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.

 

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: 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.

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.

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.

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.

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Buckwheat-flowering

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

Celery Salt and Nasturtium Pepper

Celery salt, nasturtium pepper and dried nasturtium seed pods. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s quest for a local salt option continues. And of course, Suzanne also has no pepper. In the meantime, she has found two good alternatives for seasoning the family’s food.

In the absence of table salt, Suzanne and family have started noticing that certain foods taste naturally salty — especially tomatoes and spinach.  And, saltiest of all, there is celery. So instead of salt, the family is using dried, ground celery leaves.

They have also come up with a pepper alternative — nasturtium seed pods, which are dried and ground.  If you still have nasturtiums in your garden, hunt for the seed pods and taste one fresh – it is like a burst of wasabi!  Nasturtium seed pods can also be pickled (maybe even in rhubarb juice for Suzanne) as a locally grown caper.  Of note, nasturtium flowers and leaves are also edible and have a mild wasabi-like bite to them.  Try tasting one!

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Nasturtium plant in blossom (left). Nasturtium pods after picking (right).  These are then dehydrated, ground and used as a pepper substitute. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Where Have All the Mushrooms Gone?

By Aedes Scheer

Lactarius deliciousus (saffron milk cap) mshrooms in the wild. Photo by Aedes Scheer.

Each year I wait for the late summer to start hunting wild mushrooms. I have been an amateur mycologist (“fungiphile”) for about 30 years. The Dawson City region is generally abundant with many different species of mushrooms over the months of July to October, and occasionally November, if it is a warm fall.  What sets this region apart from much of Canada and even the lower portions of the Yukon Territory is that it escaped glaciation in the last ice age. Dawson City actually has topsoil, which holds not only fungal spores but also mammoth bones and all sorts of curiosities from the Pleistocene era.

I use the field guides for the Northwest Pacific American States as I find the mushrooms in our region key-out most closely — not exactly, but pretty darn close — to the winter species listed there. I use a combination of fruiting body appearance with spore prints and, because I geek out on this sort of thing, microscopic spore examination. The remnants of the mammoths have long since stopped adapting to the local environment but our mushrooms have continued their own path of adaptation over the intervening tens of thousands of years since those glaciers scraped off all the topsoil between the Tintina Trench and Spokane.

But this year has been a bust. I cannot recall a year so devoid of mushrooms in my time living up north. Not even the usually prolific, hardy and poisonous Cortinarius has appeared. Yesterday I found a portion of a deer mushroom (Pluteus cervinus) which a nervous squirrel dropped as I walked by on a trail. After a good rainfall over the last couple days a pathetic cluster of maggoty puffballs (Bovista plumbea) appeared beyond my doorstep. A week ago I found a couple mummified Lactarius deliciosus or delicious milk cap (not always delicious but always pretty). And that has been it.

My hunch is that it has been too dry this summer to promote decay of the substrates (dead wood, forest floor duff) along with the growth of the fungal mycelia which are the “roots” of a mushroom but actually the largest component of the organism that live for days to hundreds of years. Perhaps if we get more rain and some warm days, we could still see a decent crop of mushrooms. Fingers crossed!

Bowl full of Hydnum repandum (Hedgehog mushroom). Photo by Aedes Scheer.

References:

Arora, David. (1991) All that the Rain Promises and More… Berkley, California: Ten Speed Press

Ward, Brent & D. Bond, Jeffrey & Gosse, John. (2007). Evidence for a 55–50 ka (early Wisconsin) glaciation of the Cordilleran ice sheet, Yukon Territory, Canada. Quaternary Research. 68. 141-150. 10.1016/j.yqres.2007.04.002. (Specifically reference to the diagram)

Dogberry (Bunchberry) — A Natural Pectin

Dwarf dogwood berries are high in pectin and can be used in making preserves. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Dwarf dogwood is a common wild flower found around Dawson and throughout many parts of the North.  It is also known as bunchberry.  In the summer there is a single white flower in the middle of this low-laying plant.  Around mid-August the flower disappears and is replaced by a cluster of small orange berries.

