Suzanne’s Blog: My First Moose Hunt

I have just returned from my first ever moose hunt.

Never before have I been even remotely inclined to take part in the annual moose hunt that has provided meat for our family year after year.   But something has changed in me.  I have transformed from the woman who didn’t like handling meat and couldn’t even manage to successfully roast a chicken.

Spending the past year connecting with my food has been revolutionary for me.  I have spent time with the chickens and pigs during their life on the farm. And I have been there during their quick and stress-free harvest.  I have been there as salmon are pulled from the river, as rabbits are snared, and caribou are harvested. I have witnessed the care and respect the farmers show their livestock both during their life and at the time of their dispatch.  I have participated in the transformation from animal to the cuts of meat that are neatly packaged for us, disconnecting us from their original form. And after a year of wasting no morsel of precious food, I have learned that there are many more parts of the animal that are edible beyond the steaks and roasts.  Animal-based protein is essential to food security in the North.  The alternatives just don’t grow here.

This year, as moose hunting season approached, I had a great desire to make a similar connection with the moose that year after year provides the staple meat for our family.  So I volunteered to accompany Gerard on his week-long, river based moose hunt.

I now have a new respect for the moose hunt.  It’s not as simple as I thought it was —  Gerard going for a week long camping trip with the guys and coming home with a year’s worth of meat.  In fact it’s amazing to me that anyone ever gets a moose at all!

First of all you have to actually see a moose.  There are more moose than people in the Yukon, but with a territory larger than California and only 35,000 people, there is a lot of wilderness for those 65,000 moose to wander through.  It’s not like 65,000 moose are standing on the river bank just waiting to feed your family.

The moose along the river were not coming to the call, so luring them out of the wilderness was not an option.

If you are lucky enough to see a moose, then you have to be close enough to determine whether it is a cow moose or a bull moose.  Only bull moose can be hunted in the Yukon.

And it is amazing how a 1000-pound animal can simply vanish into the willows completely silently.  Whereas I, a 130 pound woman, can’t seem to step into the forest without snapping branches under my feet.

If you are lucky enough to see a bull moose that waits by the river bank long enough for you to be in range to take a shot, you’ve got just a couple of seconds to shoot before he bolts.  Add one more challenge:  you are shooting from a moving boat in a river with a 6-knot current.

Seven days we searched and called – the majority of which we saw zero moose and zero fresh tracks.

In the end I find it best to consider our week on the river a moose conservation trip. All points for the moose.  Zero points for us.  Plus one forest fire staunched (more on this in the next post).

We stayed on the river until the boat’s steering cable froze up from the cold weather and then reluctantly came home.  For the first time ever, there will be no moose in our freezer.  But we do have lots of local pork, chicken, turkey, and chum salmon, so we will be okay.  And Gerard now has his sights on February’s buffalo season.

All I can say is, thank goodness it’s not last year!  And well done moose!

 

 

 

 

 

Farming, Fishing, and Foraging Keys to Iceland’s Food Security

Farms in Iceland tend to be small, family-run operations.

Geographically, historically, and culturally, Iceland is unique. Nevertheless, this island country located just below the Arctic Circle has many lessons to offer in Northern food security, striving for balance between self-sufficiency and sustainability.

Not surprisingly, in the government’s own words, “the fishing industry is one of the main pillars of the Icelandic economy.” A responsible, sustainable fishery is official policy, and includes a structured fisheries management system, including catch limits and ongoing stock assessments.

Iceland’s government strives to maintain a responsible and sustainable fishing industry.

Arable land is limited in Iceland (less than 1 per cent). The island’s volcanic soils are thin and much of the interior is covered by lava fields, mountains, and glaciers.  But while only a tiny fraction of the land is therefore under cultivation, a preference for and tradition of locally-obtained food means the produce from farms (which are generally small and family-run) finds a ready market. Not only are there hearty vegetables like potatoes, turnips, carrots, kale, cabbage, and rhubarb, but thanks to an abundance of geothermal energy, a cornucopia of greenhouse crops, including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers – and even bananas.  Although less than 10 percent of Icelandic farms are certified organic, most conventional farms do not use pesticides either, since there are few crop-devouring insects to contend with on the island.

Iceland’s main agricultural activity is sheep ranching, with island sheep far outnumbering human inhabitants.  Government regulations mandate that the sheep spend their summers outdoors, requiring them to be freely grazing for a minimum of two months. Dairy farming also flourishes, thanks in part to strict breeding regulations that serve to keep the 1,000-year-old Icelandic cow breed free of disease. More importantly, a farmer-owned co-operative – MS Dairies – collects 98 per cent  of the milk produced in the country, and helps to ensure sustainable prices for the dairy farmers. The co-op is also fostering an export industry for Skyr, Iceland’s unique yogurt-like dairy product.

A farmer-owned dairy co-op buys 98 per cent of the milk produced in Iceland.

A relative newcomer to the food scene is foraging, brought about in part by Iceland’s recent financial crisis, but also spurred by a growing interest in natural foods. There are two types of foraging activities in Iceland – land and seaside. Surrounded by pristine waters, the island’s beaches are a bounty of edible offerings, including mussels, clams, seagull eggs (which many consider superior to chicken eggs), and also kelp and seaweed.  Moving inland, the best time for foraging plants in Iceland is during the short summer, basically late May to late July, when berries (blueberries and crowberries are common) and wild herbs abound. But the most popular foraged food is mushrooms. It is estimated Iceland has over 100 varieties of edible fungi.

