In this small territory, it’s sometimes surprising how much we don’t know about what’s going on. A case in point: farmers and food businesses. There are 145 farms in the Yukon, but many of the territory’s chefs, caterers, retailers and distributors aren’t tuned in to who the farmers are or what they’re growing. The same is true of the farmers — they know those chefs, caterers and retailers are out there, but they don’t know who’s interested in local food or what products they’re after.
All this not-knowing leads to lost opportunity — the opportunity to feature Yukon foods on local menus, in retail outlets and farmers’ markets, and on our tables, and to build lasting relationships that benefit everyone in the local food chain, including we who want to eat more of that food.
Over the past several years Yukon farmers and food businesses have started to find each other, with great results, but there’s more work to be done. The good news is the Yukon Agricultural Association (YAA) and the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon (TIAY) are on it. For the second year running, the two organizations co-hosted the Meet Your Maker event, held this year on Monday January 14 at the Gold Rush Inn in Whitehorse, bringing farmers and food businesses together.
Imagine the scene: Yukon farmers, producers, chefs, caterers, restaurateurs, distributors and a Who’s Who of agriculture and food sector representatives, including Minister of Tourism Jeanie Dendys and Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources Ranj Pillai, all in one big room, cooking, eating, talking, making new friends and business connections, sharing recipes, tips, and growing techniques.
“Farmers and producers were thrilled with Monday’s Meet Your Maker event,” said Jennifer Hall, executive director at YAA. Hall noted there were 100 attendees, evenly split between farmer/producers and buyers, including two large food distributors and a representative from a company that supplies groceries for mining camps in the Yukon.
There were product samples and tasters at each of the 20 booths in the room, as well as two cooking demonstration stations where local chefs transformed home-grown products into dishes such as hollandaise sauce, ceviche, gravlax, cranberry fudge and mini, coffee-spiced burgers. Chef Robert Brouillette of the Gold Panner restaurant and his team produced a selection of appetizers made with products from eight local suppliers, proving that not only is local food abundant, it is delicious.
This year’s event was fifty percent bigger than last year’s, and the number of buyers more than tripled. Next year, look out, said Jennifer Hall: “Several farmers/producers said that they wanted a booth next year so we will have to get a bigger room!”
There is nothing that provokes more sadness or anxiety in the kitchen than wasting good food. Even putting that wilted lettuce or mouldy tomato into the compost doesn’t make up for the feeling of loss — the loss of the farmer’s hard work, the loss of the energy it took to grow the food, the loss of the energy it took, if it comes from the store, to drive that tomato up the highway or fly it up at great cost.
Nobody likes wasting food. And yet it happens. A lot.
The amount of food that goes to waste in Canada and the world is staggering — worldwide, about one-third of the food that’s produced for human consumption, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. And the National Zero Waste Council of Canada estimates that 47% of the value of food waste in Canada can be attributed to households, at a cost of more than $1,100 per year per household. That’s each of us, in our little homes, forgetting what’s in that container in the back of the fridge, or digging into the new bundle of kale before we’ve finished the old.
Happily, there are many, many resources available to help us reduce food waste at home. See Love Food Hate Waste for ideas that range from fridge and freezer storage management to menu planning to smart shopping. And, after every major holiday, Canadian magazines like Chatelaine or Canadian Living, among others, provide tips on what to do with the leftovers.
Our fellow householders often have great ideas as well. A chef friend of mine keeps a bag for vegetable scraps in the freezer — onion ends, wilted lettuce, carrot tops, the green parts of leeks — and when it’s full she makes vegetable stock. There are more drastic measures. When my husband was growing up in Scotland after the Second World War, there was often a “mandatory plate” on the table: last night’s leftovers.
Soups are a really good way to turn leftovers into something new and delicious. (But that old Yukon cabin recipe of adding new ingredients to the bubbling pot on the wood stove every day is probably not the most food-safe approach. At a certain point those original ingredients just plain go bad.)
The most notable thing about this photo is not that the pepper plant is dying – this is not an uncommon occurrence with houseplants under my care. And it is December, the month of low light in the North.
The most notable thing about this photo is that there is a pepper! In December, in the Yukon!
And this pepper was grown from a local seed!
As I ate local farmer, Grant Dowdell’s, delicious red peppers way back in the summer of 2017, I saved some of the seeds and stored them in an envelope over the winter. I didn’t get around to planting them until midsummer 2018, so the pepper plant was just starting to flower in the Fall when it was time to shut down the greenhouse. Rather than give up, I moved the pepper plant indoors. And, low and behold, a pepper grew!
I was inspired by Dawsonite, Meg Walker, who last winter managed to get a pepper plant to flower and produce little peppers in her windowsill – quite a feat this far North.
I am very proud of this little red pepper. It reminds me of both the resilience and the importance of a simple seed – the starting point in the food chain.
There are many aspects to becoming more food self-sufficient in our own communities. The cornerstone is our ability to save and re-grow our own seeds.
In an era where technology is considering the production of ‘sterile seeds,’ my red pepper reminds me how devastating that concept would be. If we can’t save our own seed, what hope is there for global food security?
On a recent trip to Portugal my companions and I discovered vegetable jams; they played a role on every breakfast buffet table at our hotels and B&Bs, and sometimes at dinner too. The morning offerings almost always included tomato jam, or carrot jam, or interesting (and delicious) combinations like zucchini and walnut jam. At our first dinner at a tiny restaurant in Porto we enjoyed an appetizer of a deep-fried cheese croquette drizzled with warm pumpkin jam. It was divine.
In winter, when fresh tomatoes in season are no longer available, canned, whole plum tomatoes are the best possible substitute. Fine Cooking explains why.
For a person like our friend Suzanne Crocker, who canned a whole lotta tomatoes last year and is now looking at a pantry of several dozen one-litre jars and wondering just how much spaghetti sauce the family will stand, tomato jam suddenly looks very appealing.
We have always heard that tomatoes are not really vegetables, but fruits. Well it turns out that tomatoes are actually berries, as are peppers, kiwis, eggplants, bananas and watermelons. So, if your cranberry yield was small in this poor berry year, consider the tomato as a substitute in your favourite berry-based jam.
For future reference and in anticipation of a great tomato harvest next year, the recipe for tomato jam includes amounts for both fresh and canned tomatoes. I like this recipe, adapted from portugueserecipes.ca, because it’s so simple and most closely replicates the jam we enjoyed in Portugal. But if you’re interested in something more complex, there are many recipes to explore among the usual channels that use cumin, hot peppers, lemon juice and other ingredients.
Serve tomato jam on toast or a locally-made bagel with cream cheese or butter, with scrambled eggs, on charcuterie plates, on moose burgers or to accompany roasted meats. The jam is so versatile it flits back and forth between sweet and savoury with ease.
With global populations and the effects of climate change on the rise, many people are sounding the alarm about potential threats to the world’s food supply. At the same time, the production of food has become a multinational corporate endeavour, often criticized for its negative impacts on people’s health, the environment, and the well-being of family farmers.
One solution being proposed is agroecology, a movement whose key aspect is nurturing the land where food is grown, striving for a healthy and balanced ecosystem. And it is a movement that is gaining momentum globally. Agroecology is being touted as both a mitigation and adaptation strategy for climate change, and meets the concerns of consumers who are increasingly demanding healthier food and a closer connection to food producers. Agroecology also dovetails with social movements around the globe – many with significant leadership by women’s and indigenous organizations – that are demanding a healthy food system built on both environmental and human rights.
The agroecology approach centers around small farmers with an ethical approach to their growing, rooted in an understanding that this strategy protects their livelihood. While this has echoes of a throwback to historical growing practices, it is in fact a future-looking strategy that includes applied research and policies centered around small farmers. According to the Agroecology Fund, a non-profit dedicated to fostering the movement, across the planet scientists, grassroots organizations, NGOs, consumers, universities, and public agencies are working with farmers to construct sustainable and nutritious food systems based in agroecology.
Agroecology seems well-suited to the North. Although the short growing season and harsh climate can be challenges for farmers, there are also the perils of a food system where 97 per cent of consumables are trucked in over long distances along a handful of vulnerable highways. Northerners are also, of necessity, resourceful, cooperative, and independent-thinking, and as a result very willing to support local enterprises.
Suzanne would not have been able to successfully complete her year of eating locally without the help and guidance of local growers. While these individuals avoid labels, it is safe to say their philosophical approach is an agroecological one — and perhaps serve as a model for the rest of the world.
One of Suzanne’s greatest challenges early in her year of eating locally was the problem of grain and flour. Farmers Otto Muelbach and Connie Handwerk of Kokopellie Farm had earmarked rye and barley for Suzanne’s use. But the moose got to the barley first, and weather, busted machinery and road closures almost did in the rye.
Happily, the rye was saved and Otto surprised Suzanne with a secret planting of Red Fife wheat. Baked goods were once again a possibility and so were healthy, whole grains for breakfast and dinner. But the barley was just a fond memory.
This year Suzanne planted several rows of hull-less barley from seeds ordered from Salt Spring Seeds, and farmer Grant Dowdell planted some too. Suzanne’s personal stock is about three bushels of seed heads, according to Gerrard; they don’t yet know how much grain that will translate into until they get around to threshing.
But once the threshing is done, a delicious world of barley-based recipes awaits, like this blissful wild mushroom risotto. Mmm, barley!
Across the planet — from Australia to the Faroe Islands — the culinary world is rediscovering a very old idea, foraging for food. In a heavily mechanized global food system with a very large carbon footprint, where households regularly consume food from continents away, the idea of eating locally and in a wholesome, sustainable fashion, is starting to catch on, especially at the highest levels of haute cuisine. And wild foods are front and centre in this trend.
Foraged foods are not altogether a new idea for restaurants. Truffles, for example, can only be found in the wild, usually with the help of specially-trained animals who sniff them out. High-end chefs have long been in love with the truffle’s unique flavour, and have been known to pay $1,200 a pound for the specialty item. Fiddlehead ferns and wild mushrooms also make the culinary most-wanted list.
Not surprisingly, indigenous peoples are at the heart of the modern foraged food movement. A new generation of chefs from indigenous backgrounds are bringing their age-old culture to modern restaurants. Chef Rayleen Brown of Kungkas Can Cook in Australia is of aboriginal descent, and many of her flavors come from her nomadic upbringing. For her business, she sources 100 percent of her bush foods from local women foragers. Brown’s menus vary based on the foraged products that come in, “riding rhythms of the land and seasons.” Similar stories emerge from places as diverse as Brazil, the American Southwest, and throughout Canada (read our piece on Canada’s indigenous cuisine).
As foraging emerges from the fringes, the mainstream is taking note. We wrote previously about renowned chef Dan Barber, author of The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food. In addition to growing his own ingredients at the Blue Hill at Stone Barns farm, Barber and his chefs also forage the nearby woods for nuts and herbs. In Japan, chef Hisoto Nakahigashi of the Michelin-starred Miyamasou restaurant combs the nearby forest and river for fresh ingredients, which he uses to create the evening “kaiseki” meal, comprising many small courses. At Attica Restaurant in Ripponlea, Australia, a suburb of Melbourne, every member of the staff forages for food each day, sometimes bringing back finds just 15 minutes before service begins, and thereby assuring maximum freshness.
Foraging can be a bit of an art, so it’s not surprising that many busy chefs employ experienced foragers to bring them their ingredients. For example. Chef Eddy Leroux of New York’s Restaurant Daniel, collaborates with expert forager Tama Matsuoka Wong, and the two have even co-authored a book, Foraged Flavor. Slovenian chef Ana Roš of Hiša Franko (who was named World’s Best Female Chef in 2017 by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards), believes in a “zero kilometre” approach. She has a team of 10 foragers who harvest nearby mushrooms, berries, wild herbs and plants, many not traditionally used in cooking. Chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz of Central restaurant in Peru sends a team of seven people out four times per month, foraging from the sea to the Amazon and the Andes for indigenous ingredients. Véliz also runs a research centre called Mater Iniciativa, where researchers record the flavor profiles and properties of wild ingredients before they enter the kitchen. In the Faroe Islands, a popular scuba diving destination, chef Poul Andrias Ziska of Koks restaurant encourages divers to collect mahogany clams, sea urchins, and horse mussels and submerge them in a fjord near the restaurant until it is time to cook.
Nature’s gifts are seasonal, so not surprisingly the use of foraged and wild ingredients often vary depending on the time of year. Rene Redzepi of the Noma 2.0 Restaurant in Denmark varies their menu seasonally, focusing on seafood in winter, fresh vegetables in summer, and wild game and forest finds in fall. Poland’s Atelier Amaro restaurant goes one better. Chef Wojciech Modest Amaro divides his menu into 52 calendar weeks so that he can incorporate the freshest foraged ingredients from the countryside and his garden.
