Look Under the Snow for Versatile Juniper Berries

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

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

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

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

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

Suzanne’s Blog: First Hunt Culture Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: 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: Fermentation Success Without Salt!

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

It worked!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerard’s Blog: A Sense of Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have celery. I have whey.

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

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

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

Suzanne’s Blog: Preservation Reservations – Pickling Without Vinegar

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

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

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

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

 

So — rhubarb juice pickling is out.

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

Top of the World Cloud Bread a Family Crowd Pleaser

A rack full of “Top of the World Cloud Bread”. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

One of the most challenging food items in Suzanne’s 100%-local-only diet is bread. Especially since no grains have yet been available.  So, she was thrilled to discover carb-free bread!

Thanks to Cindy Breitkreutz in Whitehorse who found this recipe on MOMables.com. Suzanne adapted it to fit with her local ingredients, and it not only worked, but was a big hit in her family — on its own, as the english muffin in eggs bennie, and as the bun for a burger (which finally satisfied Tess’s longstanding cheeseburger craving). In fact it was so good that Tess and Kate declared they want cloud bread for their birthday cakes this year.

Suzanne adapted the original MOMables.com recipe, and we’re now calling it Top of the World Cloud Bread (a tribute to the legendary Top of the World Highway that runs from Dawson to Alaska).  She used ¼ tsp rhubarb juice instead of cream of tartar (used to keep the egg whites stiff).  The cream cheese she used was homemade (by draining yogurt overnight in cheesecloth).

> Click here to view the recipe

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Versatile Cloud Bread used as a hamburger bun , and under Eggs Benedict. 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.

Think You Could Eat Only Locally?
Take the First We Eat Local Dish Challenge

It is harvest season and, in Dawson City, the end of the Farmers’ Markets.  It is a good opportunity to get what’s left of the fresh veggies before the winter sets in.  It is also a good time to launch our #FirstWeEatChallenge, a fun way in which everyone can help Suzanne come up with ideas to add to her locally-sourced menu.

Suzanne has been eating only 100% local foods for 51 days now, and it has been a real eye-opening experience.

Think you could do it?  Perhaps you already do eat mostly local fare.  If you want to show your solidarity for Suzanne’s year, or just see for yourself how challenging or how easy it really is, we invite you to try preparing just one meal with only foods local to your community.  Alternatively, check out the list of local Dawson City ingredients and make a “Dawson Local” meal.

It would be ideal if you could stick to the same 100%-local-only standard as Suzanne for finding substitutes for salt, oil and spices, but we understand if that’s not feasible. Either way, we trust that everyone’s creativity will blow us away.

Come take the challenge, and share it with us on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook using the hashtag #FirstWeEatChallenge, or send it to us via email .  If you want, you can include the recipe for your dish so Suzanne can try it at home, with any necessary adjustments. We’ll then include it on our Recipes Page.

 

 

 

Mayonnaise: No Oil? No Lemon? No Problem!

by Miche Genest

Hollandaise sauce and sweet basil on top of smoked salmon on sourdough triticale.

One of Suzanne’s big challenges is going to be condiments. She’s nailed the ketchup, and maybe her mustard plants will yield enough seeds for homemade mustard. But what about mayonnaise? Fresh eggs she’ll have in abundance; oil is going to be a problem.

The solution is surprisingly easy. Hollandaise! The familiar, creamy, buttery sauce we love slathered over Eggs Benedict is very much like mayonnaise once it’s chilled. Same basic ingredients: egg yolks, acid, fat. But in the case of Hollandaise the eggs are cooked and the fat is melted butter.

There is another stumbling block though — one of the key ingredients in Hollandaise is lemon juice. Not to worry. The sharp, slightly-stringent flavour of crushed juniper berries, combined with a splash of homemade rhubarb vinegar or rhubarb juice, do a great job of brightening the sauce’s flavour and cutting through the butterfat.