Foraging in Iceland takes place on the beach as well as in the countryside – and even the cities –  and is gaining in popularity.

In fact, foraging in Iceland has not only become  common, but trendy too, popularized in part by a new generation of local chefs who feature wild, local ingredients. Iceland’s foremost restaurant, Dill, (its first and only Michelin-starred eatery), highlights foraged offerings, several of them actually obtained within the city limits of the capital Reykjavik itself. Looking to the future, the government is moving to set aside wilderness areas specifically for foraging.

Admittedly, Iceland’s current focus on sustainability was borne from hard lessons. At the time of the Viking settlement (1150 years ago), around a third of the island  was covered with trees. Human expansion resulted in rampant deforestation, and sheep grazing inhibited regeneration. Over 95 per cent of the original forest cover is gone, so, not surprisingly, today Icelanders are careful to maintain an ecological balance, with tight government regulations and policies on land use and agricultural practices, as well as sustainable fishing.

 

Suzanne’s Blog:  Odd Bits or Special Bits?

Imagine it’s your turn to cook supper.  And this is what the larder holds: pigs lungs, heart, liver, cheeks, feet, a tail, two ears, jowls, lacey caul fat that was once connected to the intestine, pork belly, beef tongue and several litres of pigs blood.  All from Yukon raised pork and beef.  Odd bits or special bits?

This was the challenge that four adventuresome Whitehorse chefs faced.  Each had drawn three random ‘odd bits’ to turn into delicious appetizers for sixty paying customers.  They did not disappoint!

Photos by Walter Streit and Suzanne Crocker

I have just returned from three fantastic days at Food Talks in Whitehorse, Yukon celebrating local food and hosted by the Growers of Organic Food Yukon (or GoOFY, as they are affectionately known.)

The theme of Food Talks was “All the Bits” – reminding us to value every morsel of our food and to waste less.  Especially when it comes to meat.  Using all parts of the animals we harvest, from head to tail to hoof, is a concept that is not unfamiliar in many cultures past and present.  Beyond making nutritional and economic sense, it also offers both gratitude and respect for the animal’s sacrifice to nourish us.

Special guest, renowned chef and cookbook author, Jennifer McLagan, travelled from Toronto to attend Food Talks and address the guests.

Jennifer reminds us that what we now call the ‘odd bits’, and often toss in the scrap pile, were once the prized bits – parts of the animal that are packed with both nutrition and taste. Why are we more squeamish about eating heart than we are about eating rump roast – both being working muscles?  Bone marrow is packed with iron.  Blood can be substituted for egg.  Jennifer says the combination of blood and milk is the perfect food – containing all the amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that we require.

I had a taste of the ‘perfect food’ at the Odd Bits Tasting Event when chef Jason McRobb created a delicious chocolate blood pudding desert topped with whipped cream, candied blood orange peel and a strip of cinnamon-sugar-roasted pig skin.  It was an inspiration to me to start experimenting with the many ways to cook with blood beyond blood sausage.

Even if you are feeling squeamish at the thought of eating the unfamiliar, you would have found yourself drooling at the Odd Bits Tasting Event.  The flavour combinations were out of this world!  Four amazing chefs, Eglé Zalodkas- Barnes, Karina LaPointe, Jason McRobb and Micheal Roberts served up tastes such as lung dumplings, breaded sweet breads with aioli sauce, pigs’ feet sweet and sour soup, pork belly on a rhubarb compote, honey glazed pig skin, beef tongue tacos… just to name a few.  I tried everything and if I was blessed with more than one stomach I would have returned for seconds of it all!

I have eaten many ‘odd bits’ during the past year of eating local to Dawson. Stuffed moose heart is one of my family’s favourite meals.  But I am now inspired to expand even further.  The pig harvest and the moose hunt are coming soon and I will be ready to gather and make use of even more parts of the animal than before.  (Hard to believe I was once vegetarian.)

If you need some tips or inspiration, check out Jennifer McLagan’s books: Odd Bits, Bones and Fat and be prepared to be inspired!

Not Your Typical English Country Garden

Sister Island, a 42-acre property located just a couple of kilometers down river from Dawson City, has a long tradition of growing. Given to the Sisters of St. Ann in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the nuns used the island to grow vegetables famous for their quality, and raised cows, chickens and pigs to feed a hospital and orphanage in Dawson.

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Sister Island has a long-standing reputation for growing great veggies. Photo by Lou Tyacke.

The island was purchased a few years ago by Lou Tyacke and Gary Masters, and the couple are keeping the island’s growing tradition very much alive. Visitors are also able to come and stay on the island.

Lou and Gary are originally from the U.K., and while the sub-arctic climate and short growing season they deal with is about as un-English as you can get, they are  trying some new cultivars and livestock not typical to the Klondike. Among the fowl they are raising are some species more common to the British Isles than the Yukon. This year they are raising  quail, pheasant, and heritage chicks as well.

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Lou and Gary are trying some exotic species more familiar to the U.K. like quail, pheasant, and heritage chicks. Photo by Lou Tyacke.

A Tamworth Pig enjoying its mud bath. Photo by Lou Tyacke.

There are also Tamworth pigs, a well-known species in the U.K. The animals seem well-adapted to their home, and when they are not chasing the farmers’ quad, love to take mud baths.

Lou and Gary have been growing turnips to help feed the pigs, but they are growing so well, the farmers are thinking they’ll be keeping some of the vegetables for themselves.

