezer full of moose, or berries, or blanched broccoli?  Might it explain why we build our own boats, or shelves or sheds?  Why we crochet, knit or needlepoint?

Given that, then why has our society increasingly moved away from the joy we could acquire through manual tasks?  What will be the price for this evolution?  And what would it say, if the juniper berry could speak?

Look Under the Snow for Versatile Juniper Berries

Juniper is a coniferous shrub that produces berries.  In Old Crow, Yukon it is sometimes known as ‘sharp tree’ thanks to its very prickly needles which are very familiar to all who pick juniper berries. Juniper berries should be picked with great respect as it takes 3 full years for a berry to ripen!  When ripe they turn from green to a dark blue. The ripe berries can be picked any time of the year, but you may have to dig to find them under the snow in the winter, as juniper is a low lying shrub.

Eaten raw, juniper berries have a distinct aromatic spicy flavour reminiscent of gin.  Juniper berries make an excellent spice — especially once ground into a powder.  A coffee grinder works very well for this.  A small amount of ground juniper berry goes a long way.  It can be used in marinades or dusted on wild game including moose, caribou and grouse.  It can even be lightly dusted on salmon.   A small amount can also be added to soups or stews.  According to Boreal Herbal, in Sweden a conserve is made out of juniper berries and used as a condiment for meats.

Juniper berries have a few extra qualities as well.  They help digest gas-producing foods such as cabbage. Also, because juniper berries have a light coating of yeast on their skin, a few berries are often added to ferments to help out the lacto-fermenting process.  So adding a few juniper berries when making sauerkraut has a triple effect:  flavour, aiding the fermentation, and less gas when you eat the kraut!  The yeast coating on the berries also makes them a useful ingredient in creating sourdough starter (which is another form of fermentation).  Mix some flour and water and add a few juniper berries.  Once it becomes bubbly and smells yeasty, you can remove the berries and the sourdough starter will be well on its way!  In Old Crow, juniper berries are also boiled as a tea, which the Van Tat Gwich’in  say also helps ease colds and cough symptoms.

Juniper berries should be used in moderation and avoided in people with kidney disease and in pregnant women.

Research for this post is from Boreal Herbal by Beverley Gray and Gwich’in Ethnobotany by Alestine Andrew and Alan Fehr.

Suzanne’s Blog: First Hunt Culture Camp

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At First Hunt Culture Camp students learn about all aspects of caribou hunting under the guidance of experienced Elders and hunters. Photos by Ashley Bower-Bramadat.

I don’t think many high schools in Canada offer caribou hunting as a high school credit.  But Robert Service School in Dawson City, Yukon does.

Since 1995, every October, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation have introduced youth in the community to caribou hunting under the guidance of experienced Elders and hunters at First Hunt Culture Camp. It is open to all high school students, both First Nations students and non-First-Nation students, and counts as one high school credit.

This year 18 youth participated. They spent four days up the Dempster Highway (the northernmost highway in Canada) on traditional land that has always been an important source of food for Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in ancestors.  The youth chop wood for the woodstoves that heat the cabins (this year the temperature dropped to -22°C during First Hunt), they learn gun safety and rifle target practice, they practice archery, they learn how to snare rabbits, and they go caribou hunting.  After a successful hunt, they also participate in skinning, hanging and butchering the caribou.  The meat is then distributed to local elders and used for community feasts.

Members of the Forty Mile Caribou Herd as seen along the Dempster Highway. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

I had the privilege to be part of this year’s First Hunt Culture Camp, which was held Oct. 19-22. What struck me most, apart from all the adults who volunteer time to be part of First Hunt, is how all the students totally thrived in this element, regardless if they came to First Hunt already with skill sets or were learning new skills for the first time.

Mähsi Cho for inviting me to be part of First Hunt!

Seal Hunt is Foundation of Traditional Lifestyle

Angry Inuk by Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril  documents the economic, social, and cultural devastation caused by decades of anti-sealing activism.

For the Inuit communities of Nunavut, seal meat has been a staple in their local diets for millennia. The meat is a vital source of fat, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and iron. Seal pelts are also prized for their warmth, and since first contact with Europeans, trade in seal products has played an important role in the regional economy. This revenue is especially crucial in remote areas where many foodstuffs need to be imported, and transportation costs are high.

A commercial seal hunt in Southern Canada, most notably the annual spring hunt in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, has generated controversy in recent decades, led by high-profile animal-rights activists, and resulting in a 2006 call by the European Union for a ban on all harp seal and hooded seal products. The traditional Inuit seal hunt has been swept up in an animal rights activism fervor, adversely affecting an age-old way of life.

But now indigenous groups are standing up for their heritage and defending their traditional lifestyles. Inuit filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril has released Angry Inuk, a feature-length documentary that defends the Inuit seal hunt. In Toronto, Indigenous chef Joseph Shawana is keeping seal meat on the menu at his Ku-Kum Kitchen restaurant, despite a petition calling for its removal, and is galvanizing a groundswell of public support of his own.

Partially shot in the filmmaker’s home community of Iqaluit, as well as Kimmirut and Pangnirtung, where seal hunting is seen as essential for survival, Angry Inuk also follows an Inuit delegation to Europe in an effort to have the EU Ban on Seal Products overturned. The film criticizes NGOs such as Greenpeace and the International Fund for Animal Welfare for championing animal rights while ignoring the needs of vulnerable northern communities who depend on the hunt for their livelihoods.

Chef Shawana, whose restaurant specializes in indigenous-themed dishes, says he researched the Northern hunt before opting to serve seal meat. He points out the Inuit seal harvest is very sustainable and humane, and contrasts it with the roughly two million cows, 20 million pigs, and 550 million chickens killed each year in Canada alone during large-scale food production. But at the root of the issue, says Shawana, is the need to acknowledge and support Canada’s aboriginal cultures.

Seal tartare is just one of many indigenous-themed dishes served at Ku-Kum Kitchen by owner/chef Joseph Shawana.

Short Fall Ends With Snowfall

There is a local saying about the weather in Dawson City: “Nine months of winter and three months of tough sledding.”

It’s only a slight exaggeration. One thing for sure is that the shoulder seasons — Spring and Fall — are extremely short in the far north. This is yet one more challenging aspect of  growing in the North.

We posted previously about the efforts by Otto at Kokopellie Farm to harvest his crop of locally-grown rye and barley so Suzanne could have some grain in her 100%-local diet. Otto did finally manage to harvest his rye and wheat on Oct 23rd. Turns out it was just in time. This is what Dawson looked like, one week later!

Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Gerard’s Blog: Digesting Individualism

Just in case you are wondering, this project is about more than eating local.  Much more.  This is a ferret into social behavior and individualism, tolerance and will.  And of course, it is about hunger and stupidity.

All our lives we have heard the mantra: humans are a social animal.  But what does that mean practically?  It means we hunt and gather in groups, we live in groups, and we eat together.  We work and play together.  We help one another. We share.  We concern ourselves with the less fortunate. We set standards and rules which are acceptable to the group, preferring group safety over whimsical notions of individualism.

So what happens when individuals become non-conformists, breakers of tradition?  When does the novelty of individual exploration and challenge wear off?  When does it become an annoying expression of self-indulgence to the friends?  What is the tolerance within a society?

And of course, a huge part of social structure is communal eating and drinking.  And now even more, since social smoking is all but banished.  So, what happens to the dynamic when people do not share the same food?  When does it become uncomfortable, or even intolerable, to demonstrate one’s dietary defiance?

Who would have thought that “the diet” would have opened a pathway to a more profound understanding of one of the forces behind cultural segregation and assimilation?

Cold Storage Solutions: Tuktoyaktuk Ice House

By Miche Genest

The underground icehouse at Tuktoyaktuk takes advantage of permafrost for year-round storage.