As Suzanne learned during her year of eating only food local to Dawson City, Yukon, edible wild plants abound, even in urban areas, where they are often considered to be weeds, especially if they are prolific growers. Dandelions, wild sage (a.k.a. stinkweed), stinging nettle, and chickweed are just some of the plants that frustrate Canadian lawn owners, but are in fact delicious ingredients, especially when picked while they are young. Some urban restaurants, such as in Iceland, Camissa Brasserie, in Capetown, South Africa, and Masque, in Mumbai, India, may pick up ingredients from among their city’s sidewalks and empty lots.
Rhubarb flourishes in the alleys of downtown Whitehorse; big, healthy plants with spreading leaves and thick green and red stalks. It springs up along fences and behind garages and belongs to no one and everyone. All summer long I roam the laneways of my neighbourhood, knife in hand, returning to gather again and again. At home I wash the foraged harvest extra well (dogs, dust), dry the stalks thoroughly, chop them into half-inch pieces, and freeze them in 1-L portions.
Sometimes I go overboard, and then there’s way more rhubarb than anything else in the freezer. The bags slither and slip and obscure what’s underneath them, they fall out on the floor when I open the freezer door. This becomes annoying, and so I make rhubarb syrup.
I love rhubarb syrup; it’s tart and sour and refreshing, great in cocktails and mocktails or simply stirred into a glass of sparkling water. In our house we pretty much always have a jar at the ready in the fridge door. Each batch of syrup uses up one litre of fruit, so it’s an ideal solution for the rhubarb-overwhelmed.
If I get a bit rhubarb crazy, I’ve got nothing on Suzanne. During her year of eating locally, raw rhubarb juice stood in for the vinegars and lemons that were no longer allowed in her kitchen; she used rhubarb juice in salad dressings, in hollandaise and bearnaise sauces, in pie crusts and even in sweet pickles. Her harvest in the summer of 2017 was driven by fear, the fear of running out. She gathered rhubarb so ferociously that she ended up with 200 pounds. When the year ended and she inventoried her remaining stock, there were still had 95 pounds of frozen, chopped rhubarb distributed amongst her several freezers. That’s a lot of rhubarb.
A major fire this week that completely destroyed one of Iqaluit ‘s two grocery stores has reignited concerns about food insecurity in the North. Our thoughts go out to the entire population of Iqaluit at this difficult time. The blaze at the Northmart store not only destroyed the food on the shelves, but also an adjoining warehouse where a large cache of dry goods was being stored. Most of these goods, including stocks for Christmas and Easter, were brought in by barge while sea lanes were open during the summer, and now concerns have been raised about possible food shortages and escalating prices.
Food costs are already an issue throughout Nunavut, where 55 per cent of the population is living with food insecurity, according to Statistics Canada, and the issue has been getting worse since monitoring began in 2005. (StatsCan defines food insecurity as occurring when one or more household members do not have access to an acceptable amount of quality healthy food, usually because of financial constraints).
The entire issue of food security also falls across racial lines. A recent report found the average cost of groceries for a family of four in Nunavut is $19,760 per year while almost half of Inuit adults earn less than $20,000 annually. This is in contrast to annual salaries for the non-indigenous population averaging over $72,000 in Iqaluit.
It’s worth thinking of the food security in your own community. No matter where you live, grocery stores only carry 3-4 days worth of perishable food. This is not such a big deal if one store shuts down in, say, Toronto, but in our current system your access to food is more fragile than you might imagine. If there is a disruption of the distribution chain (due to an internet black-out, for example, or natural disaster) food shortages could occur in a matter of days.
Supporting and enhancing local food systems in our own communities remains a critical piece in food security.
A tomato still warm from the sun and just plucked from the vine, eaten in the hand without salt or basil or any other addition, is one of the gardener’s greatest seasonal pleasures. At the first bite you understand that yes, this is more fruit than vegetable; a ripe tomato is as sweet and juicy as any peach or plum.
Now, in early November, it’s hard to find such a tomato in these latitudes. But until very recently the next best thing, a local, greenhouse-grown tomato from Yukon Gardens, was available at Wyke’s Independent Grocer in Whitehorse, around the corner from where I live.
In the second week of October I had just arrived back from Portugal with tomatoes on my mind. In Portugal in September the tomatoes were ripe and plentiful, so plentiful they cooked them down for hours into a sweet, spicy jam we ate at breakfast with fresh bread and creamy butter. We ate fresh tomatoes in our picnic lunches with hard cheeses and dry salamis, and at dinner we had cooked tomatoes in fish stew and in one of the many variations of Carne de Porco a Alentejana (Traditional Pork and Clams from Alentejo) we relished in taverns along the Fisherman’s Way.
On our first shopping trip back in Whitehorse there were the Yukon Garden tomatoes, so ripe they were almost bursting their skins. We came home with a few kilos because I really wanted to try that jam, and I really wanted a bread and tomato salad, whose origins are not Portuguese but Tuscan. I had a large bag of sourdough croutons in the freezer leftover from a catering job, and I had visions of chunks of toasted bread soaked in tomato juice and the rich, green olive oil given to us in Portugal by Maria, a family friend. Maria’s oil is pressed from her own olives, and over the years she has brought members of my family many bottles, and we love it. She decanted ours into an empty cognac bottle and we carried it home wrapped in a beach towel and stuffed into one of our knapsacks. It survived the journey.
We ate bread and tomato salad the first night at home. It was everything I had anticipated-the bread both soft and crunchy in its bath of oil and and tomato juices, the tomatoes bright and sweet, the onion sharp, and the cilantro fresh and cool.
The reason I’m allowed to share the recipe here, with First We Eaters, is because every salad ingredient, if not local in October (except the tomatoes), was available in August at the Fireweed Market—tomatoes, cilantro, purple onion. The bread we make at home from a starter brought to Alaska by a German family 100 years ago.
Now that Suzanne’s year of eating only locally has ended, and a few items from abroad are creeping into her diet, we agreed that the olive oil got special dispensation. It was local to us when we were staying in Maria’s house and besides, I’ve known Maria since I was 12 and she was 21, and so what’s local to her is local to me, by association. That’s sound logic, right?
Suzanne will be speaking at the Food Secure Canada National Assembly, which runs from Nov. 1 to 4 in Montreal. Called, Resetting the Table, the gathering is billed as Canada’s largest and most vibrant food gathering.
At the event, hundreds of Canada’s brightest food thinkers and most innovative organizations will discuss how to get to better food policies. Practical solutions to pressing food system failures – such as skyrocketing levels of diet-related disease, climate breakdown, and food poverty – will be shared and developed.
The Assembly brings together farmers and foodies, chefs and Indigenous leaders, activists and businesses, seeding a wealth of new ideas and connections. More than 100 expert and activist speakers will be engaging with attendees.
Resetting the Table includes both a Northern and an Indigenous stream. The Northern stream is based on the theme of Rebuilding Northern Food Systems with speakers from across Northern Canada, including Suzanne. She will be speaking about her experience spending a year of eating 100% local to Dawson City and profiling where her food came from – both the people and the land.
Special thanks to the Yukon Agriculture Association, the Yukon Agriculture Branch, and the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) for supporting Suzanne’s attendance to speak at the conference.
Devour combines two of my favourite things: films and food. And not just any food. Devour celebrates local, sustainable, gourmet food – bringing amazing chefs, both from Nova Scotia and from all over North America, to cook for its patrons. Even Sam Kass, the chef for the Obamas during their terms in the White House, was in attendance. No living off bags of popcorn at this film festival! Films, gourmet dinners, foraging tours, culinary workshops and wine tasting are all part of Devour.
I had the pleasure of spending a windy afternoon on the shores of the Minas Basin foraging for periwinkles during low tide with local chef Sean Laughey who was accompanied by From the Wild filmmaker Kevin Kossowan and Chef Blair Lebsack of RGE RD restaurant in Edmonton. Chef Blair sources all his meat from local farmers and incorporates locally foraged foods into his dishes.
I learned how to cook an amazing spiralized celeriac pasta with a goat’s cheese, onion and wild mushroom sauce from Chef Chris Pyne of Founders House in Nova Scotia, .
And from Chef Louis Bouchard Trudeau of The Charcuterie of Québec, named one of the Top 10 new restaurants in Canada by EnRoute Magazine in 2016, I learned the wide range of possibilities for blood terrine.
Locally sourced food was a very common theme amongst the gourmet chefs at Devour.
Being in Nova Scotia’s wine country, I have become familiar with the term “terroir” – a recognition that the characteristics of a wine are not simply influenced by a particular type of grape but by the natural environment in which the grape is produced. Everything from the soil to the topography, from the climate to the culture of a particular area influences the grape, and therefore the wine.
Clearly ‘terroir’ extends beyond grapes. The concept applies equally well to local food. Certainly my taste palate has come to appreciate the terroir of Dawson City.
The terroir of local food is something every community should be proud of.
If you want to take part in a fantastic gourmet film festival during a glorious East Coast Fall, you should keep Devour! on your radar for next year.
You will recall that I went on my first ever moose hunt in early October. It turned out to be a beautiful clear-skied, seven-day river trip – without the moose – and so I prefer to think of it as a moose conservation trip.
One day, while drifting down the river, we could see smoke emanating from above the river bank in the distance. It looked like a campfire – but there was no boat.
It was an ominous sign that was, in fact, an ominous situation.
A small forest fire had developed on the bank of the Stewart River, just downstream from Scroggie Creek. It was clear that it had started from a campfire. The bank was high, about ten feet up from the river. A beautiful vantage point to call for moose and boil up some tea. But not such a great spot for a campfire. The ground was covered in a thick layer of old spruce needles and moss and the spruce trees were densely packed.
It looked like the campfire had been buried, rather than doused. Which might be understandable considering you would have had to haul water up that steep ten foot high bank. But making it, fundamentally, not a great spot for an open fire.
The campfire, which had not been properly extinguished, had spread. When we arrived, a ground cover of about 20 x 30 feet was burning – many areas hot and smoking, some areas open flame. Tree roots and the bases of tree trunks were charred.
It took us two to three hours of hard work to contain that fire. We made a fire break around the edge, digging with our boots down through the moss to dirt level, pushing the combustibles towards the centre of the burn and away from tree trunks and roots. Gerard chain-sawed and removed a dozen trees, many standing dead, from the burning area so that they wouldn’t burn through and fall, adding fuel to the fire.
The crashing of trees seemed to have caught the attention of a bull moose on the other side of the river who started banging on trees himself. Unfortunately, it never lured him out of the cover of the forest. He must have thought we were quite the mighty bull and chose to stay away.
We emptied a plastic tub that held our food and hauled tub after tub of water up the 10 foot bank to douse the perimeter , the base of the trees and the areas still smoking.
That night we camped upstream and the next morning we checked on it again. A few warm areas continued to smolder, so we hauled up more tubs of water until the ground was no longer hot to the touch.
It seems we succeeded.
It was a good reminder of the camping axiom from my youth: the campfire’s not out till it’s cold and out.
We may not have bagged a moose, but we did help prevent a forest fire.
In the words of the forest fire prevention folk, the best way to make sure your campfire doesn’t spread, even if you think it has died down completely:
Soak It. Stir It. Soak It Again.
Let the fire burn down before you plan on putting it out. Spread the embers within the fire pit, then add water or loose dirt, and stir.
Expose any material still burning. Add more water and stir again until you can no longer see smoke or steam. Do not bury your fire as the embers may continue to smoulder and can re-emerge as a wildfire.
Repeat until your campfire is cool to the touch.
If your fire is out, you should not be able to feel any heat from the ashes.
Throughout Canada, indigenous cuisine is having a renaissance. Part reconciliation, part ethnic food experience, one of the ways the reemerging native voice is expressing itself is in a return to the foods traditionally consumed by Canada’s First Nations.
While multicultural Canada boasts thousands of restaurants serving food styles from virtually every country of the planet, indigenous cuisine is a relative newcomer with only a handful of venues across the nation — which seems odd, given that indigenous peoples were here long before the arrival of Europeans, and almost 5 per cent of Canada’s population identify themselves as indigenous.
“People understand what Thai food is, what Italian food is, what Chinese food is, what Ethiopian food is,” Shawn Adler, the chef behind Toronto’s Pow Wow Cafe, said in a recent interview. “But people don’t really understand what indigenous cuisine is.”