> Click here to view recipe for Northern Hollandaise Sauce

 

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)

“52 Buckets of Kale in the Hall”

Pile of kale awaiting processing. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s family has a weekly family movie night that traditionally was accompanied by a very large bowl of popcorn slathered in butter and nutritional yeast.  It still remains to be seen if popping corn will grow in the Klondike region, so Suzanne  has been thinking of an alternative — a bucket of kale chips. The snack is seasoned with ghee and birch syrup.

The recipe was tested last year and Suzanne discovered that the kale chips can retain their crispness for many months if they are stored in an ice cream bucket with at tight-fitting lid.

Yummy kale chips after baking. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

So Suzanne’s plan is to create 52 bucket of kale chips before the kale disappears. She’s not convinced she will be successful; she has made the equivalent of 22 four-litre buckets to date.  But she will keep on trying!

Kale Chips Recipe

  1.  Break up the kale into large pieces (without the stem).
  2. Mix equal amounts of ghee and warm birch syrup in a bowl and pour some of mixture onto the kale pieces.
  3. Mix well until all the kale is covered in ghee/syrup combo.
  4. Spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet.
  5. Bake at 250F for 16-20 minutes until crisp.
  6. Cool and then store in an airtight container or zip lock bag.

 

Buckets of kale chips await future movie nights. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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.

 

The Challenge of School Lunches

iIt’s back to school time, which means another year of trying to figure out what to pack in school lunches for our hungry pupils.

For Suzanne’s family during their year of eating only local foods, school lunches are an even greater challenge — especially at this time of year, when no local grains are yet available, which means no bread for sandwiches.

Today, they headed off with potato pancakes, moose sausage and carrots – all local of course.

So Suzanne is looking for creative ideas and can certainly use your help. Take a look at the Dawson City list of local ingredients (keeping in mind that there are no grains yet, as they have yet to be harvested). Any suggestions are always welcome, just let us know.

 

Homemade Birch Creamsicles a Favourite for Suzanne’s Family

Tess and Kate enjoy homemade creamsicles on a hot, sunny day. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

While the weather in the Dawson area is starting to cool off, there are still hopes of a summer reprise before fall kicks in.

Certainly, during the recent hot weather creamsicles were a favourite and refreshing treat for Suzanne’s family.  They’re easy to make, and for Suzanne’s kids were ideal for hot sunny days … or when you’re craving a sweet treat (and trying not to think about chocolate).

Recipe:
2 cups cream
3 tbsp birch syrup.

Mix together well and pour into popsicle molds.  Freeze.

Makes approximately 6 large popsicles.

Mineral Salt May Yet Shake Out

Recently we posted how Suzanne was looking into mineral licks as a possible source of salt.  Well, the lab results have returned and there is salt!

We should note that here are many different types of salt. Table salt is sodium chloride.  There are also other minerals that combine with chloride to form salts such as calcium, potassium and magnesium.

Here are the results from Suzanne’ s salt lick sample: sodium (Na) 331 mg/kg; calcium (Ca) 129 mg/kg; magnesium (Mg) 73 mg/kg; potassium (K) 46 mg/kg; Chloride (Cl) 489 mg/kg

Now the question is: can Suzanne distill the salt from the mud? She is waiting for a large mineral lick sample to experiment with and she will give it a try.

Alchemy Café Concocts 100%-Local Smoothies

Thanks to the Alchemy Café’s 100%-local “alchesmoothie” Suzanne and her family had a rare — and welcome — chance to get out to a restaurant. Photo by Florian Boulais.

One thing that’s especially difficult about eating 100% locally is the difficulty socializing outside of one’s own home — like meeting someone for ‘coffee,’ or going out for lunch or supper.

Sophia Ashenhurst’s creativity at Dawson City’s Alchemy Café, on a busy Discovery Days weekend, allowed Suzanne and family to ‘go out’ for the first time since they started their completely-local diet.