The berries are not unpleasant, and have a small seed that is easily chewed, but the taste overall is rather bland. However, they are very high in pectin and can be used as a thickener if added to low-pectin fruits when making jam.  Suzanne is gathering the berries and freezing them, and will test them out in preserves this winter.

 

Crackers? No Crackers.

by Miche Genest

Recently a friend told me she makes really good raw, dried crackers with the leftover pulp from juicing vegetables or fruit. Sounded like a great way for Suzanne to use up the pulp from all the rhubarb juice she’s making, and provide those quick snacks for the family she’s always on the lookout for.

I don’t have a mechanical juicer—mine is a steam juicer, a Finnish Mehu Lisa that leaves quite a moist pulp behind. So instead I grated vegetables, ground them in a food processor with some northern seasonings, added a bit of whey for bite, and spread them out on parchment paper laid over drying screens. I dried them at 135F for 9 hours. This is the result:

Not so good. Most recipes for raw crackers include some kind of binder like ground nuts or seeds to give the crackers heft. Not allowed in a Dawson-only diet. It’s back to the drawing board for me.

In the meantime, what to do with the failed crackers? Grind them into powder and use them as a salt substitute. Snatched from the jaws of failure! But still, it kind of hurts to see 3 beets, 2 carrots, 4 cloves garlic, 1 large onion, juniper berries and Labrador tea reduced to this:

Ouch.

 

A Good Year for Corn in Dawson

Corn growing in Louise Piché’s greenhouse. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Corn is a southern crop that has traditionally been quite difficult to grow in the North.  But this year, many of those who attempted to grow corn in Dawson City have been successful.  After a rocky start with late frost in June, the heat in Dawson in July and early August was beneficial for those who have been growing corn.

Some growers, like Sebastian Jones, Megan Waterman and Grant Dowdell, have had luck growing corn outdoors.  Others, like Louise Piché, have done well growing it in their greenhouses.

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Sebastians-corn-cu

Corn growing outside Sebastian Jones’s cabin. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

As reported earlier, Grant Dowdell is growing a crop of popping corn for Suzanne’s family on Grant’s Island, and we’re pleased to report it is doing beautifully, despite some unwanted attention from a midnight marauding moose.  Grant also has good success growing sweet corn outdoors.

The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Teaching and Working  Farm are also  experimenting with growing corn. It’s good news to know that with some special care and cooperation from Mother Nature corn can indeed be grown in Dawson!

Precious cobs of sweet corn from Grant Dowdell’s garden on Grant’s Island on the Yukon River.. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Gerard’s Blog: Moo-vers and Shakers

Don’t be surprised if you notice that our children have Popeye forearms.  It’s the cow that’s responsible.  And that’s even without the milking responsibility.

Once the milk enters the house, the action begins.  One sentry awaits the definition of the line, as the cream rises.  Then there is the careful skimming and separation of this precious, precious stuff.  Some of it will be destined for creamsicles, some for ice-cream, some for butter.

After appropriate warming, the jar of cream is shaken vigorously, for longer than you want, the contents first turning a tinge of yellow, then magically transforming into clumps of butter.  This needs separation from the buttermilk, washing and containment.

Meanwhile some of the skimmed milk is warmed, stirred continuously, and kefir is added.  The watchful waiter of the next few hours has first dibs on yogurt.

And then there are the frothers.  Milk is heated, stirred and frothed with vigor.  Everyone likes hot frothed milk.

So this house is comprised of skimmers, stirrers, shakers, frothers, and scrubbers.  Kudos to the cow.

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.

Elfie’s Tea is a Refreshing (and Local) Caffeine Alternative

Elfies tea is Suzanne’s new favourite hot beverage, and a great example of the variety of tea options available when eating locally. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

As some of you may have gathered from Gerard’s posts, coffee was his main breakfast drink of choice before starting the 100% local diet.  For Suzanne, it was black tea. Hopefully soon they will recover from caffeine withdrawal (see Gerard’s blog post “Symptomatic Addict“).  In the meantime, creativity with tea abounds.

Elfie Lenzin recently came up with a wonderful tea combination that is currently Suzanne’s favourite and now referred to as “Elfie’s Tea” — labrador tea leaves with a few crushed wild blueberries.  It is very flavourful with a hint of sweet and a beautiful colour.

