Suzanne’s Blog: Exotic Shiso Grows in the Far North!

In addition to their use as a versatile ingredient, the shiso plant’s large leaves can be used to scoop up food, or as a wrap for fish, meat and sushi. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Sometimes it absolutely amazes me what we can grow in the far North of Canada.

Artichokes, asparagus, eggplants, golden berries and even occasionally ginger and tumeric ….

I now add a new exotic flavour that can be grown in the North – shiso leaves!

Until this year I had never even heard of shiso.  I am now a huge fan, thanks to Carol Ann Gingras of Whitehorse, who introduced me to this herb and sent me some of her Yukon-grown plants.

One thing that I missed early on during my of eating local were spices from the Far East – cinnamon, cumin, cloves, nutmeg …

Birch syrup and ground juniper berries helped to fill that void, but now I have a new favourite – shiso – to add some Asian spice to a Yukon local diet.

Shiso leaves taste exotic!  To me, it is the taste of cumin combined with a hint of cardomon. For others it has been described as a combination of spearmint, basil, anise and cinnamon.

Shiso (pronounced she-so), Perilla frutescens,  is an Asian herb – used commonly in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and China – and a member of the mint family. It was introduced to North America in the late 1800’s but only introduced to me in 2018!  Although it flourishes in the southeaster USA, I would never have guessed how well it thrives during a Yukon summer.

Its large leaves can be used to scoop up food or as a wrap for fish, meat and sushi. The fresh leaves, sliced in thin strips to bring out the flavour, can be added to soups, stir-fry, rice, scrambled eggs, salads, even fruit – almost anything, really.  The leaves can be air-dried or frozen to use during the winter.   Dried, the leaves can also be used as a flavourful tea.  The leaves are high in calcium and iron.

Apparently shiso buds and sprouts are also delicious and the seeds can be toasted and crushed and sprinkled on fish.

If you plant shiso in pots, let the plants go to seed and bring them inside before the first frost, then the plants will self-seed for spring.

Here’s hoping my shiso plants will self-seed so they can become a regular part of my on-going Dawson local diet!

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

 

A Sub-Arctic Artichoke

An artichoke grown in Dawson City. Photo by Louise Piché

Louise Piché, one of Dawson’s great home gardeners, continues to defy expectations about what can be grown at 64 degrees north. Recently, she managed to grow an artichoke — perhaps the first ever raised in the Klondike.

If you’re inspired and want to try following in Louise’s footsteps, the cultivar is the Green Globe Artichoke, and the seeds came from Best Cool Seeds, the online store for the Denali Seed Company, a Michigan-based firm that specializes in cold-weather  gardening.

And check out the other seeds that have been proven to grow well in the North!

Suzanne’s Blog: A Taste Explosion of Fresh Veggies!

Suzanne in her greenhouse. Photo by Cathie Archbould, Archbould Photography.

There is nothing quite like the taste of the first cherry tomato, picked straight off the vine.  Especially after 10 months without!  It popped into my mouth with a burst of intense tomato flavour complimented by a long missed combination of sweet, salty and juicy.

And the taste explosion continued with the first freshly-picked cucumber from the greenhouse and the first fresh zucchini from the local Farmers Market.   It is with great excitement that every Saturday morning I  head to our local Farmers Market  to discover which new summer vegetable will appear.

I find myself grazing on both spinach leaves and chickweed from the garden.

And then there is the lettuce!  I used to think of lettuce as a vehicle for salad dressing.   But this year, I can happily munch away on the leafy green all by itself.

I am sure that the fresh vegetables of summer have always tasted this good, but the flavours seem more intensely delicious to me this year.  Perhaps it is simply the ten month absence of fresh greens from my diet.  Perhaps it is an increased sensitivity of my taste buds, after a year without salt and pepper.

Whatever the reason, eating seasonally brings with it gastronomical joy!

With the first taste of lettuce, my desire for root vegetables instantly diminished.  The potato, which has been our best friend and staple all winter, has been replaced with salad.

And salad has never been so gourmet:  wild sheep and warm vegetable salad, smoked salmon salad, the sky is the limit!