Part of the explanation lies in the shameful chapter of Canadian history where assimilation of the First Nations was the official government practice, and all indigenous culture, including language as well as traditional foods, was forbidden. In fact, from the outset of colonial expansion, food and food sovereignty were used as a weapon against indigenous peoples. The current generation, many of whose parents were victims of Canada’s Residential School system, are the first to be able to openly embrace their heritage and culture. And it is this generation that is spearheading the emerging indigenous food scene.
In the process, the definition of the term “indigenous food” is itself evolving, not surprising given Canada’s wide expanse and the number of individual first nations – 634, speaking more than 50 distinct languages, according to Statistics Canada. The predominant foods consumed vary significantly with geography, from salmon on the coasts, bison on the plains, and moose and deer throughout. However, the wild game that makes up the traditional native diet poses a challenge for restaurants, as most provinces have regulations meat that has been hunted cannot be served to patrons in restaurants.
Even where meat from a wild harvest can be served, obstacles exist, especially the sensibilities of non-native urbanites. Last year animal activists launched a petition demanding that Toronto’s Kūkŭm Kitchen and Chef Joseph Shawana remove seal meat from its menu. Fortunately, a groundswell of opposing support sprang up, accusing activists of seeking to impose their values on indigenous practices, especially given the sustainable and humane nature of the seal meat harvest. Not only has Kūkŭm weathered the protest, it has emerged even stronger, and business is booming.
In addition to Kūkŭm and Pow Wow Cafe, another notable Toronto indigenous restaurants is NishDish, started by Johl Whiteduck Ringuette, which celebrates Anishinaabe and other indigenous cultures. In addiiton to the restaurant and a related catering operation, Ringuette sees his space as “a food-oriented educational hub,” starting with a course he helped develop and is teaching for Native Child and Family Services of Toronto on indigenous cuisine.
In downtown Vancouver, Salmon n’ Bannock Bistro has become known for its authentic Indigenous experience. In addition to Indigenous cuisine using fresh and certified organic ingredients, offering a modern vision of traditional fare, the bistro provides art and music. It is staffed by members of the Nupalk, Haida Gwaii, Blackfoot and Wet’suwet’en nations.
Elsewhere around British Columbia, Lelem’ Arts and Cultural Cafe is located in Fort Langley, as well as a satellite location, Lelem’ at the Fort, at the Fort Langley National Historic Site. Kekuli Café has locations in the towns of Merritt (on Nlaka’pa’mux First Nation territory) and Westbank, in the Okanagan Valley. There is also Indigenous World Winery’s Red Fox Club, which is part of the Westbank First Nation, while Victoria’s Kitchens of Distinction offers an indigenous culinary tours of Vancouver Island, including a traditional Coast Salish feast, culminating with a dance ceremony, and a forest hike with an ethnologist who explains about edible and medicinal plants used by Indigenous communities.
Geographically, historically, and culturally, Iceland is unique. Nevertheless, this island country located just below the Arctic Circle has many lessons to offer in Northern food security, striving for balance between self-sufficiency and sustainability.
Not surprisingly, in the government’s own words, “the fishing industry is one of the main pillars of the Icelandic economy.” A responsible, sustainable fishery is official policy, and includes a structured fisheries management system, including catch limits and ongoing stock assessments.
Arable land is limited in Iceland (less than 1 per cent). The island’s volcanic soils are thin and much of the interior is covered by lava fields, mountains, and glaciers. But while only a tiny fraction of the land is therefore under cultivation, a preference for and tradition of locally-obtained food means the produce from farms (which are generally small and family-run) finds a ready market. Not only are there hearty vegetables like potatoes, turnips, carrots, kale, cabbage, and rhubarb, but thanks to an abundance of geothermal energy, a cornucopia of greenhouse crops, including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers – and even bananas. Although less than 10 percent of Icelandic farms are certified organic, most conventional farms do not use pesticides either, since there are few crop-devouring insects to contend with on the island.
Iceland’s main agricultural activity is sheep ranching, with island sheep far outnumbering human inhabitants. Government regulations mandate that the sheep spend their summers outdoors, requiring them to be freely grazing for a minimum of two months. Dairy farming also flourishes, thanks in part to strict breeding regulations that serve to keep the 1,000-year-old Icelandic cow breed free of disease. More importantly, a farmer-owned co-operative – MS Dairies – collects 98 per cent of the milk produced in the country, and helps to ensure sustainable prices for the dairy farmers. The co-op is also fostering an export industry for Skyr, Iceland’s unique yogurt-like dairy product.
A relative newcomer to the food scene is foraging, brought about in part by Iceland’s recent financial crisis, but also spurred by a growing interest in natural foods. There are two types of foraging activities in Iceland – land and seaside. Surrounded by pristine waters, the island’s beaches are a bounty of edible offerings, including mussels, clams, seagull eggs (which many consider superior to chicken eggs), and also kelp and seaweed. Moving inland, the best time for foraging plants in Iceland is during the short summer, basically late May to late July, when berries (blueberries and crowberries are common) and wild herbs abound. But the most popular foraged food is mushrooms. It is estimated Iceland has over 100 varieties of edible fungi.
In fact, foraging in Iceland has not only become common, but trendy too, popularized in part by a new generation of local chefs who feature wild, local ingredients. Iceland’s foremost restaurant, Dill, (its first and only Michelin-starred eatery), highlights foraged offerings, several of them actually obtained within the city limits of the capital Reykjavik itself. Looking to the future, the government is moving to set aside wilderness areas specifically for foraging.
Admittedly, Iceland’s current focus on sustainability was borne from hard lessons. At the time of the Viking settlement (1150 years ago), around a third of the island was covered with trees. Human expansion resulted in rampant deforestation, and sheep grazing inhibited regeneration. Over 95 per cent of the original forest cover is gone, so, not surprisingly, today Icelanders are careful to maintain an ecological balance, with tight government regulations and policies on land use and agricultural practices, as well as sustainable fishing.
Imagine it’s your turn to cook supper. And this is what the larder holds: pigs lungs, heart, liver, cheeks, feet, a tail, two ears, jowls, lacey caul fat that was once connected to the intestine, pork belly, beef tongue and several litres of pigs blood. All from Yukon raised pork and beef. Odd bits or special bits?
This was the challenge that four adventuresome Whitehorse chefs faced. Each had drawn three random ‘odd bits’ to turn into delicious appetizers for sixty paying customers. They did not disappoint!
Photos by Walter Streit and Suzanne Crocker
I have just returned from three fantastic days at Food Talks in Whitehorse, Yukon celebrating local food and hosted by the Growers of Organic Food Yukon (or GoOFY, as they are affectionately known.)
The theme of Food Talks was “All the Bits” – reminding us to value every morsel of our food and to waste less. Especially when it comes to meat. Using all parts of the animals we harvest, from head to tail to hoof, is a concept that is not unfamiliar in many cultures past and present. Beyond making nutritional and economic sense, it also offers both gratitude and respect for the animal’s sacrifice to nourish us.
Special guest, renowned chef and cookbook author, Jennifer McLagan, travelled from Toronto to attend Food Talks and address the guests.
Jennifer reminds us that what we now call the ‘odd bits’, and often toss in the scrap pile, were once the prized bits – parts of the animal that are packed with both nutrition and taste. Why are we more squeamish about eating heart than we are about eating rump roast – both being working muscles? Bone marrow is packed with iron. Blood can be substituted for egg. Jennifer says the combination of blood and milk is the perfect food – containing all the amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that we require.
I had a taste of the ‘perfect food’ at the Odd Bits Tasting Event when chef Jason McRobb created a delicious chocolate blood pudding desert topped with whipped cream, candied blood orange peel and a strip of cinnamon-sugar-roasted pig skin. It was an inspiration to me to start experimenting with the many ways to cook with blood beyond blood sausage.
Even if you are feeling squeamish at the thought of eating the unfamiliar, you would have found yourself drooling at the Odd Bits Tasting Event. The flavour combinations were out of this world! Four amazing chefs, Eglé Zalodkas- Barnes, Karina LaPointe, Jason McRobb and Micheal Roberts served up tastes such as lung dumplings, breaded sweet breads with aioli sauce, pigs’ feet sweet and sour soup, pork belly on a rhubarb compote, honey glazed pig skin, beef tongue tacos… just to name a few. I tried everything and if I was blessed with more than one stomach I would have returned for seconds of it all!
I have eaten many ‘odd bits’ during the past year of eating local to Dawson. Stuffed moose heart is one of my family’s favourite meals. But I am now inspired to expand even further. The pig harvest and the moose hunt are coming soon and I will be ready to gather and make use of even more parts of the animal than before. (Hard to believe I was once vegetarian.)
If you need some tips or inspiration, check out Jennifer McLagan’s books: Odd Bits, Bones and Fat and be prepared to be inspired!
Suzanne and her year-long First We Eat experience are in the current issue of Up Here Magazine, available at news stands now.
In the piece, written by Miche Genest, and featured on the magazine’s cover, Suzanne chronicles the ups and downs, and the lessons learned from her year of feeding her family only food 100% local to Dawson City.
This coming weekend (Sep. 13-15) in Whitehorse, Growers of Organic Food Yukon will host the second in their series of Food Talks, titled All the Bits. As part of the activities, Suzanne will be on hand Saturday afternoon at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre (KDCC) from 1 to 5 p.m. at a special Open House to talk about the First We Eat project and her experiences from her family’s year of eating locally. Suzanne will be joined in the Open House by Canadian author and chef Jennifer McLagan.
All the Bits kicks off on Thursday night with film screening of Modified, a first-person feature documentary that questions why genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not labeled on food products in the United States and Canada, despite being labeled in 64 countries around the world.
Friday morning will see an inspected slaughter at Naturally Northern Meats, , while on Friday night four local chefs will join at Takhini Hot Springs to put on an Odd Bits Taste Fest.
All the Bits concludes on Saturday night with a pig roast at the KDCC.
Growers of Organic Food Yukon (GoOFY) is a Yukon association that promotes organic practices and provides support, education, and advocacy about organic growing and processing.
My tentative and gradual re-introduction to store-bought food switched to full-on immersion two weeks ago when we left the Yukon and headed to a cottage in southern Canada.
The transition was not easy.
First, there is the psychological component. For one year I quite successfully convinced my brain that food from afar is off limits. This remains my knee-jerk reaction and it has been difficult to give myself permission to try it.
I expected the re-introduction to a wide variety of new foods would be a taste explosion. But it hasn’t been. Things taste exactly how I remember them, and it’s not all that satisfying. Maybe it’s a sign that my local food is pretty darn flavourful in its own right! Smells are tantalizing, but the tastes often don’t live up to the smell.
Sugar has been the craziest phenomenon. Things I used to love, now taste sickly sweet. I get the same ‘I don’t feel so good’ feeling after one bite of a chocolate chip peanut butter cookie that I used to get overindulging on six of them. It astounds me that, once upon a time, my body felt that six cookies worth of sugar consumption was totally reasonable.
Salt creeps up on me in surprising places. Store bought bread is too salty, as is butter and cheese. But a nacho chip tastes like it should.
Despite the saltiness, bread products taste incredibly bland.
It hasn’t all been disappointing. I reclaimed a love for the avocado. I was able to indulge in sushi again, which is as delicious as it used to be. Fresh local southern fruit such as peaches and concord grapes were definitely a treat and fresh-from-the-field Ontario corn is as sweet as candy.
However, on the ‘grocery store food diet,’ I was often hungry and never quite satisfied. I found myself longing for some of my old staples. I started poaching myself eggs for breakfast so I didn’t have to suffer through a bowl of cereal or another baked good. One sip of wine literally went straight to my head. Water and milk were really the only drinks I could tolerate. The once-loved Sanpellegrino tasted way too sweet. Dilution became my friend. A couple of tablespoons of the Sanpellegrino added to a tall glass of sparkling water felt like a reasonable treat.
Gradually my tolerance for sugar and carbs started to increase. Popsicles didn’t seem to bother me and two pieces of chocolate no longer made me feel sickly. I couldn’t handle a butter tart but a Tim Horton’s old fashioned plain donut was going down quite easily and left me craving another.
Before my body adjusts back to old habits, I want to put on the brakes. I’ve just returned home and am looking forward to eating local foods again. I believe my body is telling me something when half a cookie makes me feel sick. Surely it can’t be good to consume as much sugar and carbs as I once did.
Today I stood on the scale. No change in my weight, but there is a new roll around my middle that I’m not so happy with. So don’t get too used to sugar, oh pancreas of mine – we’re going back to local Dawson food!
Their exploits have produced a cookbook that features recipes and stories collected on the road, from home cooks to seasoned professionals alike, including our own Miche Genest. They not only celebrate Canada’s culinary diversity, but also note how important it is to look at where our food comes from and what we can do to get involved.