Turnips were meant for pig feed but some of them are finding their way into the farmers’ pot too. Photo by Lou Tyacke.

> Check out the Sister Island Facebook page

 

Suzanne’s  Blog: Vadzaih Choo Drin, Caribou Days, in Old Crow

Caribou near the Firth River in Northern Yukon. Photo by Cathie Archbould, Archbould Photography.

As part of the Dawson Youth Fiddlers entourage, I have just returned from Vadzaih Choo Drin, Caribou Days, in Old Crow, Yukon – four days of celebrating the Spring migration of the Porcupine Caribou Herd en route to their Northern calving grounds and feasting on food from the land!

Rabbit being prepared for the Caribou Days Festival in Old Crow, Yukon. Beaver, muskrat, whitefish, salmon, and, of course, caribou, were also on the menu. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Caribou Days is a wonderful four day celebration of feasts, games and music, with jigging and dancing that continue to the wee hours of the morning.   Everyone takes part, young and old, men and women.  One of the Dawson contingent coined a new slogan for Old Crow: “Old Crow – where men dance!”

Dawson Youth Fiddlers performing at the Caribou Days Festival in Old Crow, Yukon. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Much of the feasting celebrates food from the land.  The caribou, vadzaih, features front and centre, but also rabbit, muskrat, whitefish, salmon, duck and beaver.  For me, it was my first taste of muskrat!  (Although I took my tub of Dawson local food with me, I also treated myself to some tastes of local Old Crow food while I was in Old Crow!)

There is a wonderful synergism to the games and feasting at Caribou Days.   The log sawing competition and the kindling competition help keep the outdoor fire going for the huge grill that cooks the food from the land.  The rabbit skinning contest and the muskrat skinning contest are perfectly timed before the meat hits the grill!

  • Muskrat meat ready for the grill, and fur ready for use. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

The caribou are vitally important to the Vuntut Gwitchin who have relied on the caribou for tens of thousands of years for food and for clothing.  All parts of the harvested caribou continue to be used from the head to the hoof to the hide.  The Vuntut Gwitchin and the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, with the support of many Canadians and Americans, continue to fight for the protection of the Porcupine Caribou Herd’s calving grounds, wintering grounds and migration routes from oil and gas exploration.

Massi Cho Old Crow for welcoming the Dawson Youth Fiddlers so warmly to Caribou Days with amazing Old Crow hospitality.  We had a fantastic time!

> Read more about the Porcupine Caribou Herd

 

Local Dairy Products for Sale in Dawson

Local Klondike Valley Creamery products on sale at the Dawson City General Store. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

It’s something Dawson City hasn’t seen since the 1930’s — local dairy products for sale. Klondike Valley Creamery, a dairy farm in Rock Creek, on the far side of the Klondike River, has been raising the first dairy cows the region has seen in almost 80 years.  And now the Creamery’s first dairy products have just arrived on grocery store shelves in Dawson.

Products for sale at  the Dawson City General Store include  a delicious onion-and-dill cheese spread and, for those with a sweet tooth, Mocha Labneh — the nutella of dairy products. Each container is labelled with the names of the cows who donated their milk for the cause!
The Creamery is planning to have  more local Dawson dairy products after this year’s river break-up.

Then and Now

Betty St. Jean (née Fournier) and a dairy calf in Dawson City in the 1930’s. Courtesy of Betty St. Jean
Loren and Jen Sadlier with Duchess and Lilly. Photo by Cathie Archbould

The New Lambs of Spring

Video by Peter Dunbar

Welcome, nine new lambs to Peter Dunbar’s sheep herd, on the banks of the Yukon River, about 5 kilometers downstream from Dawson City. There were two sets of triplets, one set of twins and one singleton.

It is still cold in the Yukon so the newborns get sweaters to help keep them warm for their first few days of life.

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Photos by Peter Dunbar

There’s a Lot of Eggs in that Basket!

By Miche Genest

Mandalay Farm chickens.

Alan and Cathy Stannard of Mandalay Farm have been raising free-range chickens for the last nine years on their acreage off the Burma Road near Whitehorse. For eight of those years theirs was a small, family-run business with a flock of about 100 birds. They sold the eggs through neighbourhood buying groups, who knew the Stannards well enough that they invited them to community brunches. Today, the egg business is still family-run but you wouldn’t call it small.

Under the brand name Little Red Hen Eggs, the Stannard’s brown free-range eggs are sold in four supermarkets and one variety store in Whitehorse, plus a grocery store in Haines Junction. Their other commercial customers include Air North, two local coffee shops and two large downtown hotels.

In 2017 the Stannards upped their egg ante considerably — they built a large barn, brought in 2,000 chicks and invested in a commercial grader that can grade 7,000 eggs in an hour. In the spring of 2017 Al Stannard told the Yukon News, “Our goal is to provide a brown, free-range egg for the Yukon.”

There’s no shortage of eggs in the Yukon — consumers across the territory have some access to eggs sold over the farm gate to buying clubs or through private arrangements. And local, graded eggs are available for sale at Farmer Roberts grocery store in Whitehorse. But the difference here is one of scale. Since the Partridge Creek Farm stopped egg production in the mid-2000s there has not been a large-scale egg producer in the Yukon; there’s never been a large-scale free-range brown egg producer.

Little Brown Hen eggs, graded and ready to be packaged.