Thanks to Dawsonite, Kirsten Lorenz, I have even found a salad dressing recipe that rivals anything I ever made or bought in the past.  It is a flavourful combination of  berries, garlic, birch syrup and rhubarb juice.

Summer has never tasted so good!!

 

 

 

 

Suzanne’s Blog: “Knee High by the 4th of July”

Home-grown barley already waist high by July 7th. Photo by Tess Crocker.

“Knee high by the fourth of July” is a farmer’s refrain south of the 49th Parallel – predicting a healthy crop of grain.

So waist high by the 7th of July is looking pretty good up here at 64 degrees north!

Inspired by Miche Genest’s post “Back Yard Grain Growing in the Yukon – the Logical Next Step”and Kokopellie Farm’s success in growing grain in Dawson,  I decided to give back yard grain growing a try.

My experience last Fall taught me that hulling grain is no easy feat.  In fact sometimes, as is the case for oats and buckwheat, it is virtually impossible for a home gardener.  Therefore I was thrilled that Salt Spring Seeds carries hulless varieties of grain.   After consulting owner Dan Jason, I decided to try Faust Barley (hulless) and Streaker Hulless Oats.

And look how well they are doing!

Hulless Faust Barley. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Gardening has never come easily to me.   I struggle to grow brassicas while the local farmers produce them in abundance.

This year I decided to try my luck growing edibles that are not so easily found at our local Farmers Market.  My raised beds are hosting oats, barley, amaranth, Tom Thumb popping corn and onions.   The onions are not looking so good but, so far, the rest seem to be growing well.

Streaker Hulless Oats. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

With the idiosyncrasies of our short growing season, grains have often been difficult to grow in the North.  Perhaps as a result of climate change, perhaps due to hardier cultivars, it seems that in the past few years growing grain is becoming more feasible.

So it is a good time test out the possibilities of back yard grain growing in the Yukon!

Fingers crossed that local barley and local breakfast oats will be on the menu in our house next year.

Asparagus Does Grow in the North!

I always thought of asparagus as an exotic vegetable.

But guess what, it will grow in the North!

Several Dawson gardeners have been successful growing asparagus and generous in sharing some of the harvest with me this year — yum!

For all your asparagus cravings dine on firewood shoots in May and garden asparagus in June and July!

Tips if you want to try growing your own asparagus:

  • Buy roots, not seeds
  • Plant the roots in spring in 1⁄2 dirt and 1⁄2 sand
  • The harvest will be in the second year
  • Harvest by cutting from June till mid July, and then stop cutting

To check out varieties that have grown well in the North, check out Louise Piché’s Seed Guide.

 

Gardening Nightmares, Gathering Dreams

by Miche Genest

Last year’s grass is long, yellow and plentiful in our Whitehorse backyard, and the new green shoots are already showing underneath. It really is time to rake away the old and prepare for the new. But I’m getting ready for a trip overseas, there’s so much to do, and the inevitable looms — I will not get to the raking.

Every year it’s the same — we have great plans for the yard. We’ll build a food forest! Sow some grains! Cause passersby to stare in wonder at the glory of our garden!

And every year, I might manage, latterly, to stuff armfuls of old grass into the compost bucket, fill a few pots with edible flowers, and maybe cut down last year’s stalks of Artemesia tilesii in the otherwise empty garden boxes. Then it’s time for the trip to Scotland, or the long hike, or the paddling trip. And instead of staring in wonder, passersby shake their heads.

My husband offers words of comfort: “We’re not gardeners. We’re gatherers.”

Right. So, we’ll gather.

Those who are gardening-challenged can always gather…dandelion flowers!

By the time we get back from Scotland, the dandelions that have colonised the yard will be in flower, smiling brightly between leaves of grass. We’ll have dandelion fritters for dessert. The spruce tips will be young and green in the higher altitudes, and this year we’ll make a special day trip just for picking. I’ll make spruce tip and juniper butter, spread it on freshly baked bread and pile hot-smoked salmon on top.