We had a chance to ask them some questions about their project.
How did the idea originate for your project? What sparked the whole thing for you?
When we were camping this one time we had a long conversation about food and culture, Canadian food culture, and how we had both travelled across the country (we both grew up in different parts of the country) and it turned into a talk about what we point to as Canadian food and we didn’t quite know the answer. We thought, wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a project where we went around for a certain amount of months to specifically talk to people in different regions and see what people were making and what they were eating. And we thought the most efficient way to do it would be on a road trip.
What makes Canadian food Canadian?
Canadians tend to think that we don’t have a distinctive culinary culture, it is interesting because there is this mentality that we are an immigrant nation and that the foods we consume are imported from other cultures, but it is in the mixing of those influences that you can find it. There are all these dishes that maybe come from somewhere else, but they are transformed by Canadian-specific ingredients and they become a whole new thing.
And there is this feeling of “oh, this is just what we eat. This isn’t Canadian food”, as if we are reluctant to claim a food culture, and the wider sentiment is that we don’t have one. It is almost like the cliché of Canadians, that we are always apologizing for everything, and we are also apologetic for our own culinary culture.
What kind of dishes or cooking techniques that you had never heard of before did you discover on your roadtrip? Did any of them make their way into your everyday cooking?
There were almost daily discoveries. One of the coolest discoveries of a cooking technique was when we were on Spring Island on the northwest coast of Vancouver island and we were on a kayak expedition, and cooks from the Kyuquot first nation showed us this traditional cooking method for fish in which they butterfly the salmon and weave it through cedar slats and they roast it vertically over the fire. And it was the best roasted salmon I‘ve ever had, but it also felt like a whole experience, not just a meal.
The trip and the process of writing the cookbook completely opened us up to new cooking techniques and ingredients, like for example I had never cooked wild boar before, and we got this recipe from a Saskatchewan chef for wild boar meatballs and then we started seeing that you could actually get these ingredients around our area. Learning to cook different types of wild game and realizing how different all the flavors are, and that there really is so much variety out there. We definitely expanded our kitchens
In P.E.I. a chef gave us a recipe for scallops that combined them with a pear and currant salsa, a combination that you normally wouldn’t think of but they are all super Canadian ingredients that were locally sourced from the area. All the recipes in our cookbook feel Canadian for different reasons, either ingredient based or culturally based. Perhaps a recipe just happens to be really popular in a specific region, or the reason is because of the ingredients that are found there.
What are your thoughts on the issue of food security?
It is interesting for people who want to change the way they eat and be more aware of what they consume, I think this is such a much easier time to do so. Food is a topic that has been exploding for the last 10 years or so, the local food movement has expanded so much. In my experience, the best way to get involved is to reach out and talk to different people, ask more questions, ask what everyone is eating and where it comes from. Also we have to think on practical terms, not everyone has the economic means to start spending more money on organic food at farmer’s market or the time to grow their own food all of the sudden, but the fact that things are shifting is very important. Making an effort to be part of the conversation is important. A good way to do this is sharing meals together.
Dana and Lindsay's Yukon visit included a tour of Klondike Valley Nursery and a special dinner at Miche Genest's house - Photos by FEAST
Salmon roasting with cedar slats, Kyuquot stye - Photo by FEAST
Feasting together on an amazing spread of local food
Feasting together on an amazing spread of local food
Feasting together on an amazing spread of local food
Feasting together on an amazing spread of local food
Feasting together on an amazing spread of local food
Feasting together on an amazing spread of local food
Feasting together on an amazing spread of local food
Feasting together on an amazing spread of local food
Feasting together on an amazing spread of local food
Feasting together on an amazing spread of local food
Feasting together on an amazing spread of local food
Feasting together on an amazing spread of local food
Photos by Mackenzie Pardy.
What better way to celebrate one year of eating local in the far north, than feasting on local food with some of the folks who were so important to the year’s success.
This time it was my turn to feed others!
A smorgasbord of delicious tastes spotlighted the wide variety of food that can be harvested in the North. An incredible assortment of local cheese from Jen Sadlier of Klondike Valley Creamery – Camembert to die for, Jaques LaRouge, Gouda, Black Jack , Labneh, and garlic chèvre. Pork porchetta and pastrami from Shelby Jordan of Bon Ton Chacuterie. Rye crackers and sourdough pumpernickel bread. Baked salmon. Roast chicken. Crustless spinach and bacon quiche. Potato salad with homemade mayonnaise. Green salads with Saskatoon berry dressing. And for desert – seven tubs of homemade birch syrup ice cream!
And we danced the Bhangra!
Bhangra is actually a farmers’ dance – many of the movements have to do with planting, harvesting and celebrating a successful crop. So it seemed only fitting that we would dance in celebration of a successful year of eating local by dancing bhangra in a farmer’s field.
Thanks to the patient teaching of Gurdeep Pandher from Whitehorse, we managed to pull off a semblance of bhangra. Smiling is an important factor in bhangra dancing. And there is no problem remembering to smile when you are already laughing at yourself!
Dancing the bhangra, a farmers’ dance
Dancing the bhangra, a farmers’ dance
Dancing the bhangra, a farmers’ dance
Dancing the bhangra, a farmers’ dance
Dancing the bhangra, a farmers’ dance
Dancing the bhangra, a farmers’ dance
Dancing the bhangra, a farmers’ dance
Dancing the bhangra, a farmers’ dance
Dancing the bhangra, a farmers’ dance
Dancing the bhangra, a farmers’ dance
Photos by Mackenzie Pardy.
The fields and the forests of Dawson were desperate for rain and on the day of the celebration it was raining steady. There was no visible end to the dark clouds… until the first guest arrived. Then, miraculously, the rain paused and didn’t start again until we were packing up the last box and heading home. I attribute this wondrous phenomenon to farmers’ optimism. During the past two years I have had the privilege to hang out with farmers. I have witnessed how undaunted they are by the weather. With almost all the farmers gathered together in one field, how could the clouds not pause in awe!
Not everyone who helped make this past year so successful was able to attend. Nonetheless we were still a gathering of about 60 people – farmers and food producers, gardeners who had shared their garden space or their produce, folks who had shared their precious supply of wild berries during a very poor berry season, folks who taught me how to fish, those who taught me how to cook, folks who taught me to forage, people who shared recipes and all manner of local knowledge. We were honoured to have Miche Genest, the culinary genius and author of The Boreal Gourmet, paddle to Dawson to join the celebration. Miche has been instrumental in teaching me ways to cook with only local ingredients this past year for which I and my family are forever grateful! Those who were unable to attend were still at the forefront of my thoughts during the celebration.
Many thanks to Cindy Breitkreutz, Miche Genest, Arno Springer and Hector Mackenzie who helped so greatly in preparing the feast; to Megan and Jake of LaStraw Ranch for hosting us in their field and to Gurdeep Pandher for travelling to Dawson from Whitehorse to teach us Bhangra.
And of course a huge thank you to the many, many folks who helped make this year of eating 100% local in the Far North so successful!
The year of feeding my family 100% local food at 64 degrees north has come to an end.
I am very proud of my family. They didn’t join this venture willingly. Gerard made it through an entire year, only ‘cheating’ when he left town. The kids joined in to the best of their abilities – respecting the ban on all grocery store food from our house, including salt. Adapting to strange new foods, not all of which have been palatable!
The family is ecstatic to have ‘normal’ food, previously considered contraband, back in the house again. Tess is throwing a party for her friends – complete with junk food. Kate is looking forward “to being able to cook again”. Sam can once again indulge in instantly grab-able late night calories. Gerard is looking forward to his first beer.
For myself, the grocery store food holds no allure. I remember the taste of an orange out of season and grocery store bread. Even chocolate does not beckon. Give me a Saskatoon berry plucked from the bush or a cherry tomato fresh off the vine any day!
For the past year I have known where every single ingredient on my plate has come from. It has been both an amazing and a humbling experience to be so connected with my food and with the people and the land that helped put it on my plate.
Check out some of the many, many people who helped make this year so successful:
Photo by Cathie Archbould, Archbould Photography.
Photo by Cathie Archbould, Archbould Photography.
Photo by Cathie Archbould, Archbould Photography.
Photo by Cathie Archbould, Archbould Photography.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it takes a community to feed a family.
If I had to choose the place in the world where I would want to be if a major disaster struck, it would be Dawson City. We have food, we have water, we have wood for heat and cooking. And, most importantly, we have resourcefulness, knowledge and ingenuity in spades!
For tens of thousands of years prior to colonization, the land was both the grocery store and the pharmacy for indigenous people of the North. Since colonization, we have gradually moved away from sourcing and producing our food locally. In 2018 we find ourselves dependent on one road to truck 97% of our food from thousands of kilometers away. With this dependence, comes vulnerability.
So, in 2018, it is reassuring to know that there is a bounty of food that the land and the people of the North can provide.
Thank you Dawson City – I am so fortunate to call this remarkable community my home!
Just a couple of days left on “The Program.” Regardless, I expect that much of our diet will remain unchanged: we will continue to support local agriculture as much as we can, not only because the quality and nutritional value is superior, but also as a means of economic support for those locals who are making the effort, despite the unlikely odds.
But there is still this unshakable craving for convenience and sugar and salt. I can’t recall whether this preceded “The Program” or not, but I have taken to late night cravings. I find myself drawn to the kitchen, looking for that little something to cap the day off. Something that says, “Well done, now enjoy this!” A treat.
And usually, a quick survey of the fridge immediately discloses to me those food items of low interest. Sometimes I just can’t place that unmet desire, and I then go through the process of elimination, trying one thing at a time in a desperate attempt to hit the nail on the head.
And it is clear to me that we are not all wired the same. Last night, as I stood forlorn in front of the open fridge, all I could hear was the quipping of Suzanne, “why don’t you have some of that moose liver pate? It goes really well on that bread I made.” (The bread is hard, dark, flat, dry and about 2 weeks old.) Then, without losing breath, she lists off my options in a speedy staccato: “Go down to the pantry and get some bottled moose meat so you can boil up a soup. There are chicken carcases in the freezer that you can boil up to make a nice broth. Try a mug of hot water; maybe you’re just thirsty. There is some kefir in the fridge. Have you given any thought to the possibility that your late-night cravings might actually be the body’s misrepresentation of just being tired? Why don’t you heat up some milk and froth it? I don’t understand why you don’t like frothed milk when you readily eat cheese, yogurt and ice-cream by the gallon, and they all come from the same cow. Why don’t you like frothed milk? Why don’t you learn to like it? I don’t understand!”
Meanwhile, I’m still transfixed in front of the open fridge, looking deep for dietary inspiration. All I can see are various mason jars of partially decipherable identities and dates. Many seem to contain whey, while some have meat products in them. Others have floating berries in a cloudy fermenting solution, the only thing lacking being the skull and crossbones identifier. There is something wrapped in cheese cloth, and intuitively, I highly suspect that I will not quench my craving by indulging in the contents within. There are two jars of promising-looking cream but unfortunately, both are labelled, “SAVE!” Two large gallon jars are filled with milk, clearly needing to be skimmed before being subjected to late-night culinary impulse. There is a whole chum salmon thawing on a cookie sheet. There is fresh Market Garden produce galore, including onions, zucchinis, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, radish and lettuce.
And in the deeper recesses of the fridge, there are the really dangerous things; the things that were failed experiments, still awaiting their final opportunity for recognition as potential marvels. These nearly-missed-miracles-of-creation are obviously too precious to toss, regardless of their age. Why, everyone knows that one more day of fermentation might be all that is required…
These are the items my eyes are casting over, while my ears are being assaulted by Suzanne’s diatribe about the easy access to perfectly valid snack material, all just at my misguided fingertips. There is clearly a perceptional disconnect at play here. It became poignantly obvious when, just as I thought these very same words, they were uttered by Suzanne: “I don’t understand!”
I am now in the last month of a full year of eating 100% local to Dawson City.
At this point, I would have expected to be sprinting towards the finish line – a piece of chocolate, a cup of strong black tea and plateful of sushi temptingly waiting for me on the other side.
But rather than sprinting, I want to put on the brakes. I want this last month to stretch out as long as possible.
It is with trepidation and some sadness that I think of Cheerios, bagels, coconuts and all manor of exotic and processed non-local foods re-entering our kitchen. Items which are now fully engrained in my psychie as ‘contraband’.
After we returned from living in the bush, I was determined to continue making my own yogurt, my own crackers, my own bread. But gradually, despite my initial resolve, convenience overcame my intentions. Ritz and Triscuits became mainstays in the cupboard, yogurt once again came from the store, packages of bagels lined our counter. Will the same thing happen this time or will my resolve prevail?