Underground, above ground, inside, outside — northerners have developed numerous ways of creating cold storage areas. Perhaps one of the simplest is the outdoor freezer: as soon as it’s cold enough, and barring a thaw, many northerners simply keep foods frozen by storing them outdoors.

In the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, there is a different solution. Katrina Cockney, Manager of Administration and Community Services, explains that as late as the 1980s individual families dug ice houses for their own use. But as the community grew in size and more houses were being built, that became less practical.

In the late 1960s, with the help of government funding, the community built a freezer deep in the permafrost, 30 feet below the surface. There are three main corridors down there, opening into 19 rooms. Access is via a steep ladder through a trap door in a small, locked shed. The contents of the freezer change according to the season — in summer there might be dry fish and muktuk, geese in the fall, and caribou and dog feed in the winter.

The freezer used to be accessible to tourists, but is no longer due to safety concerns. The hamlet is considering building a walk-in icehouse in order to show tourists the local technology. In more modern times, many households have one or more chest freezers for traditional foods. When the temperature is below freezing, they often move one freezer outside. But Katrina Cockney estimates there are still about six families who use the community freezer year-round.

There is another part to the story. Not only is the freezer practical, “It’s beautiful,” says Cockney. “It’s hard to explain, but it’s like a wall full of crystals.” Cold storage can be beautiful in more ways than one.

 

 

 

Suzanne’s Blog: Trick or (100% local) Treat?

Halloween candy made with 100% local ingredients. Left to right: birch syrup candy, sugar beet toffee, dried strawberry yogurt, sugar beet candy. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

For the first time in my life as a mother, all three of my children had Hallowe’en without me this year.  No doubt it had something to do with the house rule about ‘only local food allowed in the house’.  They were not about to sacrifice their holiday tradition of gorging on mini chocolate bars, rockets and bags of chips, so they each conveniently made plans to be at the houses of others on All Hallow’s Eve.

This left me with the realization that there would be no Halloween candy for me this year! No snacking from the bowl meant for the trick-or-treaters (who rarely ever come to our out-of–the-way house).  If a stray child came knocking on our door this year, we would be handing out carrots. No bargaining with my kids to share some of their loot.  And no sneaking into their treat bags when they are at school, hoping that they won’t notice the occasional missing chocolate bar.

But since Halloween is the season for unreasonable sugar consumption, I decided I would find a way to do it local –  even without sugar.   So I pulled out the candy thermometer, took stock of my local food resources and set to it.

I can now proudly say, that I have successfully overindulged on local sweets for Halloween.  Thanks to birch syrup candy, dehydrated yogurt sweetened with wild strawberries and …. sugar beet candy! (see the recipes)  More on the sugar beets later.  But suffice it to say, Halloween inspired me to dig into my 350-pound store of sugar beets and start experimenting.  I feel a bit sickly and my teeth are sticky, but I do not feel left out of the Halloween candy splurge.

> Halloween candy recipes

Suzanne’s Blog: A New Appreciation of Freeze-Up

The George Black ferry sits on shore after being pulled for the season. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Freeze-up has begun in Dawson — a unique, but very significant, season to communities in the north who are separated from roads by rivers.

Dawson is nestled at the confluence of two rivers:  the Yukon River and the Klondike River.  Some folks live on the far side of the Yukon River in West Dawson and Sunnydale.  Some folks live on the far side of the Klondike River in Rock Creek.  These folks have no access to any stores or other amenities of town during ‘freeze-up’ — the time of year when ice floats down the rivers preventing boat travel and the ferry that crosses the Yukon River gets pulled for the winter.  They must wait till the river freezes solid enough to cross by skidoo or eventually by vehicle.  Last year freeze-up lasted 7 weeks.  So for those folks, stocking up on enough water and food to last them through freeze-up season is a normal part of October.

I am not normally one of those folks.  I live on the town side of the rivers.  But this year the grocery stores are off limits to me.  This year, freeze-up is playing an entirely new role in my life.  Because this year, some of my main local food sources are on the far side of rivers.  My root vegetables are on the far side of the Yukon River – at the Kokopellie Farm root cellar in Sunnydale.  The dairy cows (the source of all my milk, butter, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream) are on the far side of the Klondike River — at the Sadlier’s Klondike Valley Creamery.

So this year, I too must stock up for a freeze-up that could last up to 7 weeks. The last ferry run across the Yukon River was on Oct 29th.  On this side of the river I have stocked up with 150 lbs of potatoes, 150 lbs of carrots, 40 lbs of beets, 40 lbs of rutabagas, 20 lbs of cabbage and, of course, lots of pumpkins. 

The Klondike River is still crossable by canoe, despite the ice.  But not for much longer.  For the past 6 weeks, I have been collecting empty milk jugs from friends and neighbours and freezing as much milk as I can.  I have also been making extra butter and ice-cream — all in preparation for freeze-up.  On our local diet, we have been consuming about 1 gallon of milk per day.  At that rate, for a freeze-up lasting 7 weeks, we would need 49 gallons of frozen milk!  We don’t have that.  We have about 20 gallons.  I will continue to collect and freeze as much as I can and then …  let the rationing begin.

After slush makes the rivers unnavigable, those living on the opposite sides from Dawson must wait until they can cross over the ice. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Gerard’s Blog: Be It Resolved …


Three months into this “lifestyle change,” and I’ve been testing my resolve.  And of course, the risk is that there is not much resolve to test.

The other day, I chatted with someone who was sipping on a well-deserved cold beer, while I dutifully nursed a cup of freshly boiled water.  Surely, I was enjoying myself more …

Last night, there was an office celebration of my retirement (this, of course, could be interpreted in more ways than one!).  As per many social festivities, there was food involved, and while “the diet” can compete with most main course offerings, desert is a completely different matter.  You see, the relative absence of sugar is probably the most notable hallmark of this altered form of sustenance.  And deserts, by definition, tend to be sweet.

So, I decided to tackle the temptation head on: I planted myself right by the desert selection.  There was a wide variety of displayed decadence, from puddings to pies to pastries.  My survival tactic was to watch others with full undivided attention as they sampled the multiple options of sheer deliciousness, while allowing myself the pleasure of slowly gnawing on a piece of dry moose meat.

It was an experiment really.  I was hypothesizing that close physical approximation to such rapturous consumption, might somehow endow me with a vicarious experience of equal proportion.  Much to my chagrin, the hypothesis was not substantiated through the course of the experiment.

So, this morning I’m re-evaluating the relevance of the Scientific Method in my life. Clearly, this logical deductive process demonstrates overtones of dispassionate indifference to the relevance of my personal pleasure.  I’m feeling abandoned by science.

Gerard’s Blog: Just Off the Bloat

It’s late, and I’m not anywhere near ready for sleep.  Could have been the sugar.  Could have been the day’s dosing of several coffees.   Could have been the incessant gut rumbling and sense of bloating following the spree.

Let’s back up and start over.  I’m just back in Dawson after a 36-hour absence.  I had to dash to Whitehorse with my son for a couple of errands, and in my typical state of rush, “forgot” to take food.  So road food it was.  We avoided the deer, grouse and lynx, which were all seemingly offering themselves up to us, and decided to dine on commercial goods, which paradoxically in today’s world, might be deemed more “traditional” than the real meat of true road-kill.

So, here I am, wondering what to do with this bubbling bath of energy in the early morning hours.  And as I was clearing out the trash from the truck, I thought that some of you might be interested in a qualitative analysis of my brief dietary splurge.