And, you heard it here, I will roto-till the garden box outside the fence, dig in a whack of compost, and plant the rye I’ve ordered from Salt Spring Seeds. If all goes well, we could be gathering grain in the fall.

Gathering has to be my kind of gardening — for now.

Fresh spruce tips add a lemony note to spruce tip and juniper butter.

Spruce Tip and Juniper Butter

2 oz (56 gr) butter, softened

1 Tbsp (15 mL) fresh spruce tips, finely chopped

1 tsp (5 mL) juniper berries, crushed

1 Tbsp (15 mL) garlic scapes, finely chopped

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Spread on fresh bread and top with smoked salmon and sliced red onion.

Giant Cabbages in Old Crow, Yukon

Cabbages being grown in Old Crow. Photo by Mary Jane Moses.

Finding nutrient-rich soil in the far North can be tricky, but as Old Crow demonstrates, it’s not impossible.

Old Crow, home to the Vuntut Gwitchin, is the most northerly community in the Yukon, located 128 km (80 miles) north of the Arctic Circle.

A fly-in community of approximately 300 people, Old Crow rests at the confluence of Crow River and the Porcupine River.  Vuntut Gwitchin means “People of the Lakes”, named after the many lakes at Crow Flats, the second largest wetland in North America, and the main hunting, trapping, fishing and gathering area for the Vuntut Gwitchin.

With no road access, grocery store prices in Old Crow are very high.

Old Crow has seen detrimental effects from climate change over the past decades.  The permafrost is melting.  Water levels and subsequently salmon stocks are declining.   Lakes are drying up.

In adapting to climate change, more folks in Old Crow are growing vegetable gardens.

One couple, in the 1990’s, planted their vegetable garden about two miles upriver from Old Crow on the banks of the Porcupine River, about 50 feet back from the edge of the riverbank, in front of a drained out lake.  The soil must have been nutrient rich as the garden produced an abundant crop of carrots and giant cabbages that Old Crow resident, Mary Jane Moses, still remembers well.

Take 26 minutes to watch “Our Changing Homelands, Our Changing Lives” to hear from Vuntut Gwitchin about climate change and food security in Old Crow

To learn more about Old Crow and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation check out www.oldcrow.ca

And don’t forget to check out the Old Crow Recipe Page for delicious caribou, muskrat, rabbit, duck, ptarmigan and whitefish egg recipes!

 

 

 

Suzanne’s Blog: The Last Onion

April is over and with it, our onion supply.

In bygone days, when folks weren’t relying on freshly stocked grocery store shelves, the months of March, April and May were known as ‘The Hungry Gap”.  The time of year when much of the winter’s store of food had run out and the potential of a new crop still awaited planting season.

We ate the last of our lettuce in September.  Our last squash was consumed in February.  We are close to finishing off the last of the carrots.  And now we have no more onions.

In this new reality, where our consumption is almost entirely based on what we have stored away for the winter, I would have thought that consuming the last taste of onion would cause me anxiety.   But it doesn’t.  It doesn’t seem to matter as much as I had thought it would.

Perhaps it is because we are far from hungry.  My worry last summer about not having enough seems to have resulted in over stocking.  I think I have put away enough tomatoes for two years!

Perhaps it is because of our new reality of eating with the season.

Perhaps it stems from the challenge of cooking well with what we have instead of pining away for what we don’t have.

So we have run out of onions.  But I still have garlic.  I have one jar of dried chives.  And I still have lots of dried herbs.

No more onions, no big deal.

Come July, the first taste of a fresh onion will be all the more delicious!

Backyard Grain-Growing in the Yukon: The Logical Next Step

by Miche Genest

Faust Barley, a hull-less variety.

I used to think you needed a prairie to grow grains, or at least a big field. Then I met Dan Jason, farmer, gardener, author, cook, and owner of the seed company Salt Spring Seeds. His dearest wish is that we all become grain growers, whether we have a plot of land, a box in a community garden or a backyard of clayey soil in downtown Whitehorse.

Jason lives and gardens on Salt Spring Island, and he is a legend in British Columbia. For the past 30 years, he has been finding, cultivating and saving the seeds from ancient varieties of grain; grain that has grown in different parts of the world for thousands of years, providing sustenance and a way of life for numerous peoples.