Other tea possibilities abound as well. They include combinations of nettle, yarrow, mint, lemon balm, chamomile, rose petal, fireweed petals … the list goes on.

Do you have favourite local tea combo you would like to share with us?

Elfie Lenzin  (right) poses with a grateful Suzanne. Photo by Tess Crocker.

The Breakfast Problem

Breakast of champions – potato and carrot latkes.

When you don’t have much access to the usual suspects like grains, flour, nuts and seeds, and you’re making absolutely everything from scratch, breakfast for a hungry family of five becomes a real challenge. No toast, no pancakes, no bannock, no granola, no muesli, no porridge. What? What is a person determined to eat only the foods available in Dawson to do? You can only eat eggs so many days a week!

Suzanne called on Miche Genest for help in designing a seven-day breakfast menu that she can rotate over the coming year. Drum roll, please … breakfast number one is up: Potato and Carrot Latkes, made with only ingredients available in Dawson.

Berries Abound … But Will There Be Enough?

Blueberry season is just beginning in the Dawson City area. Photo by Cathie Archboud. #ArchbouldPhotography

Here in Dawson City it’s the height of berry season!

This has even more significance for Suzanne and her family, as berries will be their main fruit supply for the next year, while they eat only local foods.

Suzanne recently did a calculation that has her rather nervous.  If she and her family each ate 1  cup of berries each per day (which seems reasonable considering it will be their main fruit source for the year), and since one cup of berries weighs about 1/4 lb., she would need 456 pounds of berries for the year!  This seems impossible.  Currently she has 170 pounds of berries in the freezer (which seemed like quite a lot until she did her fateful calculation). Regardless, she will continue to collect and purchase as much as she possibly can and the family will just have to ration them  accordingly.

Thankfully, Suzanne has help in her berry-gathering endeavour. Local producers Emu Farms and Tundarose Garden are helping her out tremendously.  (If it were all up to her family picking wild berries, they would be in serious trouble.)  Emu Farms supplies Dawson restaurants with delicious local berries.  Maryanne from Tundarose Garden sells her scrumptous local berry jam every other Saturday at the Dawson Farmers’ Market.

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A berry prolific bounty. Clockwise from upper left: high bush cranberries, low bush cranberries, saskatoon berries, soap berries, raspberries, haskaps. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Wild Berries
For Dawsonites, berries abound throughout the short summer.  Although the wacky weather this summer has, so far,  resulted in lower than average harvests of wild berries.   Wild strawberries started in mid-July and were over in early August.  Soapberries also started mid-July and are now falling off the bushes.  Wild raspberries began appearing towards the end of July.  Wild blueberries are in season now — if you are lucky enough to find any this year.  High bush cranberries are starting and low bush cranberries and rosehips will follow shortly.

Domestic Berries
Haskaps were the first domestic berries to appear,  back in early July. Saskatoons started late July and into August.  Black currents and domestic raspberries are ripe now.   Unfortunately domestic strawberries did not fare well this year in the Dawson area because of the weather.

Not technically a berry, rose hips can be foraged and used in a similar fashion. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Worth Its Weight In Salt?

With no local source of salt for spicing up and preserving her food, Suzanne is looking for a natural, local substitute. One possible alternative that has surfaced is coltsfoot.

Suzanne will be trying out coltsfoot as a possible salt substitute.

Coltsfoot is a wild plant that is often found in boggy terrain and disturbed areas. Its flowers open on leafless stems in early spring before the leaves come out. The leaves, which resemble a colt’s foot in outline and have angular teeth along the edges, appear after the flowers die in the early summer.

According the The Boreal Herbal by Bev Gray, in the past, coltsfoot ash was used by indigenous people as a salt substitute. The large coltsfoot leaves and stems were rolled into balls, dried, and then placed on top of a small fire rock and burned. The ash was then used in cooking.

Suzanne has been gathering coltsfoot and drying it, and will test out this possible salt substitute. Stay tuned to see how it turns out.

 

The Moose is Loose … and Looking for Popcorn!