There is a market, or several. Jonah Tredger, executive chef at the Westmark Whitehorse, has been a customer since late January. He currently buys 8 to 10 cases of 15 dozen eggs a week, and that’s in the slow season. Wykes Independent Grocer purchases 500 dozen a week; the owner reports they’re the best-selling brown egg in the store. Consumers want to buy local free-range eggs, and they’re willing to pay extra for them.

That the birds are free-range is key to the Stannard’s success, and to their own job satisfaction. “We love those birds,” says Al Stannard. “We want [them] to have a good life.” It’s hard to imagine 2,000 birds being able to range freely. But the Stannards make it work.

Inside the barn, “the girls” have a 10 by 90-foot patch of gravel, six inches deep, for scratching and digging, two essential chicken needs. “They like to dig foxholes, and lie in there and dust themselves,” says Stannard. “It’s like walking through a field full of gopher holes.”

In winter temperatures up to -10C the girls get out into the sun.

In winter, as long is the temperature is -10C or above, the birds go outside into a fenced-in enclosure to catch some rays. They’re given feed that has not been genetically modified. “We do our utmost at all times to make sure our feed is GMO-free,” says Stannard. This is for customer satisfaction as much as bird health.

By all accounts, customers are satisfied. They send thank you cards to the Stannards. One long-time Whitehorse resident wrote, “I’ve been waiting for 60 years for something like this to come along.”

Chef Tredger of the Westmark is satisfied too. His goal had always been to serve local food at the hotel, and a recent change in hotel ownership made that possible. So he went out in search of consistent sources of local product. He met the Stannards at Meet Your Maker, an event connecting farmers and buyers co-hosted by TIA Yukon and the Yukon Agricultural Association in Whitehorse last January. “My biggest concern was trying to keep up volume,” he says. “It’s really reassuring to know, and exciting to know, that they can.”

“What I really like about being able to use [Little Red Hen Eggs] is there’s a high demand.” Any egg on the breakfast menu is a Little Red Hen Egg, and that has been good for business. “Every time we tell a customer [the eggs are local] they get pretty excited, and they tell their friends, and we see a lot of repeat business that way.”

“One of the best things is the money stays in the community. We’re supporting a local business and in turn they support us.”

The Stannards plan to build a second barn in 2018 and purchase another 1000 birds. “That way, we will not have a lack of eggs when the birds change out.” He’s referring to when the first set of birds wind down, or become “spent”, as they do after 18 months to two years of laying. The calcium in the egg shells comes from the chicken’s bodies, and their bones eventually become brittle and vulnerable to injury. At that stage, Stannard says, “we put them down quickly and quietly.” Stannard shares this aspect of egg production frankly, saying, “It’s part of the process, and it’s important that people know.”

He would like to see the spent birds be consumed as food, and has recently spoken with a local chef and café owner about giving cooking lessons on how to make soup and cook chicken feet, a classic dim sum item that’s now gaining traction in mainstream cuisine as chefs and consumers become more sensitive to eating the whole bird or animal.

In the meantime there are the eggs: free range, brown, and commercially available in Yukon markets and restaurants. If all goes as planned, Little Red Hen Eggs will soon be in a store near you.

From peewee to extra large eggs–the girls produce all sizes, though the goal is always the commercially popular, large size.

Gerard’s Blog: Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow


Setting rabbit snares was a common adolescent pursuit when I grew up in rural Newfoundland.  We often set our “slips” as a side interest when fishing for trout.  It was the era of self-created recreation.

And my mother was totally supportive.  She would regularly buy rabbits from whomever came to the door with them for sale.  “Two dollars a brace.”  I still have memories from my pre-school years, holding rabbits up by their hind legs while mom skinned and gutted them.  It was an intimate time, each of us tugging against the other, laughing at the foulness of the smell.  And at supper time, mom would relish in the repulsion of others as she picked at the cooked heads on her plate of stew.

I thought it would be an easy and natural transition to set snares here in the Yukon during this winter of eating local.  It was, after all, a skill I had not totally let lapse.  When I worked in Northern Saskatchewan as a young doctor I often set slips.  I would check them before work in the early mornings with a flashlight, as headlamps were yet to become the normal northern winter adornment that they have now become.  It was an opportunity to endear myself with the older generation who were familiar with subsistence eating.  It gave us common ground, an opportunity to lighten the conversation before launching into the drama of their personal illnesses.

Back then, as if living in a remote northern community wasn’t rustic enough, I liked to “get away from it all” by going on short bush stints.  I developed a proficiency in building quincys and “bow-whiffets.”  I would go with whomever I could convince, on a weekend excursion of cold, physical exhaustion, disrupted sleep, meager food intake and uncertainty.  Of course, success with the rabbit snares was part of the calibrated need.  My buddy Bob, some thirty years later, still laments the time that we were on one such trip.  It was -43 and we were hungry and cold, sleeping in a tiny quincy that was too shallow to even allow us to turn on our sides.  Checkers, the dog that was with us, later succumbed to pneumonia.  We set a number of snares and had only one rabbit.  As we hungrily approached the last snare, we realized that there was a living rabbit, loosely caught.  In my effort to dispatch the critter, I accidently cut the wire, giving us the dubious satisfaction of watching the happy rabbit lope away.  So impacted by the event, Bob reminds me of these details on each of our reunions.

So, I had full expectations of providing the family with wild rabbit this winter.  But all I have to show for my efforts is the loss of my good ox-head axe.  Not a single rabbit.  Not even a slip that was brushed aside.  Seems that these rabbits were not interested in using runs predictably; they kept slipping the slips.  It became laborious and tedious to do the daily checks without reward, so I accepted defeat, haunted by the scorn of my friend, Bob.