Jason is passionate about the beauty of these grains, in the field and on the plate; he loves the way they look and the way they taste, their grace and their nutritional benefits. In 2017, introduced by our mutual publisher, we collaborated on writing Awesome Ancient Grains and Seeds, a garden-to-table book with growing information and recipes for grains from amaranth to rye. Now he has me convinced that not only can I cook with grains, I can grow them too. “Growing grains is a lot easier than just about anything else,” he says. “It’s like planting grass.”

Despite our short growing season and cold winters, farmers have been growing grain for animal feed and green manure in the Yukon since the Gold Rush era. But we have a history of growing grain for human consumption too. Hudson’s Bay Company trader Robert Campbell harvested a “keg” (about seven and a half gallons) of barley at Fort Selkirk in 1848. In 1901, the Pelly Farm produced wheat and sold it, ground into flour, in Dawson City. Oats, wheat and barely were successfully grown at the federal experimental sub-station at the J.R. Farr farm on Swede Creek, 10 kilometres south of Dawson, in 1917.

Whole grains. Clockwise from left: emmer, hull-less barley, buckwheat, oats, rye.

In the present day, Otto Muehlbach and Connie Handwerk at Kokopellie Farm near Dawson have grown and harvested rye, barley and even wheat, keeping Suzanne Crocker and her family well-supplied with grain to grind into flour for baked goods in this year of eating locally.

In 2016 Krista and Jason Roske harvested 40 kilos of triticale, a rye and wheat hybrid, at Sunnyside Farm in the Ibex Valley near Whitehorse. I worked with their grain and flour all year long. Several years ago Tom and Simone Rudge of Aurora Mountain Farm on the Takhini River Road harvested rye and ground it into bread flour; it made beautiful bread.

But this is all grain grown on a larger scale, with the expectation of a fairly substantial yield–if not enough for the commercial market, then at least enough to contribute to the grain and flour needs of a small household. It’s unlikely that backyard grain growers will feed the family more than a few meals with their crop.

Their yield will be of a different sort—fun, satisfaction, and beauty in the garden at every stage of growth. And maybe a celebration or two.

This sesaon Randy Lamb, Yukon agrologist and chair of the Downtown Urban Gardeners Society (DUGS), which runs the Whitehorse Community Garden, plans to plant a 4 x 20-foot bed with barley from local farms, a hull-less barely from Salt Spring Seeds, and Red Fife wheat. “I should have enough to make bannock or pancakes for one of our season-end potluck socials at the Whitehorse community garden this year,” he says.

He plans to thresh and mill the grain himself, make hot cakes, and serve them with raspberry jam made with honey and berries from the garden. “My goal is to present it as “100-metre hotcakes”, based on the 100-mile diet theme.” That’s a pretty great incentive to grow some grain. Dan Jason would add, remember to eat your backyard grains whole, too. Or sprout them. “You get a lot back, sprouting your grains,” he says.

Jason thinks hull-less barley is a great idea, because it’s pretty tricky for the home gardener to remove the hulls from other varieties. He suggests rye, too, for the Yukon climate. “Rye is super-hardy. It can go to -40°C easily. And it’s easy to harvest, because the hulls are really loose-fitting. You just rub them and they come apart.” Flax and buckwheat are also good possibilities for the northern backyard grain grower. They’re hardy, adaptable and produce beautiful flowers.

Flax in beautiful flower.

Those who grew up in the Whitehorse suburb of Riverdale will remember oats and wheat growing in their midst, in the front yard of the Cable family’s house. Jack Cable planted the grains as green manure. “I was brought up in market garden country, so I knew that soil needed amendment, up here. It wasn’t a grain harvesting exercise, it was a soil-amendment exercise.” Urban grain-growing was so unusual (and still is!) that the 15 x 5–foot plot in the Cable front yard became a local attraction.