When it comes to cooking, I do better with boundaries. Limitless choice handcuffs me. I have evidence of this from my past. In university I became paralyzed in the cafeteria line up when I was asked “cheddar or mozzarella?” I avoid restaurants with six-page menus. It’s also one of the reasons I live remotely. When you go to the store for a new toaster, you buy the only toaster on the shelf – no decisions to be made.
The constraint of cooking with only local ingredients has done wonders for my previously non-existent culinary talents!
I might just continue to avoid grocery shopping. If my family wants it, let them go to the store and buy it. I suspect the novelty of shopping might quickly dissipate after their August 1st shopping spree. But then again, baking powder would be nice.
Wild sage is out in abundance now around Dawson City. There are two kinds of wild sage, one you may be more familiar with and one less familiar with. For both, the leaves can be dried and used as a herb.
The more familiar wild sage is artemisia frigida — which is distinctive by its sage green colour. Its scent is a delicate with that aromatic sweet sage smell. It is most often found in alpine areas and outcroppings.
You may be less familiar with artemisia tilesii, commonly referred to as stinkweed. This is a misnomer. There is nothing stinky about the aromatic smell of sage! Artemisia tilesii is prolific – especially along road sides, and it looks very much like an inedible weed. But that is just a ruse. You can identify it by rubbing the leaf to smell its distinctive sage smell. As it is quite plentiful, you can cut it at the base of the stalk and hang it to dry. The dried leaves keep well in a mason jar throughout the year. Crush the dried leaves or grind them in a coffee grinder before adding as a seasoning.
In case mosquitos are bothering you while you forage, the leaves of wild sage, along with yarrow, also acts as a mosquito repellent if you rub the leaves on your skin.
And here is a tip from Bev Gray’s The Boreal Herbal, if you have sore feet while you are hiking or foraging, line the soles of your boots or shoes with artemisia tilesii leaves!
As part of the Dawson Youth Fiddlers entourage, I have just returned from Vadzaih Choo Drin, Caribou Days, in Old Crow, Yukon – four days of celebrating the Spring migration of the Porcupine Caribou Herd en route to their Northern calving grounds and feasting on food from the land!
Caribou Days is a wonderful four day celebration of feasts, games and music, with jigging and dancing that continue to the wee hours of the morning. Everyone takes part, young and old, men and women. One of the Dawson contingent coined a new slogan for Old Crow: “Old Crow – where men dance!”
Much of the feasting celebrates food from the land. The caribou, vadzaih, features front and centre, but also rabbit, muskrat, whitefish, salmon, duck and beaver. For me, it was my first taste of muskrat! (Although I took my tub of Dawson local food with me, I also treated myself to some tastes of local Old Crow food while I was in Old Crow!)
There is a wonderful synergism to the games and feasting at Caribou Days. The log sawing competition and the kindling competition help keep the outdoor fire going for the huge grill that cooks the food from the land. The rabbit skinning contest and the muskrat skinning contest are perfectly timed before the meat hits the grill!
Muskrat meat ready for the grill, and fur ready for use. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
Muskrat tails on the grill. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
Beaver was also on the menu. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
Prepared caribou heads ready to go in the pot. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
Whitefish being cleaned for the feast. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
Vuntut Gwitchin citizen, Stan Njootli Sr. demonstrates how to skin a muskrat. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
Crow River ice after break-up. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
The outdoor grill being prepared for the Caribou Days feast. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
Almost ready. Checking on the caribou. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
Food from the land ready for the feast. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
The caribou are vitally important to the Vuntut Gwitchin who have relied on the caribou for tens of thousands of years for food and for clothing. All parts of the harvested caribou continue to be used from the head to the hoof to the hide. The Vuntut Gwitchin and the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, with the support of many Canadians and Americans, continue to fight for the protection of the Porcupine Caribou Herd’s calving grounds, wintering grounds and migration routes from oil and gas exploration.
Massi Cho Old Crow for welcoming the Dawson Youth Fiddlers so warmly to Caribou Days with amazing Old Crow hospitality. We had a fantastic time!
One of my foraging and chef friends in Whitehorse goes over to Haines, Alaska a few times every year to enjoy the sea and the salt air and do some wild harvesting. She might come back with bags of lambs quarters, she might score a clutch of chanterelle mushrooms or a kilo of spot prawns.
The other day, just back from one of her excursions, she texted me, “Want some fresh eulachon for supper?” She was lucky enough to have been there for the weekend of May 5th, when the eulachon were running. I texted back, “Wow! I’m really not sure. Do I?”
The reason for my hesitation was I’d heard that eulachon oil, a delicacy to the Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest from California to BC to Alaska, can be really strong for the uninitiated. I’d also heard that the fish are so oily that when dried, they can reportedly be lit to burn like a candle. I’d smelled the eulachon being processed beside the Chilkat River last spring. The aroma was powerful. But I’d never tasted the oil, or the fish.
In many parts of the formerly eulachon-rich Pacific Northwest, this small, smelt-like staple of the Indigenous diet has disappeared. Happily, the run is still strong in Haines. My friend said that the Chilkoot River ran black in places, there were so many fish. She tried catching them in a collapsible camping colander, but they were too quick, so she just plunged her hand in and grabbed them, two or three at a time, stuffed them into a pot on shore, slammed the lid on and waded back into the river to grab some more — bouquets of eulachon, the gift of spring.
Back in Whitehorse, after our text exchange, my friend came over with a baby cooler. In it were a baggie-full of eulachon and two good handfuls of devil’s club sprouts. (The only time I’ve ever tasted those sprouts is when she has brought them back for my husband and me. ) She just happened to be in the forest at the right time; one day later and the sprouts would’ve been too big, the prickles starting to harden.
That night we feasted on these two presents from Alaska, kindness of my friend. On her advice, we lightly smoked the eulachon whole, then coated them, still whole, in flour. My husband had just returned from a hike with beautiful ripe juniper berries; I crushed those and added them to the flour, which was local; the last of my supply of triticale flour from Sunnyside Farm in the Ibex Valley.
We fried the fish quickly in butter, and the devil’s club sprouts in butter and garlic. We ate both sprouts and eulachon with our fingers. We peeled the backbone, organs attached, from the fish, split the head to remove the brains and crunched the crispy skulls in our teeth. The flesh was sweet, mild, and silky, not oily at all. The devil’s club sprouts tasted, as my friend’s partner often says, like pure life. Strong, conifer-like, bracing, almost medicinal.
I said to my husband, “We have to really pay attention because we’re not going to taste these flavours again until next spring.” The bonus of eating seasonally, and locally, is that you can savour these experiences for the special treat that they are.
The Yukon River ice broke yesterday around 1:30 p.m. officially marking Dawson’s transition into Spring!
Every year the The Imperial Order of Daughters of the Empire (IODE) hold an ice pool in Dawson to guess the exact date and time that the ice will break up. The charity splits the proceeds of the pool 50/50 with the winner. And there is almost always someone who guesses it to the minute!
Once the ice clears (usually in about a week) the George Black Ferry will be launched and folks will once again be able to cross the river in their vehicles.
Good news for me as it means I can re-stock my dwindling potato supply from the root cellar at Kokopellie Farm on the far side of the Yukon River!
As the swans return and the Yukon River breaks up, the longed-for foraging season inches ever closer. This waiting-for-spring seems endless now, but we know from experience that once the new plants start to appear it’s all going to happen really fast. First the dandelions and the spruce tips will appear, then the wild roses and the plantain and lamb’s quarters, then the Labrador tea and then the berries, the rapid succession of beautiful berries.
Now, as we lounge in spring’s waiting room, it’s a good time to reflect and prepare for the foraging season ahead. As our love of wild foods grows, there are more and more of us out there, and it becomes crucial to practice ethical harvesting, doing our part to protect and conserve, so we, the animals and the birds can continue to enjoy the wild harvest for generations.
The north is a big place, and sparsely populated, but even so the forager’s effect on the environment, especially sensitive environments, can be devastating. One Dawson resident said recently, “Indiscriminate harvesting concerns me as our population grows and more people are interested in the wild things.” When we’re out in number, our cumulative effect is far greater than we might think.
Stories from the forests of Quebec provide a cautionary tale. The wild leek (Allium tricoccum, also known as ramps, wild onion or wild garlic), once abundant in the wild, was so over-harvested for commercial and personal use that it became endangered. Urban sprawl and habitat destruction also played a part. Since 1995, by Quebec law, the only wild leek harvest permitted is 50 bulbs or plants for personal use. Today, though commercial harvesting and sales of wild leeks have been banned, the species is still listed as endangered.
Chef Nancy Hinton and her partner, the legendary Quebec forager Francois Brouillard, own Les Jardins Sauvages, a restaurant and small wild-food condiment business in Saint-Roch de l’Achigan just outside Montreal. Brouillard grew up spending summers in the woods near his grandmother’s cottage, now the restaurant, and was foraging for wild foods long before they became de rigueur on restaurant menus and at farmer’s market stalls.
Now, says Hinton, though she and Brouillard are very happy people have learned about wild foods, the downside is the woods are becoming overcrowded and habitat is threatened. “There’s a lot of people going out, and they’re going too fast, they don’t have the knowledge and the patience or the experience necessary, even if they care about sustainability.”
Worse, continues Hinton, the demand for wild food is so great it has spawned a flourishing black market. “There’s tons of people, and they sell to chefs, or to other people that sell.” This causes a number of concerns. “First, there’s no traceability, so if there’s a problem you don’t know where it came from or how it was picked. Second, these people are not people who are so concerned about sustainability.”
Hinton and Brouillard now sit on a committee that’s trying to develop guidelines for this burgeoning industry, but it’s complicated. How do you monitor compliance? How do you monitor the woods? In the case of wild ginseng, an endangered species in Ontario that brings high prices on the black market, Environment Canada is using video surveillance cameras on known patches.
In the meantime, wild ginger and crinkle root, plants that Brouillard has been gathering for years, and which still thrive on his family’s property because of careful harvesting, are listed as “at risk” in Quebec and their harvest subject to regulation. Hinton says that while she doesn’t want to dampen enthusiasm for beginners interested in wild harvesting, and understands that mistakes are made innocently, it’s frustrating to be denied access to much-loved plants because of others’ ignorance or willful negligence.
We might think it can’t happen in the Yukon. But in Whitehorse low bush cranberry pickers have already noticed that they have to go farther and farther afield to find berries, even in a good berry year. There are simply more of us out there. The way foraging works, one friend brings another, who then goes back to the same place with a new friend, who then returns with one of her friends, and so on, until the small patch of wild berries that might once have supported one person’s family with a few cups of berries for the winter is now under an enormous amount of pressure.
Last year at an area in BC famous for its wild watercress and its beautiful, extremely sensitive Karst landscape, my husband and I came across a Whitehorse family in the midst of harvesting wild watercress. They already had three large garbage bags full, and they were filling a fourth. “We do it for all of our family,” they said.
Well, okay. But surely we have to think beyond our own families. What if we all filled several large garbage bags every spring?
Amber Westfall, herbalist and wild food educator from the Ottawa area, has compiled a short list of helpful reminders on how to forage with care. It’s not a bad idea to review her guidelines while the season is not yet upon us.
Guidelines for Ethical Foraging
Composed by Amber Westfall, herbalist and proprietor of The Wild Garden, in Ottawa, Ontario. Amber says, “Please practice good stewardship and take care of the plants that take care of us!”
Make sure you have a one hundred percent positive ID. Ideally, reference more than one field guide, or go out with an experienced forager or wildcrafter.
Do not over-harvest. Be mindful of how many remaining plants are needed to ensure the stand will continue to flourish and thrive. Learn about how the plant reproduces. By seed? Rhizomes? Slow growing bulbs? Think about what other animals, insects and people might be using those plants.
Know the poisonous plants in your area and what to avoid.
Be aware that anyone can have an allergic reaction to any plant. Eat a small amount and wait 24 hour to see if you have a reaction.
Harvest away from busy roads and rail lines. Avoid contaminated areas and areas that have been sprayed with chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The edges of farm fields, unless organic, are not appropriate for harvesting for this reason.
Know the history of the area you are harvesting from. Be wary of empty lots and avoid ‘brownfield’ land.
Do not harvest on private property without permission.
Do not harvest on protected land, fragile or at-risk environments or in provincial or national parks.
Learn which plants are threatened or at-risk and do not harvest them.
Learn which plants are prolific and which plants are invasive. These are ideal for harvesting.
Only harvest the appropriate part of the plant at the proper time of day and/or in the proper season.