But, “what goes around, comes around.”  We were rewarded for catching no rabbits.  After expecting nothing from the Easter Bunny during this year of sugar deprivation, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he made an exceptional effort for our household.  I was awaken on Easter Day by the sounds of glee from my youngest.  There were hidden treats throughout the house:  birch syrup toffee, dehydrated berry packages, and carrots galore!  And, I appreciate the carrots the most, since I know that they represent the greatest personal sacrifice from the perspective of The Bunny.  All things happen for a reason…

Spring is in the Air!

The cows at Klondike Valley Creamery catch some rays while awaiting spring and grazing. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

The nights are still cold in Dawson City (-20°C), but the days are warm, the sky is blue and the sun shines for at least 12 hours every day.

In the mid-afternoon it is very pleasant to bask in the warmth of the sun.  The cows at Klondike Valley Creamery agree.

During the winter, the snow cover prevents the electric fence from grounding properly, so the cows spend most of their days in the barn.  But soon, they will be pasture grazing once again.

Bring on the sun!

Gerald’s Blog: Ode to a True Survivalist

If only humans were part burbot.  With our current medical knowledge, we might live forever if we were fortunate enough to have appropriate additions of burbot DNA.  And I have little doubt that burbot DNA infusions would be a sure-fire way of toughening up the human species.  One would, of course, have to exercise due precaution in the dosing:  too much infusing might not only disqualify one from the category of “human,” but could also contribute to deleterious effects such as growing barbels where once there were beards, or preferring to mate in the darkest, muddiest, coldest confines.  Hmm, come to think of it, based on some visible human behaviour and phenotypes, perhaps there have already been some surreptitious burbot-to-human genetic transplantations …

You see, burbot do not like to die.  Obviously, they are tough, thriving in the coldest of silty waters, enduring months of minimal food, living under ice in the darkest of conditions, only then to survive the relentless grinding of house-sized ice floes and spring floods, protected only by a slimy skin and a solitary barbel.  Clearly, the burbot is the quintessential survivalist.

You can bonk a burbot with a wooden mallet till its eyes bulge.  You can dislocate its neck and break its back.  You can stick a knife into its heart.  Then, hours later, there might still be a twitch of the tail.  Or, a slow contraction of the excised heart.  I have even felt the contraction of a fresh fillet in my hands, minutes after its removal from the skeleton.

As a child in Newfoundland, my mother would pay the boys 10 cents per eel. They caught them under our wharf and would deliver her a bucket of slithering, reptilian-like creatures, much to Mom’s delight.  It was a win-win arrangement:  the money was well appreciated by those kids in rural Newfoundland in the 60’s where fishing was one of the main forms of recreation for youth, and mom, although she liked to eat eel, certainly did not like swimming with the teeming hoards that seemed to reside under our wharf!

I have emotionless memories of mom dumping the eels in a sink-full of water, grabbing one at a time, chopping off their heads, cutting them into inch-long segments, and squeezing out the offal.  She would matter-of-factly place the offal and gasping-mouthed heads back in the bucket so they could later be fed to the remaining eels under the wharf.  A reward for their troubles, I suppose.  Perhaps a deposit, expecting growth with interest.

She would then wash the segments more thoroughly and toss them into the hot buttered frying pan.  During the entire operation, the eel pieces would be squirming.  They would be wriggling in the sink, flailing on the chopping board, twisting in her hands and twitching in the pan.  And through all this my mom might be dispassionately talking about the weather or asking us questions about school.  Any exclamation or indication of alarm from us was met with the same pragmatic response, “My mother used to always say that eels don’t die till after sundown.”

And that was that.  She grew up on a farm.

She was equally dispassionate about boiling live lobsters.  We ate a lot of lobster, since at that time in rural Newfoundland there was minimal commercial market for lobster and much of it was used for garden fertilizer and bait for marketable fish.  My mom seemed to have endless seasonal access to lobster.  As they were plopped head-first into the pot of boiling water, lid held tight against the thrashing tail, the usual stoic utterances could be heard as we waited for the silence.  “Reflexes.” “Nerves.”  “Death throes.”   My dad, on the other hand, was more skeptical about the humanity of this, preferring to err on the side of caution by bonking each lobster behind the eyes immediately before pot insertion.   Later, he developed the technique of “hypnotizing” the lobsters by balancing them on their heads and stroking their backs until they found their equilibrium.  On lobster night, one would have to tread carefully in our kitchen because at any one time there might be a half-dozen lobsters on the floor, all asleep on their heads, tails arched backwards, oblivious to what was awaiting them.

So, the fundamental question is whether or not this can somehow be translated into a debate about the definition of life, consciousness, pain perception and morality.  Or is it just impossible to extrapolate our sensibilities to other animals?  Obviously, it sits best with all of us to assume that pain perception and the definition of life is somehow inferior in those species that we eat.  It is our way of remaining carnivorous.  It helps with our relentless expansionistic existence, where the needs of any other species are deemed less important. Truth be dammed.

How can it be that humans are so fragile when compared to many other species?  And even more puzzling is our lack of humility in the midst of this knowledge.  For instance, a quick internet search suggests that the “zombie bug” or tree weta, is capable of surviving after being completely frozen; the lung fish can recover after months without air or moisture; the decapitated head of a snake will still strike at prey; the frog can continue to hop without its head; the headless male fruit fly is an effective courter (apparently because he is easily outwitted by the female!).