Cable’s intention was to grow a lawn once the soil had been amended. In my downtown Whitehorse backyard there is no lawn, but there is grass. Long, wild, tenacious grass. My intention is to replace some of that grass with grain. Jason suggests roto-tilling a few times first to dislodge the grass. He thinks I might even be able to grow amaranth—it’s worth a try. I’m hoping that raising grain turns out to be as low-intervention as raising the wild grasses, lambsquarters and dandelions currently holding dominion in my yard.

Would it not be the coolest thing, to walk through a Yukon community and see not mown lawns, but waving seas of grain growing in all the backyards? That would be some local attraction. As Randy Lamb says, “The locavore movement has been growing for years up here. Every season I’ve been adding something extra to my local diet. Veggies and berries are easy. Fruit, eggs, and honey take a little more effort. Grain is the logical next step.”

 

 

 

 

The Forest Garden of Agnes Seitz

by Miche Genest

A food forest in the boreal forest.

Guild is an old word denoting an association of like-minded people engaged in a common pursuit — armorers, cobblers, or weavers, for example. In Whitehorse weavers, sewers and felters have organized themselves into a Fibres Guild, and theatre-goers attend plays at the Guild Theatre.

On a small homestead on the Annie Lake Road, there’s a different sort of guild at work, involving players of another kind. They are plants; all kinds of plants from herbs to berry bushes to fruit trees, and they work together in a “food forest” planted and maintained by Agnes Seitz and her partner Gertie.

For the past several years Seitz has been slowly building what has become known in permaculture circles as a food forest, but is actually, she says, “comparable to a really extensive home garden.” This kind of home garden has been grown in tropical climates from the Amazon to India for thousands of years; such gardens are a low-intervention way of ensuring food security. In the mid-1980s, British gardener Robert Hart began experimenting with “forest gardening” in Shropshire, England, bringing those techniques into a more temperate climate.

In the Yukon several gardeners and homesteaders are experimenting with building food forests in a much colder environment, Seitz among them. “The idea is that a young woodland is the most perfect natural system and the most prolific one,” she says. “And that’s what we’re trying to copy, a young woodland.” A young woodland occurring naturally is basically self-sustaining. While a planted food forest is not entirely self-sustaining, it can come close.

Planting in guilds is a cornerstone in the building of a food forest. “You plant in such a way that throughout the season [the plants] support each other,” says Seitz. “There are nitrogen fixers in there, there are attractants that bring in the bees for pollination, there are plants that bring up minerals from the soil. You bring all these players together in a system that makes it so much easier on us.”

Some of the players in the “guild.”

When she was starting out, “because we don’t have soil here,” Seitz brought in a truckload of compost from the City of Whitehorse dump. Five or six years later, now that the system is up and running, Seitz’s interventions are low-tech and low-key. She fertilizes with wood ash and human urine. “Humans are one more part of the habitat we are building there,” she says. “An apple tree needs about five pees a year to get all the nitrogen it needs.”

Seitz also uses “green manure,” turning plants into fertilizer using a technique called “chop and drop.” After harvesting, “you just cut the plants and let them fall, and they feed the micro-organisms and that’s how you build the soil.”

Seitz also grows a huge annual garden of organic vegetables, which she says requires lots of controls and lots of work. Square foot for square foot, the annual garden uses nearly twice the mount of fertilizer of the perennial food forest.

She estimates there are about 80 species of herbaceous plants in her 4,000 square-foot food forest, most of them edible, like sorrel, burdock, mint, lovage, a wide variety of chives and onions, and Old World plants like sweet cicely and Good King Henry. Mixed amongst these plants are nettles, fireweed, lambs quarters and dandelions. “Wild foods, what we call weeds, are an essential part of the system,” she says.

The next layer up is composed of berry bushes such as Saskatoons, gooseberries, red, white and black currants, haskaps and raspberries. Among the next layer, the fruit trees, are hawthorns, sour cherries, pin cherries, several species of apple, Siberian pear, Manchurian plum, Manchurian apricot, Siberian pine (there may be pine nuts in 12 or 15 years) and even hazelnuts.

The more exotic species are still “kind of a research project,” says Seitz. Though the hazelnuts are not yet fruiting, they have lasted three years. “It’s going to be interesting to see how they did with this really cold winter.”