Use clean, appropriate tools to reduce the spread of disease. Make neat, clean cuts at growing nodes to allow the plant to heal well and continue growing.
Leave some of the best specimens to go to seed and reproduce. If we take all the best plants and leave behind weak or diseased specimens, we are selecting for future plants that will be weak and subject to disease.
Have as little impact on the surrounding area as possible. Fill in any holes, re-cover bare dirt with leaf litter and try to leave the area better than you found it.
Don’t waste the plants that you harvest. Use and process them promptly while still fresh and compost any parts that are not used.
If you are in the Toronto area or have friends or family in Toronto, Suzanne’s award winning documentary film All The Time In The World is returning to the Hot Docs Film Festival tomorrow, Saturday 28 April at 12:30 pm as part of Hot Docs 25th Anniversary Redux Programme celebrating great Canadian films. Suzanne will be answering questions via Skype after the film. Advance tickets have been sold out for weeks, but rush seating is still available.
All The Time In the World is a family-friendly documentary that has screened in 25 countries around the world winning 22 awards, including 9 Audience Choice Awards, 4 Best Picture Awards, and 6 Youth Jury Awards. It has been translated into 12 languages.
David Suzuki described it as: “A magnificent film. It is an amazing idea, a remarkable family and a film with a powerful message to those of us who live busy urban lives. Anyone watching this will have to ask, what is life all about, why am I in such a hurry, what is it that gives us true happiness. Thank you for making a film that demands that we answer those questions.”
All The Time In The World features Suzanne and her family as they took their 3 kids (then aged 10,8 and 4) into the Yukon wilderness to live for one year with no electricity, no digital technology, and not a single clock or watch.
Welcome, nine new lambs to Peter Dunbar’s sheep herd, on the banks of the Yukon River, about 5 kilometers downstream from Dawson City. There were two sets of triplets, one set of twins and one singleton.
It is still cold in the Yukon so the newborns get sweaters to help keep them warm for their first few days of life.
I know that fish tend to accumulate toxins from our water systems, especially predatory fish. So I wondered, since I am consuming a fair amount of burbot liver this winter, do I need to worry about mercury levels and other contaminants such as PCB’s and DDT?
To my surprise I learned that, in fish, mercury accumulates in the muscle in levels much higher than in the liver. This is the exact opposite of terrestrial animals such as caribou where mercury levels are higher in the liver compared to the meat.
Mercury levels in fish vary depending on the location but, in general, predatory fish (lake trout, burbot) have higher levels of contaminants than non-predatory fish (whitefish, grayling, salmon) and larger (older) fish have lower levels of contaminants than smaller (younger) fish.
According the limited burbot data we have available in the Yukon, the mercury levels in burbot muscle are five times higher than in the burbot liver. However burbot muscle has the highest mercury levels of all the freshwater fish we catch in these parts. Chum salmon has the lowest mercury levels (less than a tenth that of burbot).
Based on Health Canada’s tolerable daily mercury limit is 0.47 ug/kg/day (for adult men and adult women who are not of child bearing age), my daily limit of burbot would be maxed out at 45 grams (1.5 oz) per day! And my daily limit of burbot liver would be a whopping 225 grams (8 oz) per day.
So my Vitamin D needs of 10 grams of burbot liver per day are no big deal.
But a daily limit of 45 grams of burbot muscle is a really small portion! Of course, I am not eating burbot every day, so it still averages out ok – but it was a good reminder to limit my consumption of burbot.
So my take home message: Burbot liver is a great source of local Vitamin D. By consuming sautéed burbot liver one can get enough Vitamin D without too much mercury. Burbot flesh should be considered a winter treat and if one is going to eat a lot of local fish, grayling and salmon would be better choices.
Want the stats?
Here are the statistics from fish in Old Crow from a study by Yukon Research Scientist, Mary Gamberg
Mercury per gram of fresh fish:
Burbot : 0.62 ug/g
Pike: 0.17 ug/g
Burbot liver: 0.124 ug/g
Grayling: 0.06 ug/g
Chum Salmon: 0.04 ug/g
(Based on a sample size of 14 burbot, 11 pike and 12 chum salmon from Old Crow and grayling from other Yukon locations.)
For adults, the tolerable daily mercury limit is 0.47 ug/kg/day (Health Canada) (less for women of child bearing age)
This translates to a tolerable daily limit in grams of fish for an adult woman of my size:
Burbot : 45 g (1.5 oz)
Pike: 164 g
Burbot liver: 225 g
Grayling: 466 g
Chum Salmon: 700 g
As mercury levels differ from one water system to another, I was curious as to what the levels would be in the burbot living in the Yukon River at Dawson City. I sent in one 4 pound, 11 year old burbot for testing and levels came back as 0.23 ug/g mercury in the muscle and 0.04 ug/g in the liver. The mercury levels from the Old Crow burbot are 2.5 times higher than the levels in the one fish tested from the Yukon River. One sample only, but it suggests that the mercury levels in the Yukon River near Dawson are less than the levels around Old Crow.
For PCB’s and DDT, the amount found in 10 grams of burbot liver from the Old Crow study was quite low, one tenth of the tolerable daily intake for PCB’s and one twentieth for DDT.
When chef Joseph Shawana was growing up on Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron, and he wanted to eat morel mushrooms, he just went outside and picked some. “I didn’t even know how much morels cost until I moved to Toronto and people were talking about morels for 50 or 60 bucks a pound, and that was quite a steal,” he says. “And here I am at home just frying them in a little bit of garlic and butter.”
Cedar, juniper, partridge, the white-tailed deer and a “huge abundance” of morels are just some of the wild flora and fauna found in Shawana’s traditional territory on the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Reserve. Along with cultivated foods sourced from small, local producers, wild foods form the backbone of the menu at Shawana’s Toronto restaurant, Kū-Kŭm Kitchen.
The seasonal menu reflects Shawana’s heritage and his training—he attended culinary school in Toronto and worked in several restaurants there, most recently at Snakes and Lattes, where in 2016 he featured a special Aboriginal Day menu that quickly sold out, eventually inspiring him and partner Ben Castanie to start up Kū-Kŭm.
Shawana’s 27-seat spot, opened barely a year ago in an older mid-town neighbourhood, is one of four Indigenous restaurants in Toronto, and his work is emblematic of a new wave of Indigenous chefs across Canada who are wowing diners by combining traditional ingredients with contemporary cooking techniques.
“It’s a really good opportunity to showcase Indigenous cuisine,” says Shawana. In the spirit of collaboration and mentorship, each chef will work with a Yukon First Nations chef or culinary student to produce dishes that celebrate Indigenous cuisine.
Shawana will bring a few different Indigenous traditions with him, starting off the multi-course meal with a squash, corn and bean soup that honours the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois nations of southern Ontario and the north-eastern United States. Squash, corn and beans are known as the Three Sisters in that tradition; they are companion plants that help each other in the growing phase. Corn stalks support the bean runners, the bean plants fix nitrogen, and squash provides ground cover, moisture retention and protection against rodents.
As a tribute to the Inuit peoples of the Arctic, Shawana will serve seal loin, seared in a pan over the fire and accompanied by sautéed sea asparagus from the West Coast, some wild onions and wild garlic, and fire-roasted Yukon beets.
Shawana took some flak when he introduced seal meat at Kū-Kŭm in October 2017. A petition with more than 3,000 signatures circulated online, demanding he remove seal from the menu. That sparked a counter-petition from a Toronto Indigenous artist, who was frustrated at the bad press Shawana was getting, and with a more general misunderstanding of Indigenous culture and traditions.
Shawana was aware he might be headed for controversy. “We were hesitant to have [seal] on the menu here at first, just because we knew we’d get a little bit of backlash for it,” he says. But, as he told CBC in an earlier interview, “…it’s part of the northern community’s culture. So we’re trying to pay homage to them, as we do with everything else.… It’s all dietary needs of the Indigenous communities from east to west.” Seal meat is still on the menu at Kū-Kŭm, and Shawana says it’s doing very well. Not long ago he served his seal to a party of Inuit diners. “It was their first time of having seal the way we serve it here,” he says. “They loved it.”
Shawana learned to love cooking at his grandmother’s side; she cooked for the family and for the community. “My grandmother played a huge role in all of our lives growing up. That’s part of the reason I named my restaurant Kū-Kŭm. Another reason is my wife is Cree and Kū-Kŭm means grandmother in Northern Cree—so it’s a way of paying tribute to my wife [too], who is a huge part of who I am today.” A mural of his grandmother, his mother and his mother-in-law graces one wall of the restaurant.
Dinner at Kū-Kŭm might include main courses of pulled caribou wrapped in caul fat, goose with puff pastry, or bouillabase of mixed Canadian fishes and seafoods in a cedar and anise broth. Dessert could be a pot of rich chocolate mousse lightly flavoured with lavender. But the meal always ends with a cup of cedar tea. In winter, passersby can drop in, even if the restaurant isn’t open, to warm up with a cup of that same tea.
“My grandmother always taught us to keep the door open, because you never know who’s going to want to come in and get fed, or just keep warm,” says Shawana. “
That simple, human hospitality goes hand in hand with Shawana’s philosophy of respect for whole ingredients and for bringing community together over food. “We deal with smaller businesses that actually know their products and know their farmers and their families, and know how everything is harvested.” Shawana sources wild ingredients from Forbes Wild Foods, who work with several Indigenous communities in Ontario. “So we’re helping that business out, which in turn helps out a lot of First Nations communities.”
Before Shawana was approached by organizers to take part in the First Nations Fire Feast, he wasn’t aware there was a food scene happening in the Yukon. “It doesn’t surprise me, just considering that everybody is starting to go back to the roots of where food actually comes from.”
“It doesn’t come from the grocery store, it comes from [outside] our back doors.”
To purchase tickets for the First Nations Fire Feast, visit here.
Two of the many awesome women farmers in Dawson are Diana McCready of Emu Creek Farms and Maryanne Davis of Tundarose Garden. Both produce succulent crops of delicious berries – saskatoons, haskaps, raspberries and black currents. Emu Creek Farms even grows some northern cherries! Diana and Ron McCready have the added challenge of having no road access to their farm, it is only accessible by boat.
Northern Cherries and domestic Haskap berries at Emu Creek Farm. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.
A late June frost wiped out many of the wild berries that we normally count on. We will be forever grateful to the many Dawsonites who donated some of their precious wild berry stock to help supplement our year. Wild low bush cranberries are a family favourite!
Fortunately, although the wild berry crop was meek, domestic berries thrived!
A three-page article about the First We Eat project, written by Suzanne, is appearing in the Spring issue of Harrowsmith magazine. The issue is available on newsstands now.
Harrowsmith’s tagline is: “Make. Grow. Sustain. Share.” It’s therefore not surprising that Suzanne’s message of sustainability and Northern food security is a perfect fit for the publication. Harrowsmith has been spreading its message for over four decades, and was the first Canadian magazine to focus on organic living, alternative energy sources, and a country lifestyle.
Suzanne, along with the Yellowknife Farmer’s Market and Food Charter Coalition will be guest presenter for a webinar this coming Monday 12 March 2018 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. PST on what sustainable food means in the North.
The Northern Food Network (NFN) is co-hosted by the Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research (AICBR) and Food Secure Canada (FSC) as a space for people working in and interested in northern food security to share, learn about best practices across the North and advance collective action on food security. They co-facilitate bi-monthly webinars and teleconferences with focused presentations and discussion around 4 core themes: environment, health, agriculture, and food security.
When Art Napoleon found he had to cook a selection of wild and cultivated ingredients from a local food “mystery box” over a campfire with three Indigenous Yukon Elders, he said, “Oh no! You’re going to gang up on me.” He had reason to be fearful—Tetl’it Gwich’in Elder Mary Jane Moses, Teetl’it Gwich’in Elder Dorothy Alexie, and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elder Peggy Kormandy are all experienced campfire cooks with many years of cooking on the land behind them.
But as participants at “Our Camp is our Kitchen” learned, when it comes to campfire cooking Napoleon is no slouch. He and the ladies transformed the ptarmigan, rabbit, caribou guts, caribou meat, sheep ribs, wild rhubarb, cranberries, birch syrup and a host of other delicacies into soup, stew, fricassee, viande grillée and pudding that fed anywhere from 75 to 100 people. Their cooking fire burned in an galvanized metal drum with a grill set over top; their camp was a wall tent and a tarp shelter in the parking lot beside the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Community Hall.
The event was part of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Myth and Medium Conference, held from February 19 to 23 in Dawson City. Napoleon was a special guest at the conference, and the organizers worked him from morning till night, calling several of his skills into play. He arrived Monday afternoon, gave the opening keynote address that evening, cooked all day Tuesday, performed a concert Tuesday evening, gave a talk on food and nutrition Wednesday morning and flew out Wednesday afternoon.