Instead of going out for coffee (the Alchemy is famous for its delicious coffee), the family went out for smoothies — 100%-local “alchesmoothies”.

The 100%-local alchemsoothie consists of:  carrot juice, kale, steamed swiss chard, haskaps and rasperries. Yumm!  And for those who didn’t want a smoothie there’s a tall glass of carrot-celery juice — all from completely locally-grown Dawson City vegetables and berries.  Delicious!

Thanks to the creativity of the Alchemy Café, the possibility was opened up of going out — guilt free.  So if you see Suzanne or her family sipping on a tall glass at the Alchemy, they are not actually ‘cheating’ — they are drinking out 100% locally.

The Alchemy Café  supports sustainable living and farming practices. The café uses as many organic ingredients as possible.  In the summer, The Alchemy sources as much local, chemical free produce as possible from Dawson’s local farmers. The café also offers several gluten-free options, even in sweets and baked goods. They have a sizeable selection of smoothies, protein shakes, iced drinks, and fresh juice, but are perhaps best known for their cornucopia of coffee drinks — all fair-trade organic coffee from the local Yukon roaster Bean North Coffee Roasting Co.

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.

The Search for Salt: Coltsfoot Galloping to the Rescue?

Recently we wrote about Suzanne’s investigation of coltsfoot as an alternative source of salt, which Suzanne needs for flavouring and preserving over the next year. Well, Suzanne tried it. It was like magic!

If you taste a fresh or a dried coltsfoot leaf, it really doesn’t have much taste — perhaps a fine hint of celery flavour. But if you burn it, the resulting ash tastes salty! Admittedly it’s a smoked salt taste, but definitely salty.

It may look like the opposite of salt, but burnt coltsfoot ash has a definite salty flavour. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne tried mixing the burnt coltsfoot in with foods during preparation and unfortunately the salt taste didn’t really transfer, but when sprinkled on top it works – as long as the coltsfoot ash touches your tongue. So it looks like Suzanne’s family will be shaking on the coltsfoot ash this year!

The experiment with mineral salt licks is also in the works, so we’ll be reporting back on that soon as well.

The Inside Scoop on “Indian Ice Cream” and Other Soapberry Facts

By Leigh Joseph

Soapberries have long been an important food and trade item for Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Soapberries (Shepherdia canadensis), also known as Buffalo Berries, are a culturally important food and medicine to many Indigenous Peoples in Canada. The berries have been an important trade item for many generations and this practice still continues today. In places where soapberry does not grow people still trade for these highly valued berries.

The berries are bitter in flavor due to the presence of a chemical compound called saponins which causes the soapy consistency of the crushed berries. Saponins have many potential  health benefits to humans. They can help to reduce cholesterol, reduce the likelihood of certain cancers, they are high in antioxidants and help to boost immunity.

Food Uses: The berries are edible fresh but are quite bitter and get sweeter after a frost. The saponins contained in the berries cause them to foam up when whipped with water. Preparing the berries in this way and adding sugar makes a desert that is often called “Indian Ice Cream” that aids in digestion and has a unique flavor. Soapberries can be made into a medicinal jelly as well. Traditionally the whipped berries would be sweetened with other sweeter berries.

Medicinal Preparations: The berries, juice, leaves and stems can be used medicinally. The berries can help lower blood pressure and juice from the berries can be used to treat digestive ailments. A decoction of the stems and leaves can be prepared by simmering them in water and drinking. This decoction can then be taken as a stomach tonic or for treatment for constipation or high blood pressure. Elders have also shared that there is a soothing property to the juice when applied to eczema and other skin irritations.

Harvest Time: Mid-late summer/early autumn. The berries are sweeter after the first frost.

Storage:  Soapberries can be frozen, canned (hot water bath), dried or smoked. They can also be juiced the juice can be canned (hot water bath) or frozen.