In a previous post we wrote how Suzanne and family were looking forward to some popcorn in their local-only diet, with the help of growers Karen Digby and Grant Dowdell. Having had success with sweet corn in the past, they planted a field of Tom Thumb popping corn especially for Suzanne.

The plants survived the mid-June frosts that savaged so many other local crops, but now there’s another, much larger, hazard afoot.  It turns out a trio of moose have been hanging out  at Grant’s Island. Of all the vegetables growing in the fields, the moose seem to have a particular appetite for Suzanne’s Tom Thumb popcorn plants, even more so that Grant’s sweet corn.

1 a.m.  end of June –  cow moose looking wistfully across Grant and Karen’s fields towards Suzanne’s Tom Thumb popcorn! Take at Grant’s Island, Yukon River. Photo by Karen Digby

The family dog does his best to dissuade the marauding ungulates, but finds it harder to run off moose than bears.  A scarecrow is now on the job and we will just have to see if it can keep the moose at bay and protect Suzanne’s precious popcorn.  Grant’s Island is one of the rare microclimates in the Dawson area capable of growing corn outside, so Suzanne’s popcorn experiment is “all in one basket.”

Haskaps Are First Domestic Berries of the Season

Suzanne hard at work picking haskap berries at Tundarose Garden in Dawson City, Yukon. Photo by Tess Crocker.

Berry season has begun! Berries are one of the most common foraging foods to be found in the North, and we’ll be reporting on them as the different varieties reach maturity and get added to Suzanne’s larder. Wild strawberries are starting to emerge, but here we’ll have a look at haskap berries.

Haskaps are the first domestic berries of the season to ripen. They generally grow well throughout the north, and taste like a combination between a sweet blueberry and a tart green grape.

Tess Crocker helps out with the picking. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

In addition to eating them raw, haskap berries can be made into jams or fruit leather. Or try them mixed in with vanilla ice cream.  And they freeze well so they can be enjoyed throughout the winter.

In Dawson City, Yukon, Maryann Davis of Tundarose Garden sells fresh haskaps and haskap jam at the Dawson Farmers Market approximately every other Saturday while they last.  Emu Creek Farm (run by Diana and Ron McCready) supply Dawson’s local restaurants with haskaps.  Both are helping out Suzanne with a source of haskaps for her year of eating local.  And if you would like your own haskap bushes, they can be purchased from Klondike Valley Nursery, run by John Lenart and Kim Melton.

In Whitehorse there are several local haskap producers. Click here for a list.

Do you grow or sell haskaps in your northern community?  Let us know.

The berries of their labours. Haskaps are great eaten raw, can be made into jams, or used in cooking. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Trying Specklebelly Goose from Old Crow

Specklebelly Geese migrate through Old Crow, Yukon every fall and spring on the way to and from their nesting grounds in the Arctic. Photo by Dee Carpenter

Miche here. When you go up to visit Old Crow you never know what that unique and generous community will send back with you — a haunch of caribou traded for some Taku River sockeye, or several pounds of King salmon roe. This year a friend and colleague presented me with a whole, wild, specklebelly goose.

I had never tasted a wild goose before. Bringing it home to Whitehorse, I plunked it in the freezer while I decided how to cook it.

The specklebelly, or greater white-fronted goose, migrates through Old Crow every fall and spring on the way to and from their nesting grounds in the Arctic. These geese are an important part of the traditional diet in Old Crow.

In early May the hunters were out on the Porcupine River, bringing home the birds for the family pot.

Every year, the hunter who got my goose gives all the women in his family a bird for Mother’s Day. He tells their men, who cook the goose, to follow the magic formula: 2-2-2. That is, slow-roast the specklebelly with two cups of water for two hours in a 200°F oven.

According to Ducks Unlimited, the specklebelly “provides the makings for one of the most delectable wild game meals you’ve ever eaten.”

This cook concurs. I followed a modified 2-2-2 formula, and that specklebelly was the best wild fowl I’ve ever tasted. Thank you Old Crow.

> Check out the recipe for Specklebelly Goose

—Michele Genest, The Boreal Gourmet

Wild Rhubarb – Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elder gives Suzanne new eyes

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Victor Henry with a basket of wild rhubarb. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Victor Henry has taught Suzanne to see with new eyes.