As Napoleon told the audience Monday night, he juggles several careers–singer-songwriter, educator, conservationist, naturalist. He holds an MA in Language Revitalization from the University of Victoria and is a former Chief of the Saulteau First Nation in north-eastern BC. Most recently, he’s co-host of APTN’s Moosemeat and Marmalade with British chef Dan Hayes — an exploration of two very different approaches to cooking wild game, the Indigenous and the classically trained.
Food and cooking are the sinews that tie much of Napoleon’s life and work together. He first learned how to cook on open fires and woodstoves as a child living in Peace River country, and later grew comfortable in modern cooking facilities. He has always loved cooking for people, and one of his approaches to cooking traditional food is to “gourmet it up.”
“It’s given me great pleasure to serve good food to people, especially if I can present traditional food in ways that people haven’t tasted,” he said. “If you want to show the beauty of your culture, food is one way to do that.”
Napoleon said that at heart he’s an educator, and cultural revitalization is a cornerstone of his life philosophy. “So food is something that fits in there nicely. Food and philosophy and cultural teachings—I don’t really see much difference between those.”
Napoleon, who lives in Victoria, advised people on how to “Indigenize their diet” in an urban context. In his talk on food, nutrition and planning on Wednesday morning he reminded the audience, “If you live in the city there’s lots of ways you can still access your traditional resources.” He goes back to his traditional territory to hunt; he receives packages of wild food from his family; he learns what wild foods grow in his area and goes out foraging. “I can still be an Indian down there, I don’t have to be a Victorian.”
Napoleon also suggested ways of incorporating better nutrition into modern diets, noting that on the land, “People ate clean and they were very active. They were in great shape. Our meats were the original free range organic meats.” Today, he said, “The food industry sucks. It’s all about the money. You’ve got to make it all about health, and make your own choices.”
The reality is that Indigenous people live in two worlds, he added, and even hunters supplement their traditional diet with store-bought foods. “They’ve just become part of the culture.” He laughed. “Red Rose tea is part of the culture!”
He admires Suzanne for her efforts to eat only local food for a year, calling her endeavour “either crazy or brave, and maybe a little bit of both. I think it’s a lot of work, and would take great, great discipline.”
But he shares one of Suzanne’s concerns, mentioned in her presentation on Tuesday evening: how sustainable is her diet? Napoleon asked, “If everybody wanted to do it…would things get over-harvested? What kind of impact would it have on the land? Long ago people managed it in a way that was sustainable, but now there are bigger populations.”
These are questions shared and pondered across Canada and around the world: how do we feed ourselves in a sustainable manner? When the population will potentially reach 9.7 billion by 2050?
As Indigenous people who live in two cultures, Napoleon said, “There’s no way we can survive as an island. That’s the great thing about the Yukon–the divide is not so wide as it is in Souther Canada.” He ended his Wednesday morning talk on an emotional note. “You guys are lucky,” he said, near tears. “You guys who are living in territories that are bringing [the traditions] back.”
Napoleon said he always likes to contribute food for thought in his work. Asked what he would like people to take away from his participation at Myth and Medium, he reflected for a minute and said, “The need for balance. Always remembering that we walk in two worlds, and there’s ways to return to your cultural integrity while still living in these modern times.”
Every second year, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation in Dawson City, Yukon, hosts a colloquium/conference entitled Myth and Medium. The theme in 2018 was Food, Culture, and Identity, so not surprisingly, given her First We Eat project, Suzanne was asked to be one of the contributors to the event.
The week-long celebration kicked off on Monday with a potluck dinner, where attendees were invited to bring a dish that helped denote their heritage or identity. (Suzanne’s contribution to the potluck was her 100% locally-sourced garlic chevre on rye crackers.) But the evening’s main course was the collection of food-centered stories that followed by various guest speakers, including Suzanne and her husband Gerard.
The next day the official presentations began, given by a collection of notable speakers, indigenous and non-indigenous alike, including luminaries like Art Napoleon and Lawrence Hill, to name just a couple. Participating in a session entitled The Land Sustains Us, Suzanne paid tribute to those in the local community whose wisdom and aid have made her local-only experience possible. The audience was also treated to a preview snippet from Suzanne’s film, with very favourable crowd reaction.
Other Myth and Medium 2018 sessions touched on a wide variety of subjects, as one would expect from something as fundamental and far-reaching as food. From looking at wild plants for food and medicine — and a way to reconnect with traditional values — to finding what ancient stories can teach us about our food, the speakers were diverse, knowledgeable, and thought-provoking.
The next two afternoons saw Suzanne at a booth and doing hands-on cooking demonstrations and tastings of some of the things she has learned during her journey — from using colts foot ash as a salt substitute, to frying up burbot liver to help boost her Vitamin D levels.
Myth and Medium wasn’t all business. The event, which told attendees to: “Bring your dancing shoes and your appetites,” included lots of feasting, music, laughter, and activities. One of the highlights was the outdoor campfire, where there was cooking of all manner of wild local meat, including some rarer fare, such as moose nose, lynx, and a local ‘haggis’ made by stuffing a caribou stomach.
Ultimately though, the conference proved the old adage (although perhaps on several new levels as well), that we are what we eat.
That seems to be the sentiment of the week, the question most posed during this time of Suzanne’s absence.
But fear not, for we are living in a state of self-imposed restraint. We are now so deeply entrenched in “The Program” that we no longer depend on the wrath of Suzanne to sustain our momentum. The brainwashing has reaped its yield, the temptations are squashed, the longings are suppressed, the wistful explorations of taste are on the shelf of life.
Throw me into a vat of salted caramels, plunk a cappuccino in my hands, and observe personal restraint in action! Work me into a sweating lather on a hot summer afternoon, then offer me a cold beer in a frosted mug, and watch me, unfazed and resilient as I let it turn to vinegar.
My mother used to describe me as stubborn. Suzanne labels me as obstinate-defiant. I found it best not to ask what my employees and patients thought. Better to imagine only the most complimentary adjectives.
Although I don’t really want my tombstone to read: “Here lies one stubborn man,” I have to admit that there are benefits to having the trait. Like now. When getting through the tough. When there is a principle to uphold, when only perseverance will do.
My main assistant is Tess. She is all over the dairy products: skimming the cream, making the yogurt, shaking for butter, creating chevre. And I have found that a successful way to maintain my poundage has been to assume the duty of ice-cream making!
We have been eating well. Roasts and vegetables every evening. Potato cakes, eggs and sausages every morning. Lots of protein, dairy and complex carbohydrates. Little sugar. We are 6 months into “The Diet,” holding strong (possibly stubborn!) and firm in the resolve that sugar is the nemesis in the human diet.
When most Dawsonites make the 550 km trip to Whitehorse, they head down the highway with an empty vehicle and come back loaded with goodies from the city – including groceries from the big box stores. Today I find myself in the opposite situation.
I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be travelling at all during this year of eating 100% local – mainly because of the daunting task of bringing all my food with me. But, with February comes the Available Light Film Festival and Industry Conference in Whitehorse. And I found myself itching to attend. So I am going. For one week. And I’m not driving. I’m flying.
One week’s worth of Dawson local food on its way to Whitehorse as luggage on a plane. Just how much is one week’s worth of food for one person? Sixty pounds worth it turns out. Or, at least, that’s what I’ve got. I once again am having ‘range anxiety’ over food. Having all my food in one tub feels very finite. Will it be enough? What did I forget? I guess I’ll find out. While the other industry guests graze on appy’s and oysters, I will be pulling out cheese, dry meat, carrots and toasted pumpkin seeds from my parka pockets. While they sip on a cold beer or a glass of red wine, I will pull out a thermos of hot milk. One thing is for sure, there will be no shortage of conversation starters!
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.
Despite its sub-arctic climate, the Yukon is blessed with several apiaries. With care, bee hives can survive the harsh winters, even as far north as Dawson City. This is the profile of one of the Yukon’s honey producers.
Bee Whyld is a small apiary in Watson Lake, Yukon, specializing in producing Fireweed Honey. Owned and operated by Courtney and Joel Wilkinson, Bee Whyld was officially founded in June of 2016, although it had been in the works for a few years prior.
Courtney originally had a job as a salesperson for an Alberta honey company, and was working towards keeping her own bees. On a visit to the Yukon to visit her then-boyfriend Joel, she noticed the fields of fireweed common in the territory. Courtney knew from her experience selling honey that Fireweed is not only one of the rarest honeys, and also one of the best for flavour and medicine, and this sparked the idea to bring bees up to the Yukon and make Fireweed Honey.
Beekeeping in the North is quite challenging, especially overwintering and maintaining the health of the hives, but through trial and error Courtney and Joel have learned what it takes to successfully produce honey in the Yukon.
Their honey bees gather all of the nectar that they turn into honey from the Boreal Yukon forests, with fields of flowers that are untouched by pesticides, and not genetically modified. Their honey is also both unpasteurized and raw, meaning they don’t heat it at all. This ensures all the natural antibiotics, pollen, and Royal Jelly are still intact within the honey, making it a good choice for medicinal uses (such us helping to heal wounds, helping to fight off infections, helping to reduce allergies, and alleviating sore throats).
Bee Whyld’s Yukon Fireweed Honey has been called “the Champagne of honey.” It is a rare honey prized around the world for its medicinal qualities, and its light sweet taste.
When I came to Dawson to cook with Suzanne, I was prepared for frugality, for the careful husbanding of food supplies — I had read Gerard’s blogs about the one onion a day, the rationing of juniper berries.
I was prepared for ingenuity, too, the experimentation with flavour in the absence of salt, sugar, spices, and oil. What I was not prepared for was how Suzanne’s frugality and ingenuity would change my way of thinking.
I’ve always thought I was experimental, and I am, given a cupboard full of nutmeg and cinnamon and garam masala to complement the juniper berries and spruce tips, the many varieties of sugar and syrups available to me, the wine for wild berry reductions, the fresh leeks and fennel for moose stock. I’ve always considered myself a frugal cook, wasting little, using the whole vegetable, saving scraps for stock.
But here, in this kitchen, frugality and ingenuity have taken on new meaning. Here’s how. Ingenuity: Suzanne has figured out how to make sugar beet syrup. Simply put, cover chopped sugar beets in water, bring to the boil, simmer for several hours, strain, squeeze excess juice from the beets, boil down cooking liquid into a delicious, complex, earthy syrup, a syrup that goes well with everything on the table, sweet or savoury, livens up a cup of warm milk, and substitutes for sugar in baking (with some adjustments, but that’s for a later post). Sugar beets grow well in this climate, and we speculate: is there a future Yukon industry in sugar beets?
Frugality: Chef Brian Phelan came over and taught Suzanne and I how to make Rappie Pie, a favourite Acadian comfort food. The recipe involves juicing 10 pounds of potatoes and cooking the pulp in boiling chicken stock — there’s more, but that’s for another post. The by-products of the juicing are as many as 14 cups of potato liquid covered with a layer of stiff foam, and, at the bottom of the bowl, a cement-like residue of potato starch.
Suzanne would not allow any of this by-product to be composted. I cooked the potato liquid for use in soup. She skimmed off the foam and baked it into an odd but tasty version of potato chips — a recipe that still needs perfecting, but the basics are there. And she chipped the starch out of the bowl, crumbled it onto a drying screen lined with parchment, and put it in the food drier. The next day, she ground some in a coffee grinder, made a paste with cold water and it thickened our moose stew to perfection.
I helped with all of these endeavours, but Suzanne was the driving force; fierce, committed, consumed with curiosity. I was prepared for her fierceness, but did not know exactly where it might take us.
Now I do. It takes us to ingenuity and frugality, sugar beet syrup and homemade potato starch; it takes us to new ways with food we hadn’t thought of.
Miche and I were very privileged to have Dawson City chef, Brian Phelan, join us in the kitchen this week to teach us how to cook a dish from his Acadian roots, Rappie Pie.
Rappie Pie is a total comfort food and definitely a great winter dish, especially this week in Dawson with temperatures hovering between minus 35° and minus 40°C. The three hours in the oven required to bake Rappie Pie helped keep the house warm!