First of all, I’d like to say that I am amazed by the volume of trash generated from food wrappers over this relatively short time:  there is a plastic grocery bag filled with wrappers, plastic and styrofoam.  This is more trash than our whole family has been generating over weeks on “the diet.”  Hmmm…

A search in this bag helps my recollection and tells the story.  There is a styrofoam cup that once held road coffee.  All in all, it was not a very satisfactory beginning to a  breach of caffeine absenteeism.   And of course, I knew better, but this experiment was not so much a deliberate act of temptation with the very best offerings that earth can present, as it was a simple indulgence in the type of foods that could easily be passed off as normal or acceptable daily intakes.  And sadly, every single subsequent coffee was disappointing, whether it was the “free coffee with gas” (which I now understand more fully the meaning), or the fill-ups with restaurant breakfast, or the bought coffee on the run.  Nothing to miss there…

There are more empty packages that once contained the likes of sweet chili Doritos, hickory sticks, an ice-cream bar, a “family pack” size of sushi, road-side popcorn, a milk shake and monster drinks.  We’d all have to agree that these choices are not quite consistent with the recommendations of the Canada Food Guide and that there is plenty of room there for dietary improvement, but the truth is that I could once eat this with impunity.

Not now.  I’ve been buzzing for the past day, and probably even through this medium, you can hear me.  I feel bloated and for the first time in awhile, no longer have that familiar emptiness in the tummy.  But, I do not feel satiated:  I feel thirsty, unsatisfied and strangely… hungry.

I think the hunger is simply a disguised craving for more strong flavors.  And that was the most striking observation.  The flavors were so overwhelmingly intense, whether that be salt or sweet or hot spice, and this intensity seemed to successfully sabotage my ability to differentiate between need and desire.  In a world where that is the benchmark, how does the subtlety and nuance of real and nutritious food stand a chance?  And how will we even begin to make gains on the obesity epidemic?

In the meantime, I’m really enjoying the simplicity of my hot cup of water right now and I look forward to the search for gentle and genuine flavors tomorrow.

Suzanne’s Blog: The Good News, Bad News Grain Story Conclusion

The combine at work harvesting fields of rye at Kokopellie Farms. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

I didn’t realize that the Good News, Bad News story of grain would end so quickly.

Shortly after posting my tale on Oct 23, I received a call from Kokopellie Farm.  More snow was in the forecast so Otto decided it was now or never for harvesting the rye and the Red Fife wheat.   And so the story continues:

After some serious labour with ropes, the wet snow was removed from most of the grain heads in the field. Unfortunately some of the grain was laying flat under the snow.  Fortunately some could be resurrected via pitch fork and muscle power.  Unfortunately some patches were already frozen to the grown and not harvestable.  Fortunately there was still a good section standing.  Unfortunately the wet stalks of the rye kept getting jammed in the combine requiring manual removal.  Fortunately Otto was able to do this without injury.  Unfortunately the engine of the combine broke down.  Fortunately Otto was able to fix it.  Unfortunately the combine engine kept breaking down.  Fortunately Otto never gives up and was able to get it going again each time and finish harvesting the rye.  Unfortunately it was getting close to dark, more snow was in the forecast and the wheat had not yet been harvested.  Fortunately, Otto discovered the final issue with the engine, repaired it and was able to harvest the wheat before darkness fell!   Yeah!!!

Many, many thanks to the tenacity, mechanical genius, ingenuity and hard work of Otto and Conny who were able to harvest the rye and wheat against all odds!  Now it dries (under shelter) and can eventually be ground into flour.

The last of the crops has now been harvested.  There is sourdough bread in my future.  Let it snow!

Success! Harvested rye grain in the hopper. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Singing the Storage Blues

By Miche Genest

Miche here.   In late October my household of two took delivery of a 35 lb box of local carrots, cabbage, beets and potatoes, part of a fundraiser for a local school. It was not an overwhelming amount, but it did bring up again one of our failures when we built our house in Whitehorse. We forgot to include a cold room.

The family home in downtown Toronto, where I grew up, had a cold room. It was a dank, dark, spidery kind of place, and it was, on one occasion, the lair of a roast beef dinner, stored temporarily during a power outage and then forgotten. The roast beef, peeled potatoes and sliced onions transformed over time into an awe-inspiring, slime-covered monster. (We brought our friends to see it until my mother found out. As I recall she threw the dinner away, roasting pan and all.)

But though not altogether welcoming the cold room did what it was supposed to do—it kept whole, unpeeled, raw root vegetables cool enough for long-term storage.

Now, in present-day Whitehorse, my household doesn’t stockpile local root vegetables because we don’t have a cold space, apart from the fridge.

Instead, we freeze, can, pickle, ferment, and go to the store to buy root vegetables that someone else has stored. Freezing, salting, drying, smoking, fermenting and canning are all technologies key to the long-term storage of food. But only cold storage preserves the vegetable raw, so you can eat a crunchy, home-grown carrot in January or grate a local beet into your coleslaw in mid-March.

Over the next while here at First We Eat, we’ll be exploring food storage ideas from across the north. Tell us: how do you keep your vegetables over the winter? Do you have a root cellar? Do you cover your carrots in sand? Do you wash them first or not? What do you do about cabbage?

In the meantime, I see a lot of kimchi in my future.

Suzanne’s Blog: Good News, Bad News – Grain Drain

Red Fife wheat plant topped with snow. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

I am often asked which food I miss the most.   I had expected it would be chocolate or caffeine (very strong black tea was my comfort drink).   Surprisingly it is neither.  What I miss most is grains: cookies, pies, bread, bagels, rice, pasta – these items that were once staples in our household are no more.  The potato is trying its best to fill the gap, but after 85 days without, grains are definitely missed.

It is not easy to grow grains in the far north, as our growing season is so short.   But it has been done.

I feel like Northern grain is a character in one of those ‘Good News, Bad News’ stories:

The good news is that in 2016, Otto at Kokopellie Farm had a successful crop of rye and barley that he was able to grind into flour.  The bad news is that I used up all I had last winter experimenting with wheat-free and salt-free sourdough bread recipes.

Fortunately Otto planted rye and barley again this year and it grew well.  Unfortunately, in August, a moose ate the barley.  Fortunately the moose didn’t eat the rye (because it was protected by a fence).  And the GREAT NEWS is that, unbeknownst to me, Otto had also planted Red Fife wheat and it grew well (and was protected by the fence)!

Unfortunately, the combine required to harvest the grain was stuck 550 km away in Whitehorse, waiting for a bridge on the North Klondike Highway to be repaired.  Fortunately the bridge repairs finished just in time for harvest season mid September.   Unfortunately, while hauling the combine to Dawson, the trailer had several flat tires which caused another week’s delay.  Fortunately, the combine did eventually make it to Dawson.

Unfortunately by the time the combine arrived in Dawson, it began raining and you can’t harvest grain when it is wet.  Fortunately there was a brief break in the weather in early October.  Unfortunately, there was no time to put the combine together because the root vegetables had to be harvested before the ground froze.  Fortunately grains can withstand frost.  Unfortunately, after all the vegetables were harvested it began to snow.  Fortunately dry snow can easily be knocked off the grain.  Unfortunately this snow was heavy and wet.  Fortunately the combine is now fully assembled and ready to go.  Unfortunately it is already October 23 and the wet, heavy snow remains on the grains.

There’s still a sheaf of hope that Kokopellie Farm’ field of snow-covered wheat can be hearvested. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Otto, a very pragmatic and optimistic farmer, still feels there is hope.   The wheat and rye are still standing. Some cold, clear weather might dry up the snow and make it possible to remove the snow from the grain so it can be combined, but time is running out.   I am not sure how this good-news, bad-news story is going to end. My moose anxiety resolved with a successful hunt.  Now I have grain anxiety.

Suzanne’s Blog: Fermentation Success Without Salt!

Mold formed on pickles made using whey (left) but not on those prepared using celery juice (right). Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

It worked!

I’ve been blogging this week about preserving and pickling without the use of salt or vinegar, as these ingredients are not locally produced in Dawson City. I had hoped to use rhubarb juice as a substitute for vinegar for pickling, but despite its low pH value, there was a chance it might not prevent botulism-carrying bacteria … definitely not worth the risk.