Recipe for Soapberry Whip

2 Cups soapberries
2 Cups water
Optional sweetener (sugar or other sweet berries)

Using a clean metal bowl, crush the berries up and add water (and sweetener) then whisk the mixture until it froths up and becomes pink and fluffy like whipped cream. Enjoy!

** Using an oily bowl will prevent frothing of soapberries.

Rhubarb Juice to the Rescue

Pink gold. It’s hard work to extract it but super-sour rhubarb juice looks like it will make a passable vinegar substitute. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

It looked like the problem was solved. Miche Genest did some experimenting and was able to produce homemade vinegar. Unfortunately, Suzanne has not had the same success.  Her first batch of vinegar was a dismal failure.  It was not sour, and not drinkable — she’s still not sure what she’s going to do with it.  She has another batch on the go, but is losing confidence in her fermenting abilities.

Hope remains, however, for some other possible sources. Suzanne also has an attempt at apple cider vinegar fermenting on the go thanks to some of John Lenart’s culled apples (small, sour and green) that he saved for her.  And, of course, the birch sap vinegar experiment  is also doing its thing until Fall.

But Suzanne needs a vinegar substitute now (in order to make ketchup, string cheese, mayonnaise, etc.) So it was perfect timing for an inspired idea  by Jen Sadlier of the Klondike Valley Creamery — rhubarb juice.

One bite of raw rhubarb and you know how sour it is. Rhubarb apparently contains malic acid,  which is the ingredient used commercially in flavouring salt-and-vinegar chips.

Suzanne tested the juice with pH strips and it is almost as acidic as white vinegar (pH 3). This makes it a great substitute for vinegar or lemon juice.

Unfortunately, rhubarb is not easy to juice.  The best way is to freeze it first and then let it thaw before putting it through a juicer or blender, and then squeezing out the juice.

So far, things are looking promising. Suzanne has successfully made string cheese and hollandaise and ketchup with it. Next, she is going to use the juice to try pickling cucumbers. We will keep you posted on Suzanne’s progress.

Rhubarb vinegar in the making. Unfortunately Suzanne’s attempts have so far been unsuccessful. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

 

Has Salt Got Suzanne Licked?

Illustration by Chris Healey.

Last week we wrote about how Suzanne is looking into coltsfoot as a possible source of salt for her year of eating only local foods. At the moment, salt for seasoning food and curing meats remains one of the unsolved problems on Suzanne’s journey.

Another possible natural source that has been proposed is salt from mineral licks.  These can be found all around the Yukon — places where moose and other wild animals go to get their salts.  Salt licks mostly look like dirt or mud, but could there be human-consumable salt in them?

Thanks to some hearty hiking friends, Suzanne recently obtained a sample from a mineral lick and has sent it out for testing.  Before it left, she had a taste, but it looked and tasted only like dirt. Stay tuned, and we’ll let you know whether Suzanne has found a saline solution.

Have any knowledge or this or any other subject related to Northern food security you’d like to share with us? We welcome your contributions.

 

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 Question of Salt

Illustration by Chris Healey

Salt is humankind’s oldest spice. But it’s not just a question of taste.  Salt is also an essential nutrient for human health and a key ingredient in preserving food.

Suzanne is not worried about her physiological salt requirements.  Her local diet will consist of enough meat and fish, which naturally contain salt, to meet her health needs.  However, she is concerned with salt as a flavour enhancer and, more importantly, with salt’s role in the preservation of foods and in the making of cheese.  Which all translates into a major problem for Suzanne, as she has no source of salt for her year of eating only local foods. Throughout history and across cultures the problem of acquiring salt has been solved through trade. Without resorting to the option of trading, and with no ocean nearby, Suzanne is seeking alternatives for a local salt source or salt substitute in Dawson City.

Suzanne’s husband Gerard has jokingly suggested that the family could harvest the salt from his sweat as he chops wood for the winter. Not surprisingly, this offer of a paternal salt lick has not found any takers. So what is Suzanne to do? She is currently researching alternative salt sources, and we will continue to report on her findings.