We have much to learn and there is much to marvel at.  The question is whether we choose to continue on the path of convenience or whether we embrace the uniqueness of living organisms, learning as much as we can along the way.  In the meantime, I’ll still eat burbot.  I admire the resilience of their reptilian brain and I am increasingly humbled in its presence.  And maybe, if I eat enough, some of that burbot fortitude might just rub off!

 

The Guts of the Matter

by Miche Genest

Guests line up to feast on wild foods,including offal, at Our Camp is our Kitchen.

All manner of foods were celebrated at the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in biannual Myth and Medium conference during the week of February 19, 2018, from whole grains to healing herbal concoctions to wild game. Not surprisingly, animal guts played a significant role, not just in cooking, but also in presentations and demonstrations, and in conversations among Elders and cooks from several Indigenous nations.

Vuntut Gwitchin hunter Stanley Njootli Senior told the audience on Wednesday night that the bag carried by The Boy in the Moon in the traditional story shared by many northern Indigenous peoples was filled with–caribou guts. Elizabeth Kyikavichik remembers that the first thing her family ate after a successful caribou hunt was the guts. Elizabeth, who is Teetl’it Gwich’in, grew up on the land near Fort MacPherson and was an avid student of her parents’ traditional hunting and cooking methods.

In traditional Indigenous cooking the whole animal is consumed, from antler to hoof, and guts are a highly valued source of nutrition. In fact, the same is true of pretty much every culture worldwide — traditionally, guts have been eaten with pleasure and gusto. Think of blood pudding, or liver paté, or steak and kidney pie, or the Greek kokoresti, or the Costa Rican sopa de mondongo.

In North America it’s only since the Second World War that we’ve turned our backs on guts, or offal — we’ve grown accustomed to the relatively inexpensive, choice cuts made available through the large-scale industrial raising and harvesting of animals, and by the supermarket retail model of selling food. The smaller butcher shops that typically carried offal have become harder to find. Now we tend to be squeamish about what we perceive as the stronger flavours of animal guts, and their different look and texture.

In recent years Indigenous hunters in the Porcupine Caribou range have noticed that some hunters were leaving gut piles and heads behind in the field when they harvested caribou. The Van Tat Gwich’in Government and the Porcupine Caribou Management Board collaborated on the publication of Vadzaih, Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof in part to encourage a return to traditional hunting practices. The book is both a field guide and cookbook, designed to appeal to hunters and cooks of all ages, pairing old and new ways of preparing caribou heads, shins and offal, as well as other parts of the animal.

When I worked on developing the contemporary recipes for Vadzaih with the community cooks of Old Crow, I grew accustomed to eating, and enjoying, kidney, heart, liver, tongue and brain. But I shied away from the intestines and the stomach. I don’t know why, since one of my favourite dishes as a teenager dining out with my parents was sweetbreads (pancreas) in Madeira sauce. Why was pancreas okay and not stomach? I don’t have an answer.

At Myth and Medium, those who attended the “Our Camp is Our Kitchen” cooking fire during the Shì Lëkąy Food Tastes Good Knowledge Fair were lucky enough to sample two different kinds of caribou stomach, prepared by Tetl’it Gwich’in Elder Mary Jane Moses, Tetl’it Gwich’in Elder Dorothy Alexie, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elder Peggy Kormendy and visiting cook, hunter, musician and TV producer Art Napolean, of the Beaver people in Peace River country in northern BC. I screwed up my courage and tried a piece of tripe. It was mild, sweet and chewy, and I would try it again without hesitation.

The “bible” and tripe — two different parts of caribou stomach served at Our Camp is Our Kitchen.

I’m not alone. Among the Canadian settler population, due to the resurgence of interest in eating local food and the growing concern about food waste, guts are making it back onto the menu. International celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Hugh Fearnsley-Whittingstall are serving tripe in their restaurants. Canadian chef and author Jennifer McLagan has published Odd Bits, How to Cook the Rest of the Animal, a cookbook devoted to cooking the head, feet and guts of domestic animals. (We relied heavily on Odd Bits when putting together Vadzaih.) And small butcher shops are making a comeback not only in big urban centres, but, luckily for us, in Whitehorse and Dawson City.

At Myth and Medium we learned that Suzanne had taken to eating burbot liver in order to replenish her internal stock of Vitamin D. Suzanne offered samples of the liver during her workshop on Wednesday afternoon. We also ate caribou tripe and caribou head cheese and several different kinds of pemmican cooked by several different Indigenous people. And the Moosemeat Men served moose nose at Thursday evening’s feast.

I went home to Whitehorse with a few pounds of charcuterie made by Shelby Jordan of BonTon Butcherie and Charcuterie, and a surprise bonus. This was haggis, also made by Shelby, from pork liver, pork and wild boar tongues, boar head, boar kidneys and beef suet, all from locally raised animals, mixed with the requisite toasted stone-ground oatmeal and a flavourful blend of warm spices, the whole thing stuffed into beef bung, or appendix, which is in modern times the typical haggis casing.

Haggis, as we know, is the classic Scottish way of eating the whole animal, a traditional dish cooked right after the hunt and now most often served on poet Robert Burns’s birthday. I brought my BonTon haggis to a potluck dinner party on Sunday after the conference, where it was enjoyed by 14 people, some of whom had never eaten haggis or offal before. My husband, who is a Scot, said it was the best haggis he’s ever had.

