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 Kokopelli 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.