Victor generously agreed to show Suzanne and ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph how to harvest wild rhubarb around Dawson. It seems like Victor can spot wild rhubarb a mile away!  In the process, Suzanne also learned to look at her environment in a new way.  She can now spot these plants easily (maybe not quite a mile away) and since has noticed wild rhubarb in many of her foraging locations — even in her own yard!

Young wild rhubarb. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
When Victor was a kid living at Moosehide (just down river from Dawson) he and his friends used to pick wild rhubarb and then sneak some sugar from the house to dip it in.
Victor suggests picking wild rhubarb before it flowers, when the stalks are young (late May to early June around Dawson), not hollow, and when they are juicy when cut and squeezed.  Peel back the leaves and eat wild rhubarb fresh, or chop it and freeze it for later.
You can use wild rhubarb the same way you use domestic rhubarb. Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Angie Joseph-Rear, especially loves wild rhubarb relish with moose meat.  You can find some great recipes for rhubarb stalks (wild or domestic) at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks website.
Wild rhubarb all chopped up and ready for freezing., Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
The young leaves can be eaten as well, either raw or cooked.  (Note:  only wild rhubarb leaves should be eaten, as domestic rhubarb leaves contain too much oxalic acid and are not edible.) To store the leaves, blanche and freeze them using a similar technique as with stinging nettle.
Mähsi cho Victor Henry.

Northern Popcorn?

Popping corn for Suzanne and her family growing on Grant’s Island. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

One of the things Suzanne and her family really love eating is popcorn with butter and nutritional yeast. She’s hoping they’ll still be able to indulge their craving during the year of eating only local foods, thanks to Grant Dowdell and Karen Digby.

Grant’s Island is located on the Yukon River about 10 km upriver from Dawson. It has a microclimate unique to the Klondike area that has previously allowed Grant and Karen to grow sweet corn outdoors – something that is usually very difficult to do this far North. This year, they are experimenting growing Tom Thumb popcorn for Suzanne, since this variety takes only 60 days to reach maturity.

If it works out Suzanne may have some popcorn for the upcoming year after all.  She will certainly have butter.  Next she’ll have to look for local options for toppings as there will be no salt and no nutritional yeast available.  Any suggestions for locally available popcorn toppings for Suzanne and Family?  If so, let us know.

Tess (foreground, left) helping Grant Dowdell (right) with the planting. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Spritz or Candy Up Your Spruce Tips

Candided spruce tips in birch syrup will be a treat for Suzanne’s kids. Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Spruce tips will become one of Suzanne and family’s candy during their year of eating local. Miche Genest has a wonderful recipe for making Candied Spruce Tips using homemade Spruce Tip Syrup in The Boreal Feast, A Culinary Journey Through the North by Harbour Publishing. And Miche has generously allowed us to share her recipe.

However, Suzanne probably will not have access to sugar to make the syrup, so Suzanne has adapted Miche’s recipe and combined coniferous with deciduous trees to make Candied Spruce Tips in Birch Syrup. They are more ‘birchy’ than the original recipe, but still quite delicious. (And, according to 11-year-old Tess, addictive!) Before you worry about using precious birch syrup to candy spruce tips, remember, you can keep re-using the birch syrup for batch after batch. The birch syrup gradually takes on a more sprucey taste with every batch.

> See the original and modified recipes for Candied Spruce Tips

Leigh Joseph and Suzanne Crocker enjoy Spruce Tip Spritzers.

Spruce tips and birch syrup also go beautifully together in a harmony of coniferous with deciduous in a drink idea inspired by ethnobotanist, Leigh Joseph.  Check out Leigh Joseph’s recipe for Spruce Tip Spritzer.

Versatile, Edible Nettle

Some advice and a recipe for cooking nettle from Leigh Joseph.

Nettle is one of the most versatile edible plants that can be foraged, but it stings if you touch it with bare skin, so pick it and handle it fresh with gloves and tongs.

Cut it at the base, as both the stem and leaves are edible. Choose plants that are not yet starting to flower – plants between 6 inches and one foot tall.