Seitz has not planted low-bush cranberries, a favourite Yukon berry, because she can easily walk into the surrounding boreal forest to find them. “They’re right around the corner.”

But for just about every other kind of herb, plant, berry or tree fruit, she says, all she has to do is walk into her backyard food forest and “kind of like just – forage.”

For further reading and resources on food forest gardening, a good place to start is Permaculture Research Institute.

Herbacecous greens, ripe for foraging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suzanne’s Blog: How Do You Like Them Apples?

A mid-winter treat for Suzanne — a locally-grown apple. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

It is the middle of winter and in my hand I hold a crunchy, juicy, sweet, locally-grown apple.  Yes, that’s right, locally grown – in Dawson City, Yukon – 64 degrees north.  Further north than Iqualuit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse.

It is all thanks to the ingenuity of John Lenart at Klondike Valley Nursery, Canada’s northernmost nursery.  John has spent the last thirty years studying and grafting apple trees in order to cultivate varieties that can withstand the climate of the north.  The nursery now has 65 cultivars and some of those varieties are ‘winter apples’ – meaning that they keep well in cold storage throughout the winter.

2017 was a tough season on the apple trees due to a late frost in the middle ofJune.  But Klondike Valley Nursery has generously been sharing some of their personal apple supply with me for this year of eating local.  And I can tell you that a crunchy locally-grown apple in the middle of winter is a treat beyond all measure!

John Lenart has been cultivating apples n the North for over 30 years. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s Blog: Northern Popcorn?

Bowl of popped Tom Thumb popcorn. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Corn is notoriously difficult to grow in the North.  Even with nearly 24 hours of sunlight in June and July, our growing season is just not hot enough for long enough.  Last summer, Dawson had only 66 consecutive frost-free growing days.

When I was thinking about eating local to Dawson for one year, my mind went immediately to what I would miss.  Popcorn was right up there!  I know it is not an essential food item. But a large bowl of popcorn smothered in melted butter and nutritional yeast has, for years, been one of my favourite snacks and one of my comfort foods.  Call me a ‘popcorn geek’ – since high school, I have carted my hot air popcorn maker around the country – to various universities and job sites.  In fact, I still have it.   And Friday Night Family Movie Night has always been accompanied by several large bowls of popcorn.

Grant Dowdell, who has been farming on an island up river from Dawson City for over 30 years, has the best luck growing corn in this area – in part due to his farming skills and in part thanks to the unique microclimate on his island.   Grant has tried many varieties over the years and Earlivee (71 days to maturity) is the only one that has ever been successful.

Corn growing in the field on Grant’s Island. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

That is until last year.

Last year, I asked Grant to grow Tom Thumb popping corn for me.  With the shortest maturity date of any corn I know – only 60 days – Grant agreed.

Tom Thumb popcorn proved to be both Northern hearty and moose hearty.  Moose pulled out all the stalks early in the summer but Grant and Karen stuck them back in the ground and they continued to grow!

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

I let the cobs dry for a month and then crossed my fingers and tried to pop them.

Failure.

The kernels cracked, but didn’t actually pop.  Having never popped popcorn that didn’t come from a store, I wasn’t sure if they were too dry or not dry enough.  Distraction intervened and I let them hang for another month before I had a chance to think about them again.

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

This time they did pop!  And they popped really well, with very few kernels leftover.  The popcorn is small, but very tasty. So good the kids say it doesn’t even need butter!  My winter is saved.  Bring on Friday night movie night!

Tom Thumb popping corn seeds, which date back pre 1899, can be ordered from HeritageHarvestSeed.com

> Download GrantDowdell and Karen Digby’s seed guide

Suzanne’s Blog: It’s Seed Catalogue Time!


I definitely did not have a green thumb prior to starting this project.  Never ask me to take care of your house plant.  I’m not sure my thumb is yet brilliant green, but it is several shades closer than it used to be.

So this year I am excited to pull out the seed catalogues and decide what to order for the upcoming growing season.  In the North, tomato seeds are started indoors the end of February and most everything else gets started indoors in March and April.