Any ideas?

If you have any suggestions or thoughts for Suzanne about an alternative salt source, please leave your comment below or send us an email with your ideas, hacks, or experiences.

Troublesome Chickweed Is a Tasty Treasure

Chickweed is a prolific grower, but also edible. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Chickweed, another common garden invader, is also an edible wild plant. Before you pull it from your garden, take some scissors and harvest as much as you can. Cooked chickweed tastes just like swiss chard!

Suzanne learned the hard way that it is better to harvest it for eating by cutting it with scissors, so you don’t have to painstakingly wash out the garden soil that gets trapped in the roots. After you harvest it, then go ahead and pull the roots from your garden.

Cooked, chickweed can be eaten on its own or added to stews, soups, or pastas, or used as a replacement for spinach in other recipes. It can also be used to supplement basil in pesto.

Chickweed can also be eaten fresh as a salad green, or instead of sprouts in a sandwich or in dips. And it can be juiced (like nettle) and frozen in ice cube trays or it can be blanched and frozen (like nettle) for a shot of green vitamins in smoothies, soups, and stews during the winter.

Chickweed is rich in vitamins C and A as well as the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Not that you will, but apparently, if eaten in excess, it can lead to diarrhea, and pregnant women should avoid the juice and just eat small amounts.

> See a recipe for Chickweed and Herb Fritatas

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.

Nature’s Candy

Wild Rose petals, lungwort flowers, dandelion flowers and spruce tips.  Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Wild rose flowers are out in abundance around Dawson City. Suzanne and Tess have been gently grazing as they walk through the forest. Two delicacies are wild rose petals and lungwort (blue bell) flowers, which are lightly perfumed with a touch of sweet. Spruce tips (late May) provided the citrus candy of the forest.

lungwort-flower
Wild-Rose-close-up

Blue bells (lungwort flowers) and Wild Rose petals are two edible delicacies for foragers. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Wild rose petals can be eaten fresh, used as a garnish, steeped as a tea, or sun-steeped for rose-flavoured water. They can also be dried for storage through the year. Recently Suzanne has learned they can also be frozen. Remember to leave a few petals on each flower you pick so that they continue to attract bees.

Place rose petals in water to give it a refreshing rose flavouring. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

If you know of any tips/recipes for eating rose petals that only include ingredients local to Dawson, let Suzanne know through firstweeatproject@gmail.com

Tess with a bucket of Nature’s Candy. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Give tips, get lunch!

Spruce Tips ready to become a delicious syrup - Photo by The North Woods Cookshop
Spruce Tips ready to become a delicious syrup – Photo by The North Woods Cookshop

Your foraging adventures not only can help you stock your pantry with wild goodies, but they could also get you a delicious free lunch!

The North Woods Cookshop and Lunchbox, a Dawson City based catering company, is looking for generous foragers to share a bit of their spruce tip loot with them. For every four cups of spruce tips you bring them, they will treat you to a free lunch at their amazing new food truck, located in the lot next to the Westminster Hotel.

They have great plans for those spruce tips, including delicious syrups for their homemade sodas, as well as the spice mixes, rubs and gourmet salts they are known for.

Hurry up before the picking season ends, and remember to spread your harvest out over many trees to keep them healthy and strong. Georgia and Allie will thank you!

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.

 

 

 

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

spruce-tips
spruceTips
spruceTips3

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

Edible Lungwort

Lungwort (blue bell). Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Lungwort (commonly known as blue bell) appears around Dawson City in mid-May.  The young leaves and flower buds can be eaten raw or added to salad or even steamed or added to soups and stews.  The buds are quite tasty (although Suzanne always feels a bit guilty eating them before they have a chance to flower).