The good news is that once nettle is dried, cooked, frozen or juiced, the stinging properties disappear.

Leigh Joseph and Suzanne Crocker enjoy a refreshing glass of nettle juice.
Photo by Lee Glazier.

 

 

 

Nettle Juice

Recipe by Leigh Joseph

  1. Wash off the stems and leaves (tongs help with this).
  2. Fill a high powered blender (i.e. a vitamix) with the nettle (stems and leaves).
  3. Add water till the water reaches approximately 3/4 of the blender.
  4. Blend at top speed for a few minutes.
  5. Let sit and watch the nettle juice settle into layers of beautiful green juice and froth.
  6. Strain through a jelly straining cloth into a clean container.
  7. Discard the nettle pulp from the straining cloth.

You can drink the juice straight up or freeze it in ice cube trays to pop its vitamin richness into smoothies, stews, soups all year long.

Nettle juice is rich in vitamins A and C as well as in minerals including calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron.

 

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Suzanne’s Sad, Sad Sunflowers

Some rookie mistakes have cast a cloud on Suzanne’s plans to add sunflower seeds to her local diet.
Photo by Tess Crocker.

Right now Suzanne is feeling more like a “green horn” than a “green thumb.” Normally, sunflower seeds from the Mammoth Russian Sunflower are know for growing huge 8- to 14-inch heads, packed with seeds.  Suzanne was hopeful that she could get them to grow in Dawson with enough time to go to seed.  Facing a year without nuts, sunflower seeds were her hope for a local seed.  And, in theory, if one grew enough perhaps some oil?

 

Continue reading “Suzanne’s Sad, Sad Sunflowers”

Homemade Rhubarb Vinegar Update

It looks like rhubarb can be used to make a homemade vinegar. Things are looking good for Suzanne having a local-ingredients salad dressing.

Miche Genest here. A reminder: This winter I experimented with making homemade rhubarb vinegar using only products available in the Yukon — that is, wild low bush cranberries, frozen rhubarb from my back yard in downtown Whitehorse, tap water and Yukon Birch Syrup made by Berwyn Larsen and Sylvia Frisch on the banks of the McQuesten River.

The catalyst for the experiment was to provide a home-grown vinegar for Suzanne, who is about to embark on her year of eating only the foods she can source in or around Dawson. What to do about salad dressing? (The oil is a whole other topic.) No balsamic for her!

Apple cider vinegar is the obvious solution, but Suzanne’s supply of apples from horticulturist John Lenart will be limited, and their primary role to provide fresh fruit for the family. So I turned to locally-available fruit, starting with rhubarb and low bush cranberries.

The first attempt failed but the second time appears to have succeeded. Now that the fresh rhubarb is coming, I’ll continue to experiment and see if it makes a difference. Suzanne is experimenting too. Watch for updates, and in the meantime, click here for the recipe.

I tested the vinegar with a pH strip and it had a PH of 3.

In taste comparisons with commercial apple cider vinegar the apple cider won in terms of both flavour and sharpness. However, I’m delighted with the rhubarb vinegar in salad dressings. It provides the necessary acid. It does its job.

Recipe for Homemade Rhubarb Vinegar

by Miche Genest

Homemade Rhubarb Vinegar–Good colour, good flavour.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (250 mL) rhubarb, washed and chopped, at room temperature (I used frozen, but the fresh stuff is coming up now)
  • 3 or 4 juniper berries (for the yeast on their skin)
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) Uncle Berwyn’s Pure Yukon Birch Syrup, at room temperature
  • 4 cups (1L) water at room temperature – if tap water, let stand for a couple of hours in order for the chlorine to evaporate

Preparation
Place the rhubarb in a bowl deep enough to allow vigorous stirring and wide enough to give maximum exposure to air. A 2L mixing bowl will do the trick.

Dissolve the birch syrup in the water and pour over the rhubarb. Stir vigorously and cover with cheesecloth secured by an elastic or string.

For the next week stir vigorously every 2 to 3 hours. After a few days, the mixture should start to bubble in small, fizzy bubbles that gather around the rim of the bowl. You might see white yeast gathering on the surface. Don’t worry about the yeast, it’s not a bad thing, however more vigorous stirring may be called for. If mould starts to form, spoon it off.