So, after some research and consultation, it was on to plan B, lacto-fermentation without salt,  which involved using celery juice or whey instead of a salt brine.  I prepared batches of sauerkraut, kimchi, and dill pickles, fermenting one jar with celery juice and another jar with whey.  No salt.

And it was a success! The fermentation with celery juice worked really well and is already starting to be flavourful.

The jars with whey are not quite as promising.  They seem to be developing mold quite quickly.  Although fermenters know this is not a big deal.  You just scoop it off as it grows.  A tough transition for someone who grew up being taught to throw out moldy food.  But, more importantly, the initial taste of the whey jars is not as great as the celery juice jars.

So —  salt- free sauerkraut and kimchi with celery juice coming up!

An interesting tip, thanks to the local fermenter Kim Melton – to help keep the pickles and veggies crisp add a black current leaf to the bottom of the jar.

Sauerkraut made with whey (left) formed mold on top but not so with a batch made using celery juice (right). Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Gerard’s Blog: Give Us This Day Our Daily Onion

It’s the rationing that will be my undoing.  All summer and fall there has been an abundance of harvest coming through the house.  And when working outside, a simple stroll through the garden yielded tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and the odd berry, which could satisfy those peckish moments enough to get a person through till the next meal.

Now, things are tightening up.  The other day, I was preparing a nice broiler of moose meat, lavishly garnished in onions and garlic, a decadent gesture in celebration of the successful hunt.  Suzanne strolled by, peeked over my shoulder, and did not deliver the expected awe in regards to my culinary efforts.  Instead, she took this as an opportunity for a discussion in realism and restraint.

She reminded me that we had limited stock for the winter, equivalent to “one medium-sized onion and one clove of garlic, a day.”  What we have is what we have.  Till summer.

I quickly realized that there is no room in that calculation for decadent delights.  And that’s when the fear started to crawl into my persona.  You see, my calculations suggest that we often have potato pancakes and scrambled eggs for breakfast, both accented with onions and/or garlic.  Naturally.  Then, a nice on-the-fly winter lunch could be canned moose meat fried up with a little…onion.  And/or garlic.  Something that could sustain a guy through the woodpile at 20 below.  And then there is the supper for a family with almost three teenagers.  That medium-sized onion is going to require some serious divine help.

And then there was last night.  As you know, Suzanne has been making birch syrup ice-cream fairly steadily recently, preparing for freeze-up which is the time when the cow becomes inaccessible.  So, last night she pulls out the ice-cream as a treat.  We all had some, and as a respectful gesture of appreciation for fine taste, I motioned for another round.  No luck.  That would deplete the stock.  What we have is what we have.  You can have today if you don’t mind being without tomorrow.

The problem I’m having is that I really care so much more about today than I do tomorrow.  We are talking ice-cream addiction here.  What has tomorrow got to do with anything?  Eat now.

You see, this is the kind of thing that comes naturally to Suzanne.  She enjoys calculated restraint.  Not everyone does.  She doesn’t know that.  It reminds me of a ten-day hike that she took me on years ago, before kids, when we walked the old Yukon Ditch from Dawson to Tombstone.  She took care of the logistics and food.  I had the simple job of lugging everything.  Every day, in fact every moment of every day, I was hungry.  Suzanne had “done the calculations,” but the tiny meal allocations and the meager desert allotments of “either one square of chocolate or this sliver of fruit cake,” were not making any impression on my constant state of starvation. It was not till we returned to the land of food and sustenance, and after realizing that we had each lost one to two pounds per day (!!), that a re-punching of the numbers revealed that the calculation was quite incorrect.  No kidding.

So, this whole experience is starting to feel that it could be a déjà-vu opportunity, a chance to test our mettle, and perhaps a chance even for Suzanne to brush up on her math…

Gerard’s Blog: A Sense of Loss

With no intentional self-indulgence, I have occasionally glanced at myself when walking by a mirror.  This simple act offers explanation as to why my pants are slipping over my hips and shirts that were once small seem to have stretched over the years of storage.  I’ve lost weight.  No denying it.  And I can’t say that this has been intentional, but rather, a direct consequence of “The Diet.”

But, let’s not refer to it as “the diet” anymore, since the word, diet, is in this modern time, suggestive of a concerted and deliberate effort to lose weight.  This has simply been a change in the way of eating, or more specifically, a change in the types of foods eaten.

I am always eating something, spurred on by an insatiable emptiness in my gut.  Carrots are my “go to” snack food, followed by yogurt, whey, cheese, and any leftovers that I can find in the fridge.  I eat eggs daily and in quantities that my body has never experienced.  There are fried potato cakes daily, and often sausage or bacon added to the breakfast menu.  Every evening we have meat or fish or pork, along with an accompaniment of assorted vegetables.  There is no shortage of food.

And the food is good.  The veggies taste great, just as they are.  The milk is decidedly sweet.  All the local protein is nourishing and seemingly endless in quantity.  And has anyone tried the dehydrated yogurt?  It is like sour candy—something unique, special, and quite pleasing to the palate.  And the other day, for my birthday, Suzanne pulled out an ice-cream cake, lathered with a birch syrup/cream concoction of sheer decadence.  That large platter went in one sitting.

But yet, the weight is falling off.  And the only disappointment of all this is the realization of the power of my delusion, the delusion that I was not over-burdened, that I was not harboring such flab, that my physical package of power was unchanged, just a little padded over these past years.  But the mirror and clothes are not lying; over the years my body has been relentlessly replacing muscle mass with fat. And for that revelation, I am grateful to “The Diet.”

Suzanne’s Blog: No Whey! Yes, Whey.
Fermentation Experimentation — Fermenting Without Salt

Kimchi, prepared with celery juice and whey. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Recap from yesterday’s blog: I have no local source of salt to help me preserve a year’s worth of food and rhubarb juice pickling is out.

What about lacto-fermentation? Fermentation is as old as humanity. Think beer, cheese, sauerkraut and kimchi.

Lacto-fermentation of vegetables, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, takes advantage of the naturally occurring good lactic acid bacteria on the surface of the vegetables, which helps transform the juice of the vegetable into an acid that essentially ‘pickles’ the veggies. There are lots of experts in lacto-fermentation in the Yukon including Kim Melton here in Dawson. I recently took a wonderful fermentation workshop by Kim at Yukon College. However, the fermentation of vegetables calls for a brine, made from salt. And I have no local salt.

Not to worry, the ingenuity of northerners prevails! Leslie Chapman, who spent many years living in the Yukon bush near Dawson, ferments without salt. She uses celery juice.

I also consulted Kim Melton’s copy of the fermenting bible, The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz, a very large book with a very small paragraph on fermenting vegetables without salt. It mentions the option of using a starter culture of whey.

I have celery. I have whey.

So I tried a new experiment. I made sauerkraut, kimchi, and dill pickles, fermenting one jar  with celery juice and another jar with whey. No salt.

Stay tuned and I’ll tell you how it goes.

Suzanne’s fermentation experiments include sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi, prepared with and without whey. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s Blog: Preservation Reservations – Pickling Without Vinegar

Sweet pickles with rhubarb juice and birch syrup. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

78 days in and I no longer miss salt!   I’m not sure when it happened.  There seems to have been a gradual and imperceptible change in my taste buds.  But it is a good thing, since I do not yet have a local source of salt to season my food.

However, salt has been used for generations as a preservative.  And this Fall, as I struggle to store a year’s worth of food, preservation has an entirely new meaning in my life.