As you get ready to dog-ear pages in your seed catalogues, check out the seeds that have proven themselves to grow well for other Northerners on the First We Eat Seeds page.  And if you have some favourites that grow well in your part of the North, let us know (there’s a contribution form on the page) and we will share it .

Here are my seed ordering tips for 2018:

Fothergill’s Perpetual Spinach.  Spinach is notoriously difficult to grow in Dawson.  Sure we have a short season.  But our short summers are really hot!  And regular spinach just bolts up here.   Both New Zealand Spinach and Fothergill’s Perpetual Spinach grow well in Dawson and do not bolt.   I tried them both last year, but preferred the texture of Fothergills.

My favourite tomato last year was Black Prince.

And while you’re at it, consider growing some GMO-free sugar beets.  They grew well in several locations in Dawson last year.  They are a delicious white beet to eat and the pot liquor you cook them in can be boiled down to make a sweet syrup!

Salt Spring Seeds, based on Vancouver Island, only carries organic, non-GMO seeds and is your one-stop shop for Fothergills Perpetual Spinach, Black Prince tomatoes, and non-GMO sugar beet seeds!

 

New York Chef Champions the Farm-to-Table Food Movement

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” – John Muir

New York chef, Dan Barber, likes to tell how he experienced an epiphany a decade ago watching his chefs constantly dipping into the flour bin located outside his office. He realized that he knew nothing — where it came from, or how it was grown — about this ubiquitous, and somewhat tasteless ingredient, which was pretty much in everything the restaurant prepared. He set out to find a healthy, holistic flour alternative, but what started simply as a search for organic, locally-sourced grains, led to a broader understanding of sustainable agricultural methods. He realized there were many secondary crops being planted by the farmer to nurture and protect the soil and yield, but not necessarily contributing to the farm’s bottom line. That’s when Barber realized he needed to integrate his culinary methods and list of ingredients to include all those being used by the grower.

Barber has long been a champion of the local, organic food movement. But his interest goes beyond just serving this type of fare in his pioneering farm-to-table Blue Hill restaurant. Now, with a new book, The Third Plate: Field Notes for the Future of Food, Barber is striving to change not only the way food is grown, but the consumption habits of Americans as well.

Barber’s relates how his pursuit of intense flavor repeatedly forced him to look beyond individual ingredients at a region’s broader story. In The Third Plate he draws on the wisdom and experience of chefs, farmers, and seed breeders around the world, and proposes a new definition for ethical and delicious eating. He charts a bright path forward for eaters and chefs alike, daring everyone to imagine a future cuisine that is as sustainable as it is delicious.

Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, and author of The Third Plate: Field Notes for the Future of Food. Photo by Lou Stejskal

In Barber’s view, modern industrial food systems are actually disconnected from the whole because of their large-scale specialization and centralization of food products. For organic farm-to-table agriculture to be truly sustainable, the whole process, including those preparing and consuming the food, need to be treated as parts of an interconnected, holistic fabric.

Barber has now opened a second restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a working farm and celebrated educational center in the Hudson Valley region of New York, where he both practices and preaches his philosophy. And the world is taking notice. He has received several accolades and awards for both his cuisine and his crusading efforts. In 2009, he was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world.

In an article in The Atlantic magazine, Barber describes how one of his inspirations is John Muir, (a naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States), who wrote: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

2017: My Banner Year With Local Triticale

Triticale bounty!

by Miche Genest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

> Click here for a recipe for birch syrup shortbreads.

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

 

 

In Far Northern Norway a Chef Strives for Polar Permaculture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suzanne’s Blog: Sugar Beets Sweeten the Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

> View the recipe for Sugar Beet Sugar and Syrup

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.

 

Short Fall Ends With Snowfall

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

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

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

Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dawson Sees First Snow of the Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Pile of Pumpkins for Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

Pumpkins and corn in storage. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Buckwheat Provides A Grain of Hope for Suzanne

Buckwheat ready for harvest. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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

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

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

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

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

Early-Buckwheat
Buckwheat-flowering

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

Hey, Who Doesn’t Love Fresh Vegetables?

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

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

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

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

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

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