(I tasted the vinegar every second day. At first it tasted like birch syrup. After three days or so it took on a sharpness that eventually became both sharp and sour.)

After a week to 10 days, strain the mixture and discard the rhubarb. Return the strained liquid to the cleaned bowl or a screw top jar. Cover with cheesecloth.

Continue to stir or shake vigorously (put the lid on the jar before shaking, and take it off again afterwards) for three or four days. Taste your vinegar. If you are happy with the sharpness and sourness, stop the show! Cover the jar and put the vinegar in the fridge. I was happy with mine after 2 weeks, though in Wild Fermentation Sandor Katz says fermentation generally takes 3 to 4.

Here’s a Tip to Spruce Up Your Meals

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Spruce tips are a versatile ingredient in a variety of dishes and can be frozen for use throughout the year.
Photos by Cathie Archbould.

At this time of year throughout the North the spruce trees are starting to put on their new growth. The dark green of the existing branches is highlighted by the bright green of new tips. These emerging spruce tips are a delicious and versatile wild food.

Spruce tips have a distinct taste. It’s light and citrusy and with slight resin-like flavour. You can just eat them as they are or add them to smoothies and salads. Dried tips can be used for a soothing tea, or add chopped tips to drinking water and let it sit for an hour or so while the water absorbs all the goodness. They’re also great for seasoning dishes like soups or stews, and work well with both sweet and savoury recipes. They can be pickled, candied, turned into oils, vinegars, jellies and syrups, and used as a herb.  Craft brewers also often use spruce tips for flavour in their beers.

Dry them off and store them in the freezer for use throughout the year.  Spruce tips are high in Vitamin C — another reason to store them for use during wintertime. They also contain carotenoids, and are rich in minerals such as potassium and magnesium.

You’ll know the spruce tips are ready to pick when they are bright green with a small brown husk at the end. Knock off the husk before using. Remember that this is the tree’s new growth, so pick sparingly from any single tree before moving on. It’s a good idea to pick a good distance from any roadway to make sure they’re free of airborne toxins.

Make Stinging Nettle a Perennial Favourite

Stinging nettles are found in abundance throughout the north and are a perennial that could become a staple for your spring foraging.
Photo by Leigh Joseph,

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a nutritious spring green that has many uses, and once identified, may become a staple for your spring foraging. This plant is a perennial and grows as tall as 5-8 feet at maturity. The stem is usually less than 1 cm in diameter and the coarsely saw-toothed leaves are lance shaped to oval and have a pointed tip and a heart shaped base. The leaves are found growing in opposite pairs along the stalk.  Stinging nettle is found growing in rich, moist soil along streams, rivers, meadows and open forest. This plant thrives in disturbed habitats such as village sites, roadsides and barnyards.

The leaves and stem have hairs that contain formic acid and can cause a stinging reaction when they come in contact with the skin — hence its name; many people opt to wear gloves when harvesting. Cooking or drying destroys the stinging properties, including drying nettles for tea, sautéeing, steaming, or baking.

Rich in Vitamins C and A plus several minerals, stinging nettle is a delicious alternative in any recipe that calls for spinach, among others.
Photo by Leigh Joseph.

Stinging nettles are best harvested for eating when the young shoots are less than a foot tall and still have a purple tinge to the leaves. They are at their most tender then. They can continue to be harvested beyond this height but they do get more fibrous as they grow and eventually will be too tough to eat. Do not harvest nettles after they have flowered as they develop gritty particles that irritate the urinary tract.

These nettles are rich in vitamins A and C as well as in minerals including calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron. They are a delicious alternative to any recipe that calls for spinach and can be added to soups and stir-fry’s for added nutrition and vibrant color. The leaves can also be dried and used to make a healthy and hearty tea. Stinging nettle can be used as a bath to help with rheumatism and the mature plant can be processed to make strong cordage. Many coastal First Nations, including Squamish, used this cordage to make strong fish nets and fishing line.

-Post by Leigh Joseph

Fireweed Shoots – The First Vegetable of Spring!