Pickling and canning are a mainstay of preserving foods, but they require an acid — usually vinegar.  I have no vinegar.  I have no lemon juice.  I did discover that rhubarb juice is almost as acidic as white vinegar (with a pH somewhere between 3.0 and 4.0).  So I tried making sweet pickles with a brine of rhubarb juice, birch syrup and ground celery leaves.  No salt.  I was pretty pleased with the taste and quite proud of myself for finding a way to pickle without vinegar or salt.  I put my 4 jars of experimental pickles in the pantry.  Then, while researching more thoroughly, I discovered caution after caution about pickling or canning with homemade vinegars.  Apparently, with the variable pH of homemade vinegars, they can’t be relied upon to prevent botulism.  Great.  I imagine the headline: Family of Retired Physician Eating Local Dies of Botulism!  I immediately moved my 4 jars of sweet pickles from the pantry to the fridge and put them on the ‘to be eaten soon’ list.

 

So — rhubarb juice pickling is out.

Gerard’s Blog: Gone Yesterday, Hear Today

The noise, the noise, the noise!

Now that I brought them back to civilization, my ears are being assaulted.  There is the constant drone of our homemade dehydrator, working away at the tomatoes and celery leaf and meat. There is the whir of the fans that are drying our onions upstairs and the beets and herbs downstairs.  The stove burners are hissing away, concentrating tomato sauce.  The juicer is pulverizing celery and rhubarb into salt and vinegar substitutes.  The fridge and freezers are audibly straining to keep up with demand that comes with harvest time.  One kid is vigorously frothing hot milk for Suzanne, her new comfort drink to replace the Red Rose tea.  Another kid is making ice-cream…stocking up for freeze-up when the cows will be on the other side of the river and we will be rendered dairy-free.  Someone is scrubbing, banging and rattling the relentless supply of dirty dishes.  And, as if that is not enough, everyone is talking, despite the radio being on in full competition.  With their ears being that much more sensitive than mine, there is no wonder we don’t have any moose in our own backyard!

Dawson Sees First Snow of the Season

Sunflower plant covered in first snowfall of the season. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

This has been an usually warm fall in Dawson City, Yukon. Last week crocuses, our first wild flower of Spring, were seen sprouting on sun-exposed bluffs, and one gardener reported pea shoots sprouting in her garden.

This type of mild weather is certainly not what you’d expect in a town not far from the Arctic Circle. Traditionally, on Thanksgiving weekend Dawson receives a snowfall that stays on the ground. Well, as it turns out, despite the atypically warm fall, this year was no exception …

On October 10th, Dawson saw its first snowfall, and all indications are that the snow will be sticking around.

That means it’s time to get those hoses drained and put away for winter, and to pull the last of the veggies from the garden before the ground freezes hard next week.

As this snow-covered brussel sprout testifies, it’s time to pull the garden and prepare for winter. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Pumpkin Pie for Thanksgiving After All

Crustless pumpkin pie just out of the oven. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

We previously posted how Suzanne was having some angst about coming up with a local option for her family’s  traditional Thanksgiving favourite — pumpkin pie — with no grains available for crust and no traditional pumpkin pie spices.

Thanks to Miche Genest, Suzanne was able to adapt the Boreal Gourmet’s recipe for pumpkin pudding — to great success.

Here is Suzanne’s adapted recipe for Crustless Pumpkin Pie — Northern Style.

She tried Miche’s suggestion of using ground dry-roasted low bush cranberry leaves as a spice, but it didn’t work for Suzanne.

So, instead Suzanne tried two adaptations:
1. Birch syrup alone adds a delicious flavour with no extra spice needed.
2. For a spicier option add ground dried spruce tips, ground nasturtiam seed pod ‘pepper’  with the optional addition of ground dried labrador tea leaves.

Both were topped with a dollop of whipped cream.

The jury was split as to which variety was preferred, but both were devoured!

Note:  the cream, hand separated from the milk, was naturally sweet and needed no sweetener addition.  Interesting observation compared with store bought whipping cream.

Hint: To get hand-separated cream to whip, pour it into a bowl and let it chill in the freezer until it gets a thin frozen crust on top. Then whip.

Unfortunately for Sadie, she is NOT on the local diet. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s Blog: A Thanksgiving Message to Farmers

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Some of the Dawson Farmers contributing to Suzanne’s Thanksgiving Dinner

 

I received the ultimate compliment last week in the bank line up when a local farmer said to me “ Suzanne, you’re looking like a farmer these days!”

I looked down at myself.  I had worn both knees out of my jeans. My hands were rough.   Garden dirt was etched into the creases of my palms as well as a permanent fixture under my nails.  My ‘bush coat’, previously only worn during camping trips, had become my practical everyday wear.  And I felt a small surge of pride.

Over the past year, I have witnessed how hard farmers work.  For my part, mostly from the other end of a camera.  But I have experienced snippets of hands on work  (such as helping a farmer dig up 300 pounds of beets) and gleaned a new appreciation for the difference between gardening and farming.  Every day farmers are working hard outdoors from early morning till sunset (which during a Yukon summer, can be a very long day!)  On rainy and blustery days when I choose to stay indoors with a hot cup of tea, farmers are outdoors working.  When the blackflies are at their worst, farmers are out in their fields.  No such luxuries as a weekend off or a summer camping trip. I believe that farmers are one of the most undervalued segments of our society. No matter where we buy our food, it is the incredible hard work of farmers, invisible to most of us, that provide us with this necessity of life.

This past Thanksgiving weekend, as I sat down to share a turkey feast with family and friends, I felt especially thankful to farmers.   And I felt both privileged and humbled to know each farmer responsible for every single ingredient on our supper table.  Our turkey was thanks to Megan Waterman at Lastraw Ranch.  Our carrots and potatoes thanks to Lucy Vogt.  The milk and butter for our mashed potatoes thanks to Jen Sadlier at Klondike Valley Creamery.  The brussel sprouts thanks to Otto and Conny at Kokopellie Farm. The celery thanks to Becky Sadlier at Sun North Ventures. The onions thanks to the Derek and the students at Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Farm.    Our pumpkin pie thanks to Grant Dowdell’s pumpkin, Megan Waterman’s eggs, Jen Sadlier’s cream, and Sylvia Frisch and Berwyn Larson’s birch syrup.   A precious apple thanks to John Lenart at Klondike Valley Nursery.   And our low bush cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie spices thanks to the forest.

There are many, many folks who have helped me during our first 72 days of eating only local to Dawson City, be it the farmers who grow the majority of our food or the folks who have leant me garden space, shared some of their produce or shared their helpful advice.

Thanks to all and a very special thank you to farmers.

Gerard’s Blog: Cat-and-Moose Game Ends

Originally written on Oct. 5th in the bush during Gerard’s Hunt

Perseverance has brought me home.  Success on the hunt finally came after a grand finale of a day, with multiple sightings interspersed amongst the erratic transitions of nature from rain to wind to sun.

It was providential that I got this young bull.  Circumstances beyond my understanding brought him to me, giving room for ethereal musings, even awe.

It had started as another day of frustration: cow after cow.  The only visible reminder of this earth’s existence of bulls, were their telltale tracks.  And those tracks are seductively dangerous, for they lure one further and further into the land of impracticality, the places where one man alone should not shoot a moose.

This was just not working, so I blasted off to another region altogether, a little archipelago of islands, a little oasis off the big river.  Instantly, I saw a huge bull…much larger than I wanted or thought I could handle.  But, despite that, after him I went, exhibiting all the logic of manhood.  I tried sabotaging him from the back of the island.  I tried calling him out.  I tried motoring upstream, then quietly and unsuspectingly drifting back.  I gave it a rest and went elsewhere, saw another cow.

Then the weather turned nasty.  Rain and wind and a black sky were the harbingers of what was most certainly snow. As it was getting on in the day, this was incentive enough to seek shelter, set up camp, and brace myself for the storm.  Quite fortuitously, my search for ideal shelter steered me back in the neighborhood of the large bull sighting.