Converting the masses to offal one caribou stomach, one haggis, at a time.

The last of the haggis: breakfast!

 

New Life at  Klondike Valley Creamery!

Klondike Valley Creamery welcomes the newest member of the team. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Lily gave birth to a new calf — a heifer.

Gentle Lily is one of Jen and Loren Sadlier’s dairy cows at  Klondike Valley Creamery in Rock Creek, just outside of Dawson City, Yukon.

Another wonderful celebration of farmers’ ability to overwinter and breed livestock at 64 degrees north!

The New Kids In Town

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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.

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.

How Sweet It Is! A New Addition to the Menu

David McBurney and Suzanne with a bucket of locally-produced honey. Photo by Ren Causer.

Suzanne and her family were thrilled to have a new sweetener added to their list of locally-available ingredients — honey.  And they’re very grateful to David McBurney and his bees for sharing.

Birch syrup is delicious and the family is finding all kinds of ways to use it. However, it does have a distinctive flavour that can sometimes overshadow other more subtle flavours (for example, when used as a sweetener for things like fireweed jelly).  Honey has a much lighter and more delicate flavour.

Busy bees hard at work on their honeycomb. Each hive makes about 20 pounds of honey. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

David McBurney’s bees, who successfully survived Dawson’s -40°C in winter, have been busy this summer collecting pollen from local fireweed and clover. and transforming it into delicious, delicate honey.  They produced about 20 pounds (9 kg.) of honey per hive!

Hopefully they will produce enough honey this summer to share with the humans while reserving enough to get them through a second Dawson winter.

The final product. A jar of honey ready for eating. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

A Very Special Gift to Start Suzanne’s Journey

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Angie Joseph-Rear (right) presents Suzanne with fish eggs from the first King Salmon harvested by that First Nation in several years. Photo by Tess Crocker

Suzanne has been given a very special gift to start her journey of a year of eating local — fish eggs from the first King Salmon harvested by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in many years.  Mähsi cho to Angie Joseph-Rear and all the elders, youth and adults involved in First Fish Culture Camp at Moosehide Village.

First Fish Culture Camp is an opportunity to pass on knowledge to youth regarding the fishing, cleaning, processing and smoking of salmon.  It takes place over 5 days at Moosehide Village.  Chum salmon has generally been the salmon processed at First Fish.  With the decline of the King Salmon population and the moratorium on commercial King Salmon Fishing in the Yukon, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in voluntarily stopped harvesting King Salmon for subsistence fishing approximately 5 years ago in order to aid in the re-growth of the King Salmon population in the Yukon River.  And there is evidence that the King Salmon population is increasing.

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First Fish Culture Camp teaches youth traditional methods for fishing, cleaning, processing and smoking of salmon. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

On Tuesday, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elders Committee made the decision to allow a 48-hour window of King Salmon harvesting for the purpose of this year’s First Fish Culture Camp.  So yesterday, for the first time in many years, the fish nets were set for King Salmon.  And that evening, under the watchful eye of a boat of elders and another boat of youth and Hän singers singing ‘Luk Cho’ (which means big fish in the Hän language), the first net was checked and two beautiful King Salmon were harvested.  A special day for the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and First Fish Culture Camp, and a very generous and special gift to start Suzanne’s journey of eating local.

Mähsi cho.

The roe from one King Salmon. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Farming Tradition Lives On at Pelly River Ranch

Pelly River Ranch is the the oldest, continuously working farm in the Yukon territory, located  10 kilometres up the Pelly River from its confluence with the Yukon River. Dale and Sue Bradley are the second generation of Bradleys to run the Pelly River Ranch, and the Bradley family are the fifth in a series of owners dating as far back as 1901, when Edward Menard bought 20 acres on the Pelly River and brought in farmer George Grenier as his partner. The farm changed owners through the years until 1954 when Dale Bradley’s uncles Hugh and Dick Bradley bought the place from the Wilkenson family.

Like their family before them, Dale and Sue and their son Ken run a mixed farm, which means they engage in several agricultural practices. They raise chickens and beef cattle, mostly Hereford and Angus, have a big vegetable garden, and they raise hay to feed their cattle. The Bradleys sell their eggs, chickens and beef to customers in Dawson, Faro and especially Whitehorse. In addition, they supply local markets with a range of root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, rutabaga and parsnips.

Pelly River Ranch mantains a herd of about 50 cattle, which they feed with their farm grown hay as well as fresh forage, from grasses to rose leaves to young fireweed, a feed that gives the beef a wild, natural flavour that Bradley appreciates.

In the year 2000, the Yukon Agriculture Branch presented the Bradley family with the “Farmer of the Century Award” for their nearly 50 years of agricultural work at the Pelly River Ranch.

Yu-Kon Grow It: A Look at the TH Working Farm

On a recent episode of Yu-Kon Grow It on CBC Yukon’s A New Day with Sandi Coleman, she looked at the newest happenings at the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Teaching Farm near Dawson City. The First Nation’s teaching farm is expanding this year. Dexter MacRae, TH’s Dir. of Human Resources, Education, and Training gave an update on what’s planned this season, including the farm’s first livestock, a new greenhouse, berries, apples, and expanded enrolment.

See the Bees, Eh? Dawson Hive Successfully Overwinters

The bees look healthy despite of the challenges for beekeeping in the North
The bees look healthy despite of the challenges for Apiculture in the North
Photo by Suzanne Crocker

David McBurney’s honey bees have survived the winter!