Important rule of thumb: In general, blue and purple flowering plants are NOT edible. Lungwort is the exception.  Don’t eat lupine or delphinium or Jacob’s ladder which are also starting to appear around the same time (but the leaves look very different from lupin).

These plants are NON-EDIBLE. Left to right: Delphinium, Jacob’s Ladder, and
Lupin. Lungwort is the only blue-flowering plant you should eat.Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

It’s Dandelion Season

Young dandelions are popping up everywhere

Those of us craving fresh local greens at the end of the long winter need look no further than our own backyards. The dandelions are coming up, folks! They’re fresh and tender now, before the flowers come into bloom; a good time to enjoy them in salads. Later the leaves increase in bitterness, and are best in cooked dishes—try sautéing dandelion leaves with morel mushrooms and garlic scapes. Throw in a few flowers as well!

Dandelions are legendary for their health benefits–the leaves are packed with Vitamins K and A, contain substantial amounts of C and B6, as well as thiamine, riboflavin, calcium and iron, among other nutrients, and are high in fibre. Current research suggests that extract of dandelion root may be helpful in the treatment of leukemia.

Some tips for picking: grasp the leaves where they meet in a crown near the root, pull slightly and cut just underneath the crown, keeping the plant in one piece. Sometimes several plants are packed tightly together; then you’ll need to dig with your fingers to discover where each crown emerges from the root. Sometimes you can free a number of plants with one cut.

Do the first cleaning outside, removing grass and other leaves. Use your knife to scrape away the sticky, dark skin at the base of the stem. Cut the stems off at the ends.

Dandelion hands

Remember old recipes that direct you to wash something “in several waters”? This is very important with dandelions. A gritty salad is no fun. Wash and wash again, lifting the leaves from the water into the strainer each time, leaving the dirt behind. When the water is clear, you’re good to go.

Wash and wash again

Remember to pick only in those places you know haven’t been sprayed, and avoid roadside ditches. Now, get out there with your trusty knife and have fun!

For a dandelion salad recipe, click here.

Wilted Dandelion Salad with Crispy Onions and Garlic

by Michele Genest, The Boreal Gourmet

Wilted Dandelion Salad with Crispy Onions and Garlic

I’ve kept this salad as simple as possible, reflecting the scantiness of the spring pantry, but the basic recipe can serve as the starting point for several variations. Feel free to add whatever else you’ve got on hand from last year’s bounty–grated carrots or beets, sautéed potatoes, toasted sunflower seeds. I used new dandelions from my backyard, last year’s onion from my sister’s garden on Vancouver Island, and last year’s garlic from a farmer in Atlin, BC.

Suzanne isn’t going to have a lot of oil in her pantry come May 2018, so here I’ve opted to use ghee instead, because she will have access to a cow. Ghee is a great substitute for olive oil. And, a bonus: somehow this salad needed no added salt.

Wilted Dandelion Salad with Crispy Onions and Garlic

4 cups (1L) of washed dandelion leaves, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 small red onion
3 Tbsp (45 mL) ghee, divided
6 Tbsp (90 mL) rhubarb vinegar
1 tsp (5 mL) Uncle Berwyn’s Pure Yukon Birch Syrup

Have the dandelions ready in a salad bowl. Cut garlic in half lengthwise and slice into thin lengths. Do the same with the onion. Melt 2 tablespoons of ghee in a frying pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until brown and crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towel and reserve.

Reduce heat to medium low and add garlic to the pan. Watching carefully that it doesn’t burn, cook garlic until golden brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towel and reserve.

Melt the third tablespoon of ghee in the pan. Once it has melted, whisk in the vinegar all at once (stand back, it could spatter a bit), followed by the birch syrup. Allow to bubble for about one minute, remove from heat and pour over the dandelions greens.

Toss in onions and garlic and serve at once.

Makes 4 servings.

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!”

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

See the Bees, Eh? Dawson Hive Successfully Overwinters

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

David McBurney’s honey bees have survived the winter!

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

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

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

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.