I called a little, while setting up camp.  I was surprised to hear the bull rustling and grunting in response, something new to this year’s experience.  So I sat in the moored boat, gave a grunt and watched the bull come running towards me.  But, it was not the large guy at all.  Rather, this bull was young, of manageable size and intent on walking close to the water’s edge.  He was clearly offering himself and I thanked him when he fell.

It wasn’t until the next afternoon that the work was done and I left for home with the dressed moose in the boat.  During the whole process, I couldn’t stop thinking about how fortunate I was that this guy showed up.  If I had shot that monster moose, there is a good chance that I’d still be there…

Gerard’s Blog: The Lull of the Wild

Back on the river, Gerard’s writing from Oct 4th:

I’m writing this using a carpenter’s pencil I found in my jacket; a subtle reminder of my unfinished shed project.  The paper is the unused margins of the 2017 Yukon Hunting Regulations booklet.  Don’t say I’m unprepared.

It’s a glorious afternoon to drift on the river.  For the moment, this is my new stealth tactic, after failing at motoring, tracking, climbing, spotting, calling and calling and calling. I feel that this will work.  Why wouldn’t it?  Everything else has only improved the lot of local moose, as they inch their way to the end of the hunting season.

It’s cold and a bit windy.  I do calisthetics to keep the monotony and chill at bay, something my father passed down from the generations of sailing and fishing in Newfoundland.

I saw two more cows this morning.  No sign of the bull after tracking for a couple of hours.  These are evasive creatures, capable of silently disappearing in the smallest droke of trees.  Amazing.

There was no trampolining mouse last night, nor were there owls.  In fact, other than the hopeful raven and eagle, the river is practically devoid of birds.  The rare Merganzer, no geese, two paired swans.  It’s late in the season, I’m guessing.  Maybe late for moose, even…  But, the land is big, capable of harboring a wide variety of hidden life.  I saw a small brown bear that seemed to be this year’s cub, yesterday.  No mother in sight.  This morning, I saw a large grizzly.

There is a wisp of orange on the tops of the cottonwood, and some willows are hanging on to their foliage, in stubborn denial of the season.  It’s a game of patience, this.  One swings from despondency to hope, simply by the sighting of a moose, or even a burst of sunshine through the grey overcast.  My mood is fickle.  Food might help.  I think I’ll try that thing called Tomme, which looks like a dairy derivative.  Maybe it’ll make my spirit soar.

Gerard’s Blog: An Equal and Opposite Inaction


Back on the river, Gerard’s writing from Oct 3rd:

This morning was full of no such thing as the expected action.   Instead, I was awaken by dueling grey horned owls, each trying to out-perform the other…  hoot-a-hoo, hoo-oo…

And peculiarly, in the night, I was perturbed by either a carnivorous or fun-loving mouse, who repeatedly attacked my tent. He would scramble up the side of the tent, only to slide down.  He did this repeatedly.  I consoled myself with thoughts that it  must be a joyful mouse, excited by the frosty canvas that was offering a moon-lit opportunity for pre-snow sliding.

Now, I’m sitting down to another breakfast of eggs and burger, washed down with mugs of boiled, delicious, silty water.  The owls and mouse have settled down for the day, just as mine is gearing up, demonstrating that this earth provides space for a living opportunity unique to all.

Gerard’s Blog: Big Game Games

Back on the river, Gerard’s writing from Oct 2nd:

Tonight I’m camped in a most unlikely location.  From that you might surmise that I’m hunting again.  On the river again.  It’s my third night, this stretch, and I’m not sure how long I’ll be out.

This is the first year that Suzanne was really interested (invested) in my success with getting a moose, so she essentially sent me packing.  Said, “there’s not much point in you coming back till you get a moose.”

So, out on this beautiful river I sit, drift and explore, suffering through a man’s duty or living the dream, depending on perspective.  And Suzanne was kind enough to throw a few things in the cooler.  Good thing, since grouse is off the menu after I realized I forgot the .22 bullets.  I’ve got a couple of packs of moose sausage, three dozen eggs, two packs of moose burger, something called Tomme, and a whole bunch of carrots and potatoes.  I’ve just finished my third consecutive supper of burger/ potato soup, and perhaps because of the paucity of options, each supper tasted better than the last.

I was thinking luck would be on my side, and I’d be eating fresh tenderloin and roasted rack of ribs all month, till I felt like ending the holiday, proclaiming that, “I just got him last night.” But, the way things are going, I might just be here for the winter and suffer a lingering slow death as I run out of food.

Sure, I’ve seen moose.  But no shots fired.  They’re skittish, grouping up, uninterested in my calls, running on sight so quickly that I haven’t even seen an antler.  No inquisitiveness in me at all, despite having a red boat.  I guess “seeing red” doesn’t mean the same to Yukon bulls as it does their Spanish relatives.

And what’s worse, is that moose seem to be fully versed in the general regulations about hours of operation.  This morning, a cow and (possible?) bull presented themselves in the early dawn, too soon for certain identification.  Tonight, two cows and another possible bull, provided me with a tantalizing glimpse just at dusk.

Which is why I am camped here.  Right across the slough from that last sighting, on a steep bank, back-dropped by a grassy viewing slope, and just enough “flat” ground for my small tent’s footprint.  I’m so close to the boat, I might as well have slept in it.  An unknowing observer might think that I’ve deliberately parked the boat this way as a safety, such that if I was to roll off this precipice in the night, I would land in the boat and be saved from a chilly, wet drowning.  They would not know that this sight was not so much chosen as provided. Tomorrow there will be action.

Suzanne Blogs: As Quiet as a Moose

I have been suffering from moose anxiety.  I suspect this might be a diagnosis particular to northern Canadians, with variations such as caribou anxiety and seal anxiety depending in which part of the North you call home.

Every October when the first snow falls, I look out at a woodshed full of wood and a freezer full of moose meat and feel the tremendous comfort of knowing that, come what may, we will have heat and food through the winter.  “It’s like money in the bank”.

This year is different.  This, the year we are eating only food local to Dawson City.  The name ‘Murphy’ comes to mind.

Gerard has been hunting for almost 2 weeks and had yet to even see a bull moose.  Very unusual.  Lots of tracks, but no moose.  Unfortunately, you can’t eat tracks.

It has been a surprisingly warm Fall this year in the Yukon.  Perhaps the bull moose are waiting for colder weather before going into full rut.  Whatever the reason, they have not been interested in the call of a pseudo-cow (i.e. Gerard).  Perhaps he should have shaved.

On Oct 1st, after re-stocking his food (3 dozen local eggs, 2 pounds of local cheese, 20 pounds of local carrots, 10 pounds of local potatoes and the remnants of last year’s moose — 3 pounds of moose burger and 15 moose sausages), Gerard headed out on the river again for one last hunt.   I’m sure I had given him the strong impression that he was not to come home again until he had a moose.   But as the days passed this week, I began hoping that he wasn’t taking that literally.  He is hunting alone.

And then, late last night, the phone rang.

It was a call from a satellite phone. And it was Gerard’s voice at the other end of the line. He was still alive. And one bull moose wasn’t. Phew! A relief on both accounts.

It has not just been the moose that have been affected by the weather this year in Dawson. A late frost in mid June seemed to have destroyed many of the wild berry blossoms resulting in an unusually poor year for wild berries.  A very dry summer affected the wild mushrooms such that mushroom foragers have been scratching their heads to find any at all – worst year for wild mushrooms in 25 years!

It is another poignant reminder on our dependence on the forces of nature. And the importance of diversity (if not moose, at least we have some local chicken and local pork in our freezer). And the importance of community. Despite the slim pickings, Dawsonites have been generously sharing their precious supply of berries with us this year and I am sure that if this was to be Gerard’s first ever unsuccessful moose hunt, those who had more luck would have been sharing their moose as well.