Bees have been successfully overwintered in southern Yukon, but it has been trickier to achieve in the Dawson area due to big temperature fluctuations in March/April,  when it can be +20C in the afternoon heat of the sun and -20C at night.  David and the bee’s success this winter means Suzanne should be able to add a bit of honey to her local diet for this upcoming year.

Suzanne recently talked about sweeteners, as well as her search for vinegar, on a recent episode of Yu-Kon Grow It on CBC North’s A New Day with host Sandi Coleman.

Are you aware of other honey bees that have been successfully overwintered in Dawson or in areas further North? Let us know.
Suzanne visited David McBurney’s honey bees
Suzanne visited David McBurney’s honey bees – Photo by Suzanne Crocker
David McBurney’s honey bees
David McBurney’s honey bees – Photo by Suzanne Crocker
David McBurney’s honey bees
David McBurney’s honey bees – Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Pemmi-can-do with Ch’itsuh

Ch’itsuh or pemmican - photo by Mary Jane Moses from Old Crow
Ch’itsuh or pemmican made by Mary Jane Moses from Old Crow

Suzanne is looking for ways to keep her ever-hungry 17-year-old son, Sam, full next year.  Sam suggested that pemmican might be a reasonable locally-sourced snack food that will help him get through the year, especially since he spends lots of time doing physical activity.  After all, Canada was practically built on pemmican. Trading posts would seek this high-protein and high-energy food from the natives, and it was used to sustain the voyageurs, especially in winter,  as they traveled long distances.

Mary Jane Moses of Old Crow shared some of her ch’itsuh (pemmican) with Suzanne.  Click here for a couple of classic pemmican recipes:

Have a recipe for pemmican for Suzanne to try?  Please share here.

 

 

 

 

Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof

The Caribou cookbook has arrived!  Learn how to use all parts of the caribou. Traditional recipes such as ch’itsuh (pemmican), head cheese, and Caribou Bone Broth combined with new recipes such as Caribou Wonton Soup and Mushroom and Caribou Brain Ravioli.

Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof" published by The Prcupine Caribou Management Board
“Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof” published by The Porcupine Caribou Management Board

Continue reading “Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof”

Celebrating the Porcupine Caribou Herd

On April 21 and 22 Vuntut Gwich’in citizens, conservationists, scientists, members of the public and families got together to celebrate the Porcupine Caribou Herd with two days of presentations, films, panel discussions, kids’ activities, and caribou tastings at the Beringia Centre in Whitehorse. The event was hosted by Yukon Conservation Society (YCS), Vuntut Gwich’in First Nation (VGFN) and the Porcupine Caribou Management Board (PCMB), all of whom have a keen interest in the health of the herd.

There was lots to celebrate. The herd is robust and growing in size. The relationship between northern indigenous peoples and the caribou that sustains them is respectful and strong. Harvest management strategies and hunter education programs are helping to ensure the herd continues to thrive.

But there’s bad news, too. Of 15 barren ground caribou herds the Porcupine herd is one of only two that are known to be increasing. The others have decreased alarmingly in recent years. Barren ground caribou have been listed as threatened in Canada. And the Porcupine herd’s calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are once again under threat from oil and gas exploration. VGFN and their First Nations and Inuvialuit neighbours, conservationists, scientists and concerned citizens are working together to ensure protection of the herd, and Porcupine Caribou: Celebrate and learn about the herd was part of that effort.

To watch the proceedings from the Porcupine Herd celebration event, visit yukonconservation.org.

Yu-kon Grow It – Brian Lendrum: Goat farming pioneer


In this episode of Yu-kon Grow It,  Sandi Coleman interviews Brian Lendrum and Susan Ross, who have been goat farming outside of Whitehorse for decades and producing delicious goat cheese.

Pioneers in the dairy business around Whitehorse, Lendrum and his wife found that their area around Lake Laberge had perfect conditions for raising goats, with rolling hills and lots of different vegetation for the goats to enjoy. On a regular basis, they would produce about 30 litres of milk a day, which translates to around 3 to 4 kg of cheese. Every week, they would take around 10 kg of their freshly made goat cheese to the local market, and sometimes sell out within the hour. They also experimented with goat milk yoghurt and sold bottled goat milk.

Continue readingYu-kon Grow It – Brian Lendrum: Goat farming pioneer”

More Baby Animals!

It is a wonderful thing that our farmers have the ability to overwinter and breed livestock in the North!

Red and black piglets from Aurora Mountain Farm - Whitehorse Yukon
Piglets on Aurora Mountain Farm, Whitehorse – Photo submitted by Simone Rudge

Piglets, Calves, Kids and Chicks are a Spring ritual at Aurora Mountain Farm  in Whitehorse. Aurora Mountain produces certified organic chicken, eggs, hay and vegetables (including garlic, yum!) available seasonally from their farm. They also offer delectable wild crafted preserves, jams & mustard, and even handmade goat milk soap!

Continue reading “More Baby Animals!”

New Life on the Sadlier’s Farm!

Newborn calf and two kids
Newborn Klondike calf and two kids

Introducing Lily’s calf and Cleo’s kids – born today, Feb 9th, at the Sadlier’s Klondike Valley Creamery in Rock Creek, Dawson, Yukon. Successful overwintering and breeding of livestock in the Klondike!

Thank you Jen and Becky for welcoming Suzanne and Tess to witness the births.

Stay tuned Dawson – Jen’s delicious local cheeses will be coming to you later this year or next!