Fireweed shoots are poking out in Yukon yards!
Fireweed shoots are poking out in Yukon yards!  Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Up North, we love it when patches of fireweed take over our landscape, after all, it is The Yukon’s official flower. But did you know you can eat it too? Suzanne is enjoying having this first fresh vegetables of the season in her diet.

Continue reading “Fireweed Shoots – The First Vegetable of Spring!”

To Market, To Market: Let the Season Begin!

The Market is Open

The first Fireweed Market of the season opened Thursday at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse on a beautiful sunny day—let’s hope Thursdays stay sunny for the rest of the summer!

A small but mighty crowd of farmers, vendors and enthusiastic customers were there, reconnecting after the long winter, sharing gardening tales, buying bedding plants, and snacking on kettle popcorn or samosas. Buskers busked, little kids chased each other through the stalls and the occasional dog was spied eyeing up  the snackers and hoping for a dropped pakora.

Katie Young and her trusty assistant with stacks kettle corn, a market favourite

Supplies of produce were limited, as always at the beginning of the season, but Bart Bounds and Kate Mechan of Elemental Farms had swaths of starts for sale. (Bart said recently, “My ultimate dream is to get everyone in the Yukon growing their own vegetables and I grow the seeds.”)

Bart Bounds with his and Kate Mechan’s starts

Local cook and author Michele Genest came home with starts of beets, cabbage and kale from Elemental Farms, (she’s not a gardener, but this year, in solidarity with Suzanne, she’s determined to succeed) a dozen eggs (the blue ones are so beautiful) from Michael Ballon, and an order for two chickens and two turkeys from Grizzly Valley Farms. All in all, she reports, a most satisfying day.

Allan and Joan Norberg of Grizzly Valley Farms

It won’t be long before markets open in Dawson, Mayo and Haines Junction. Here’s to a great growing and eating season!

Market bounty: blue eggs and starts

Refreshing and Versatile Birch Sap

Birch sap makes a delicious drink fresh from the trees – refreshing water taste with only a hint of sweetness – but packed full of minerals. Birch sap contains natural carbohydrates, organic acids, fruit acids, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, sodium, iron and copper, vitamins B (group) and vitamin C.  It is said to have diuretic and detoxifying effects on the body, and it has been used as a folk remedy for many ailments in Europe and Asia for hundreds of years.

But birch sap needs to be consumed right away – it doesn’t last more than 24 hours even in the fridge.  Sylvia Frisch, however, tried pressure canning the birch sap and storing it in her root cellar and it preserved very well and tastes great!

Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Also, Sylvia Frisch took advantage of the natural yeasts in birch sap to try and make vinegar.  She bottled fresh birch sap last year and added a few raisins or black currents in each bottle and stored them in her root cellar.  Suzanne and Sylvia cracked one open last week at Birch Camp and it was a delicious light white vinegar. They have bottled some fresh birch sap with local low bush cranberries this year and will see if they have equal success.

Will keep you posted!

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

Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Sweeeeeeet! A Bucket of Birch Syrup

Suzanne’s main sweetener for her year of eating local will be birch syrup from Berwyn Larson and Sylvia Frisch’s birch camp not far from Dawson. The sap has been running well and Suzanne is starting her year with a 12-litre bucket of delicious Uncle Berwyn’s Yukon Birch Syrup .

Photo by Scott Buchanan

Suzanne recently talked about her experience at the camp on Yu-Kon Grow It on CBC North‘s A New Day with host Sandi Coleman.

Pemmican – Wild Kitchen Style

Another great pemmican recipe!

This “Traditional Raspberry Pemmican” recipe comes from the show and blog “Wild Kitchen”.  Wild Kitchen is a project based in the Canadian sub-arctic about people who harvest wild food. 100% of the cast and crew are from the Northwest Territories and they work with what is available on the land to prepare nutritious recipes with a distinct wild flavor.

You can watch Wild Kitchen episodes here and on their website you can find their awesome recipes.

Traditional Raspberry Pemmican recipe by Wild Kitchen
Traditional Raspberry Pemmican recipe by Wild Kitchen

 

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.