Moose anxiety has now been lifted.   Mähsi Cho Jejik. And thank you Gerard.

 

Tom Thumb Grows Up … But Not Yet Ready for Prime Time

An ear of Tom Thumb corn. You can see why they call it “Tom Thumb.” Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

We previously posted how Grant Dowdell and Karen Digby were attempting to grow popping corn for Suzanne on Grant’s Island, located about 10 km upstream from Dawson in the Yukon River.

Grant has tried many varieties of corn in the past and the only one consistently successful has been EarliVee sweet corn  (See Grant’s Seed Guide) which takes around 70 days to reach maturity.)

This year, however, he agreed to give the Tom Thumb variety of corn a try, since it has a short growing season (only 60 days to maturity). He used seeds from Heritage Harvest Seeds.

Tess at work in the popcorn field. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Things looked iffy when a hungry moose visited Grant’s Island and pulled up the crop early in the season but Karen popped them back in the ground and they grew!

Recently Suzanne and family harvested the plants, hoping for a favourite family treat to accompany their movie watching. Unfortunately, first attempts at popping have been unsuccessful. Suzanne’s not sure if the kernels are not dry enough — or perhaps they’re too dry.  She will keep experimenting, but any suggestions are very welcome. If anyone has grown and successfully popped their own popcorn, let us know.

Ears of popping corn hung up to dry. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

A Pile of Pumpkins for Thanksgiving

Pumpkin growing on Grant’s Island. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Thanksgiving weekend is coming up. For Suzanne and family. a favourite Thanksgiving treat is pumpkin pie.  Now, Suzanne does have 91 pie pumpkins in storage for the winter!  Thanks to Grant Dowdell who grows great pumpkins on his Island about 10 km upstream from Dawson on the Yukon River.  Grant has had great success with the Jack Sprat variety of pie pumpkin (check out Grant Dowdell and Karen Digby’s Seed Guide). Grant finds they have the best storage capacity of all the squash, storing well into May.

So, although Suzanne has no grains for a crust, she certainly has the pumpkins — as well as cream for whipping, eggs, and birch syrup for a sweetener.  But she has no pumpkin pie spices such as  cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, or allspice.  So what to do?  Could she use dried and ground spruce tips or Labrador tea?

First We Eat collaborator Miche Genest has a great pumpkin custard recipe for Suzanne. Miche has suggested adapting it using cream instead of evaporated milk. plus birch syrup to taste instead of sugar, and adding an extra egg. For spices, Miche suggests dry-roasting low bush cranberry leaves in a frying pan, then grinding and adding those. Suzanne will give it a try and report back on the results.

If you have any suggestions for alternative pumpkin desert recipe, or a northern local alternative to pumpkin pie spices, let us know!

Pumpkins and corn in storage. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Buckwheat Provides A Grain of Hope for Suzanne

Buckwheat ready for harvest. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

It’s been 65 days since Suzanne started eating locally, which means it’s also been that long since she’s had any grains! But there’s a glimmer of hope on that front, thanks to some buckwheat that was grown in Dawson this year by Stephanie Williams and Mike Penrose. They planted it as a cover crop for their yard and it grew quite well in our northern climate.

Suzanne has harvested the buckwheat groats. Now, if she can just figure out how to thresh them by hand she will try cooking it.  (If anyone has experience with hand threshing, suggestions are welcome. Just contact us.)

Despite the name, buckwheat is not related to wheat, as it is not a grass. (It’s actually related to sorrel and rhubarb). It is one of the so-called ancient grains, having been first cultivated around 6,000 BCE.

Porridge made from buckwheat groats, known as kasha,  is often considered the definitive Eastern European peasant dish. The dish was brought to North America by Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish immigrants who also mixed it with pasta or used it as a filling for cabbage rolls, knishes, and blintzes.

If you have any recipes made with buckwheat groats that Suzanne can use, we welcome your submissions.

Early-Buckwheat
Buckwheat-flowering

Buckwheat early after planting (left) and when flowering. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Hey, Who Doesn’t Love Fresh Vegetables?

Tracks of moose marauding through the vegetable gardens of Henderson Corner. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Moose were spotted having a garden vegetable buffet in Henderson Corner, near Dawson City, last week.

Bites were taken out of cabbage, the tops eaten off of kohlrabi, beets, romanesco, and broccoli, and some beets plucked out of the soil. The tracks told the tale of the culprits responsible.

Seems like a mama moose  and her offspring were craving some fresh greens — and backyard gardens in Henderson Corner were ripe for the picking.

kohlrabi-moose-eaten
romanesco-with-moose-bite-out-of-it

Munching moose leave their mark. Top eaten off of a kohlrabi plant (left) and a romanesco (right) with a big bite taken out of it. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Gerard’s Blog: Old Man River Can Be a Real Son of a Gun


At 3:30 p.m. today I flung my rifle into the river.  This was immediately followed by my body.  This, like most of life, was more circumstance than deliberation.

I was feeling rather sprightly and adept, much like I would have felt after shooting a moose 20 or 30 years ago.  But sadly, today there was a great absence of moose.  And I am no longer as footsure as I was 20 or 30 years ago.

I had untied the boat, coiling up the painter as I approached it.  As the current was strong, I had to quicken my pace towards the bank, taking that fateful (non-sprightly) leap onto the deck.  The landing didn’t go so well, and in an effort to save myself, I inadvertently flung the rifle off my shoulder and into the river.  Stupidly, my reaction was to plunge an arm in after it, thinking I suppose, that the rifle might be floating there, awaiting a rescuing hand.  There was nothing for it but to jump in after it.

Thankfully, the water was only about 2 feet deep.  I groped at the bottom and found no rifle.  But the boat!  It was adrift and even more of a priority than my trusty old 30-06.  So, I floundered after the boat, grabbed the painter, tied her off, then retraced my steps upriver, in the water.

Now, over the years this family has lost a thing or two in the silty and opaque waters of the Yukon River.  Once I dropped the fuel cap for my boat in 2 feet of water.  I spent a good hour scouring the riverbed to no avail.  One of my daughters was momentarily distracted while washing some mud off her shirt, only to turn around and find it gone.  Another daughter lost a pair of pants the same way.  The river gobbles things up and doesn’t spit them back.

Those were my thoughts as I rummaged around in this grey, swirling milk.  I wondered how the pull of the 5-knot current might affect a rifle, whether things tend to get dragged to the deep or slide straight downstream.  I worried about kicking it deeper, felt it best to start downstream and deeper, working towards the estimated  point of entry.  And I worried that whatever the effect the river was going to have on the rifle, it was going to compound with time.

After only a couple of minutes of frantic dredging, my hand blindly seized the precious tool!  Not this time, Mr. River, not this time!

Chum Succeeds King as Ruler of the River

Local fisherman and conservationist Sebastian Jones with a Chum salmon. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

A Dawson fall tradition — and food staple — continues as the annual Chum salmon run is in full swing in the Yukon River. Out on the river, several commercial fisherman are catching Chum to help fill the freezers of Dawsonites.

There was a time when Chum salmon used to be known as ‘dog fish.’ This was when the King salmon (also known as Chinook salmon)  were running in such great numbers that Chum was reserved for dog food.  This is no longer the case. The King salmon population has declined significantly and  eight years ago a moratorium on fishing of species was put into place, and there has been no commercial King salmon fishing in Dawson since then.

The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, who have traditional rights to the harvest, also voluntarily stopped subsistence fishing for King salmon in 2014 for a seven-year period,  in hopes that by then the King salmon population will have revitalized.

Dawsonites keep hope of a renewed King Salmon run someday.  In the meantime,  chum has become a staple in a local Dawson diet.  Suzanne especially enjoys it marinated in birch syrup and smoked or poached in the oven with onions and rhubarb juice.

Gerard’s Blog: Of Moose and Man


Isn’t it funny that some behavior patterns don’t change?  Like for instance, I always eat the non-yoked half of a boiled egg first.  That’s what comes to me as I sit on a log, eating one boiled egg after another, awaiting the furtive moose that I’ve been calling since yesterday.

Why sit?  Go after him, you might say.  Well, yes that’s one way.  Hunters have choices and I’ve tried that.  You see, yesterday I found this place: fresh tracks, wide open shooting ranges, unobstructed views in three directions.  No wind.  Quiet!  Beautiful conglomeration of willows, water, gravel and sand.  No mud!  It’s the place where I want to shoot a moose.  Unfortunately, it seems that it is not a place where a moose wants to die.

Yesterday, I called and called here, sat in disbelief that the moose wouldn’t expose himself in this perfect spot.  I examined the empty tracks, tracks of yesterday’s  history making, hoping they would fill with moose before my very eyes.  Disillusioned, I finally left.

In spite, I decided that it would be fitting retribution to the unslaughtered moose if I went for a “drive-by”… cruise the river, check out a few other spots with hopeful sign.  Did that, no luck.   Just loneliness and hopelessness.  And because there was no better place to field dress a moose and load my boat alone, I came back before dark, set up camp, roasted three moose sausages on a stick (no dishes!), called and called, and was asleep by 10pm, knowing that Mr. Moose would awaken me in the morning.

To my dismay, he did not. I called some more, scanned till my eyes crossed, then started the fire.  As I was boiling the eggs I thought, how convenient:  hot water to drink, hot water to wash up with, hot water to boil eggs, and no dishes!  Genius at work.

But now, the eggs are gone and it appears that the moose has also.  I pack up, drink some hot water, decide that there is no point in wetting my face with the water when the rain and tears of the day will do that anyway.  So I toss the water and head to the boat.  I’ll search for the moose of circumstance, interrupted by a man of circumstance.  You can’t linger over tracks.  Tracks are a euphemism for life: you can’t dwell on the past.  Time to move on and try something new.  The next time I boil an egg, I’ll eat the yoke first.

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Fall Harvest Culture Camp Celebrates a Timeless Tradition

(Clockwise from top left) Natasha Ayoub and Debbie Nagano cleaning a moose head. Leigh Joseph gives a tea blending workshop. Angie Joseph Rear cleaning a grouse. R.J. Nagano smoking chum salmon. Photos by Tess Crocker.

This past weekend the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation held their Fall Harvest Culture Camp at Forty Mile. This is an annual event where traditional knowledge is shared with youth and adults.

Forty Mile is  77 km down the Yukon river from Dawson City at the confluence of the Yukon and Fortymile Rivers. It is known as the oldest town in the Yukon, but  was largely abandoned during the Klondike Gold Rush. The location is currently a historic site co-owned and co-managed by Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the Government of Yukon.

Forty Mile has a much longer history, however, as a harvest area used by First Nations for generations. This location was one of the major fall river-crossing points of the Fortymile caribou herd. Hunters would intercept the herd here as it crossed the Yukon River. In spring and summer, it was the site of an important Arctic grayling and salmon fishery.

The Fall Harvest Culture Camp saw harvesting of moose, chum salmon, and grouse, as well as wild plants and berries from the forest.  It was a successful harvest, taking place in a beautiful and peaceful location, and overall a wonderful weekend.

Gerard’s Blog: The Cauliflower Hour is Upon Us


What a fun-filled evening!  It was Suzanne’s idea, not mine.  She suggested, since the last couple of cauliflower-processing family marathons did not really result in happiness all around, that I should do it alone tonight.  Perhaps she had nothing but benevolence as her motive, thinking that the multi-tasking exercise would help keep my looming dementia at bay.  Perhaps she just wanted to affirm how advanced my decline might be.  A test, in other words.

Her cited reason for me “putting away” the cauliflower was almost as transparent as the family’s need for a dough-substitute.  She simply stated that everyone else was busy,  what with the two oldest tackling the ubiquitous mound of dishes, the youngest shaking her innards to the point of potential harm in an effort to produce butter, and Suzanne boiling down two pots of tomatoes and juicing up celery for God knows what.  That left me with free hands.

So, I clear some working room and get to it. Chop some cauliflower, blanch it in the steamer (“for precisely four minutes” — ha!), cool it in a basin of cold water, place it in the blender, transfer it into a cheese-cloth, squeeze out the liquid (“save that for soup stock or as a nice hot drink”), transfer the paste into zip-lock bags, remove the air, seal, label and date, freeze.  Repeat.  And repeat.

But what happens is that some stages take longer than others, so in the name of efficiency, new batches are started, until eventually all stages end up going simultaneously. There is nothing more to it than moving the body around the stations, using the mind to keep track of those “precise four minutes” and, well, using the mind.

It wasn’t long before the unattended blender started producing unusual whining sounds, and the cold immersion bath was hot, and the “precise four minutes” became anytime really, and the squeezing station was backing up.  Then someone said, “Is something burning?”

Putting away food is a peculiar activity, possibly designed by the desperate, or by those who are into the aesthetics of touch and texture.  When all was done, the counters (and floor) cleared off, the blender and cheese-cloth cleaned and rinsed, the black charcoal scraped and scrubbed off the previously perfectly functional steamer, I had a reflective opportunity while cradling my hot cup of cauliflower drippings and the five little baggies of dough.

Earlier in the day, I had put the tin on my shed roof.  I had also repaired my boat and test-driven it. But tonight, following a similar investment of time as those earlier endeavors, I processed enough cauliflower that we could have five whole pizzas! Makes you wonder why I don’t spend more time in the kitchen …

Moose a Yukon Food Staple

A bull moose in the wild. The Yukon has over 70,000 moose — twice the number of humans. Photo by Cathie Archbould.

Here in the Yukon, and throughout much of the North, it’s moose hunting season.

Moose is a staple for many Yukoners.  One moose can feed two families for a year.  Plus, since the animal has lived a good life feeding in the wild, moose meat is a lean and healthy source of protein.

Many Northerners rely on a freezer full of wild meat, such as moose, fish, seal and caribou to feed their families rather than relying on grocery store meat that travels a great distance to reach us.

In the Yukon, there are approximately 70,000 moose — that’s twice the human population of the territory. Hunts are carefully managed, with limits set on each region. Unless a limited number of special tags are issued by the government for hunting cows, only the bulls are harvested in the Yukon.

As Northerners we are acutely aware of where our wild meat comes from and we value the land and the animals that provide it.  Mähsi Cho Jejik.  (Thank you moose in the Hän language).

 

The bounty from a successful moose hunt. One moose can feed two families for a year. Photo by Cathie Archbould.

Gerard’s Blog: Breakfast is the Most Impertinent Meal of the Day


Breakfast today was beyond definition.  It was a three-way compilation, which, as a word of warning, can happen when a man is left alone in the kitchen, bleary-eyed and hungry.

It started with the simple observation that there was a pot of leftovers obscuring all else in the refrigerator.  Removal of said pot revealed a container of cooked cabbage.   Digging deeper revealed the eggs, as well as other containers harboring mysterious concoctions.

Creativity is like that.  Some of the greatest inventions are crafted from the aggregation of necessity with available resources.  And of course, blind optimism helps.

When all things were stirred together, mixed with “local” boar fat, made into little patties, and fried up on the grill, it was surprising to me that the neighbors were not lining up with their plates and utensils in hand!  And the memory will be forever embellished by the fact that this recipe will not be replicated by any, except possibly the very brave, or the blind.

Addendum by Suzanne:

I asked Gerard this morning what the ingredients were in his “pancake” creation.  He was elusive. It was then that I noticed that the vase of wilted and forgotten flowers was missing.  Hmmm.  I may never know.   But at least they were all edible flowers.