In many ways it is quite a simple dish, requiring very few ingredient: basically a chicken and some potatoes. One of the most interesting things about Rappie Pie is the preparation. You juice the potatoes but only use the pulp. However, you measure the juice produced to determine how much hot chicken stock to add back to the potato pulp. The magic ratio is 7:10. (For every 7 cups of juice produced, you add 10 cups of boiling stock to the pulp.) The timing is critical, as you don’t want the potato pulp to oxidize. The boiling chicken stock that you add to the potato pulp actually cooks the potatoes in the bowl – even before it goes in the oven. Then you add your herbs or spices (traditionally sautéed onion and salt and pepper; in our case onion and ground celery leaf) and layer the potato pulp mixture with chicken in a large casserole dish. During the three hours of baking, the casserole absorbs the chicken stock, becomes firmer and develops a delicious crust. It’s not the kind of dish that looks great on the plate – the word ‘mush’ comes to mind. But it is delicious and filling and oozes comfort.
Traditionally, the potatoes would have been grated (hence the name ‘rappie’ from the French word “râpé” which means grated) and then the juice squeezed out. But juicers definitely make that process much more efficient.
One of the wonderful things about food is how it gathers people together and the memories we associate with certain foods. Listening to stories from Brian of Rappie Pie suppers past, reminded me of this and how important food is – not just to sustain us, but all the traditions, gatherings and memories that go with it.
I’m not sure if this year of eating local will become one of those fond memories in future years for my kids or if it is scarring them for life. Some days it’s hard to tell. But I will keep my fingers crossed for the former.
It’s my first night in Dawson, it’s -22C, and there’s a starry sky up there. I just walked home along First Avenue in the quiet, snow-lit darkness. I’m staying at Bombay Peggy’s on the last night they’re open for the season—maybe I should be down in the bar but instead I’m up here in the Gold Room enjoying the solitude and the feeling of a season coming on, the winter revving up. The trees are heavy with snow.
The cold, the quiet, the snow, the dark trees, the deep excitement of winter, remind me of when I first arrived in the Yukon, 23 years ago. When I was a kid growing up in Toronto, Collingwood was our version of the North. We skied there every weekend in winter. I loved the pillows of snow, the slanting light, the blue shadows of those winters.
But coming to the Yukon was like coming to where winter began. The stillness at night, the snow sparkling like diamonds—I’d never seen that before, snow in Southern Ontario doesn’t do that.
Winter began here.
I got that feeling again tonight. And, buzzing underneath the crisp cold air, was the low-voltage, warming hum of possibility. That’s another thing I remember about first coming to the Yukon. Anything is possible here.
Tomorrow I move up to Suzanne’s house, and we will start a week of experimenting with the food she has grown, gathered from farmers and the forest, processed, preserved and stored over the past several months. The work she has done is mind-boggling. There is enough in her larder for a rich and sustaining menu of delicious local food all winter long.
Our task list is lengthy. Transform 350 lbs of sugar beets into syrup. Figure out what to do with the delicious pulp. Lessons in meat cooking. Discover new quick ways to cook potatoes. Devise snacks that the kids can grab and go. Crackers—how are we going to make crackers? Pizza crust with steamed cauliflower—can we make it work?
Underground, above ground, inside, outside — northerners have developed numerous ways of creating cold storage areas. Perhaps one of the simplest is the outdoor freezer: as soon as it’s cold enough, and barring a thaw, many northerners simply keep foods frozen by storing them outdoors.
In the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, there is a different solution. Katrina Cockney, Manager of Administration and Community Services, explains that as late as the 1980s individual families dug ice houses for their own use. But as the community grew in size and more houses were being built, that became less practical.
In the late 1960s, with the help of government funding, the community built a freezer deep in the permafrost, 30 feet below the surface. There are three main corridors down there, opening into 19 rooms. Access is via a steep ladder through a trap door in a small, locked shed. The contents of the freezer change according to the season — in summer there might be dry fish and muktuk, geese in the fall, and caribou and dog feed in the winter.
The freezer used to be accessible to tourists, but is no longer due to safety concerns. The hamlet is considering building a walk-in icehouse in order to show tourists the local technology. In more modern times, many households have one or more chest freezers for traditional foods. When the temperature is below freezing, they often move one freezer outside. But Katrina Cockney estimates there are still about six families who use the community freezer year-round.
There is another part to the story. Not only is the freezer practical, “It’s beautiful,” says Cockney. “It’s hard to explain, but it’s like a wall full of crystals.” Cold storage can be beautiful in more ways than one.
Freeze-up has begun in Dawson — a unique, but very significant, season to communities in the north who are separated from roads by rivers.
Dawson is nestled at the confluence of two rivers: the Yukon River and the Klondike River. Some folks live on the far side of the Yukon River in West Dawson and Sunnydale. Some folks live on the far side of the Klondike River in Rock Creek. These folks have no access to any stores or other amenities of town during ‘freeze-up’ — the time of year when ice floats down the rivers preventing boat travel and the ferry that crosses the Yukon River gets pulled for the winter. They must wait till the river freezes solid enough to cross by skidoo or eventually by vehicle. Last year freeze-up lasted 7 weeks. So for those folks, stocking up on enough water and food to last them through freeze-up season is a normal part of October.
I am not normally one of those folks. I live on the town side of the rivers. But this year the grocery stores are off limits to me. This year, freeze-up is playing an entirely new role in my life. Because this year, some of my main local food sources are on the far side of rivers. My root vegetables are on the far side of the Yukon River – at the Kokopellie Farm root cellar in Sunnydale. The dairy cows (the source of all my milk, butter, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream) are on the far side of the Klondike River — at the Sadlier’s Klondike Valley Creamery.
So this year, I too must stock up for a freeze-up that could last up to 7 weeks. The last ferry run across the Yukon River was on Oct 29th. On this side of the river I have stocked up with 150 lbs of potatoes, 150 lbs of carrots, 40 lbs of beets, 40 lbs of rutabagas, 20 lbs of cabbage and, of course, lots of pumpkins.
The Klondike River is still crossable by canoe, despite the ice. But not for much longer. For the past 6 weeks, I have been collecting empty milk jugs from friends and neighbours and freezing as much milk as I can. I have also been making extra butter and ice-cream — all in preparation for freeze-up. On our local diet, we have been consuming about 1 gallon of milk per day. At that rate, for a freeze-up lasting 7 weeks, we would need 49 gallons of frozen milk! We don’t have that. We have about 20 gallons. I will continue to collect and freeze as much as I can and then … let the rationing begin.
Miche here. In late October my household of two took delivery of a 35 lb box of local carrots, cabbage, beets and potatoes, part of a fundraiser for a local school. It was not an overwhelming amount, but it did bring up again one of our failures when we built our house in Whitehorse. We forgot to include a cold room.
The family home in downtown Toronto, where I grew up, had a cold room. It was a dank, dark, spidery kind of place, and it was, on one occasion, the lair of a roast beef dinner, stored temporarily during a power outage and then forgotten. The roast beef, peeled potatoes and sliced onions transformed over time into an awe-inspiring, slime-covered monster. (We brought our friends to see it until my mother found out. As I recall she threw the dinner away, roasting pan and all.)
But though not altogether welcoming the cold room did what it was supposed to do—it kept whole, unpeeled, raw root vegetables cool enough for long-term storage.
Now, in present-day Whitehorse, my household doesn’t stockpile local root vegetables because we don’t have a cold space, apart from the fridge.
Instead, we freeze, can, pickle, ferment, and go to the store to buy root vegetables that someone else has stored. Freezing, salting, drying, smoking, fermenting and canning are all technologies key to the long-term storage of food. But only cold storage preserves the vegetable raw, so you can eat a crunchy, home-grown carrot in January or grate a local beet into your coleslaw in mid-March.
Over the next while here at First We Eat, we’ll be exploring food storage ideas from across the north. Tell us: how do you keep your vegetables over the winter? Do you have a root cellar? Do you cover your carrots in sand? Do you wash them first or not? What do you do about cabbage?
In the meantime, I see a lot of kimchi in my future.
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.
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.
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.
Some of the Dawson Farmers contributing to Suzanne’s Thanksgiving Dinner
I received the ultimate compliment last week in the bank line up when a local farmer said to me “ Suzanne, you’re looking like a farmer these days!”
I looked down at myself. I had worn both knees out of my jeans. My hands were rough. Garden dirt was etched into the creases of my palms as well as a permanent fixture under my nails. My ‘bush coat’, previously only worn during camping trips, had become my practical everyday wear. And I felt a small surge of pride.
Over the past year, I have witnessed how hard farmers work. For my part, mostly from the other end of a camera. But I have experienced snippets of hands on work (such as helping a farmer dig up 300 pounds of beets) and gleaned a new appreciation for the difference between gardening and farming. Every day farmers are working hard outdoors from early morning till sunset (which during a Yukon summer, can be a very long day!) On rainy and blustery days when I choose to stay indoors with a hot cup of tea, farmers are outdoors working. When the blackflies are at their worst, farmers are out in their fields. No such luxuries as a weekend off or a summer camping trip. I believe that farmers are one of the most undervalued segments of our society. No matter where we buy our food, it is the incredible hard work of farmers, invisible to most of us, that provide us with this necessity of life.
This past Thanksgiving weekend, as I sat down to share a turkey feast with family and friends, I felt especially thankful to farmers. And I felt both privileged and humbled to know each farmer responsible for every single ingredient on our supper table. Our turkey was thanks to Megan Waterman at Lastraw Ranch. Our carrots and potatoes thanks to Lucy Vogt. The milk and butter for our mashed potatoes thanks to Jen Sadlier at Klondike Valley Creamery. The brussel sprouts thanks to Otto and Conny at Kokopellie Farm. The celery thanks to Becky Sadlier at Sun North Ventures. The onions thanks to the Derek and the students at Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Farm. Our pumpkin pie thanks to Grant Dowdell’s pumpkin, Megan Waterman’s eggs, Jen Sadlier’s cream, and Sylvia Frisch and Berwyn Larson’s birch syrup. A precious apple thanks to John Lenart at Klondike Valley Nursery. And our low bush cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie spices thanks to the forest.
There are many, many folks who have helped me during our first 72 days of eating only local to Dawson City, be it the farmers who grow the majority of our food or the folks who have leant me garden space, shared some of their produce or shared their helpful advice.
Thanks to all and a very special thank you to farmers.
Listen to Suzanne’s latest appearance on Yu-Kon Grow It, a segment of CBC Yukon’s A New Day with host Sandi Coleman. Suzanne reported on how things are going two months into the project, and talked about some of her plans for Thanksgiving.
I’m up early today. No, not because of the eager anticipation of yet another scintillating cup of rhubarb tea. Nor is it because of the alluring wonder about new ways to cook an egg this morning.
It’s the fire in my right hand that owns my senses. Lucky for me, I have a background of medical knowledge, so my mind is not racing with unnecessary fears and concerns about endless hypothetical possibilities. I recognize carpal tunnel syndrome for what it is. And the pulsating tightness in my finger represents the festering splinter from yesterday’s effort.
The blame sits squarely on the shoulders of produce. The sheer volume of foodstuffs is squeezing us out of house and home, so I have felt compelled over the past days to mitigate this pumpkin-invasion by building a storage shed. And with frost looming, and with moose in full rut, time is of the essence.
So I have been taking matters in my own hands, contributing to Suzanne’s cause divergently. A frenzy of saws with noble intent. A flurry of nails and boards, all single-mindedly set on seeing this project through.
And the hand symptoms, with a tincture of time, will dissipate. The mind will forget. Only the shed and its contents will remain.
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.
It’s happening. I’m developing a taste for the subtle flavours. I can eat a boiled vegetable with no seasoning. I love the taste of a tomato off the vine. Try a kohlrabi today; peel it, slice thinly, eat slowly, savour the crispness and rush of liquid as it flows across your parched and desirous palate. Meat and fish are great, as is, seeping in their own juices. Skip the gravy; save it for the nearly rotten meat, when you need to hide the rancid taste. Use gravy in the way perfume was once used to disguise body odor.
Salt is a cover; it is there to disguise flavour, not enhance it. Same for sweetness. And pepper and curry and cinnamon and nutmeg and all the rest. Rise up people and revolt! No longer allow yourselves to be chained to culinary tradition, which encourages the bathing of food with herbs and spices, such that you will be indifferent to the plethora of food mediocrity. Good food has its own good flavours.
The Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI) in Hay River is turning an abandoned, industrial pig farm into a teaching campus, with the help of a contribution from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor).
Since 2013, NFTI has trained more than 150 people from 30 communities, and 13 of those people have gone on to start their own farm businesses. With the 260-acre farm campus, NFTI will demonstrate and teach how to feed 200 people. “Our most isolated communities are 200 people are or less, so we wanted to show, in a realistic way, what does it take to feed community of that size,” said Kim Rapati of NFTI.
The farm will develop the sustainable systems needed to provide a complete diet for 200 people, including greenhouses, permanent food forests and orchards, hardy northern grains and pastures, meat and dairy farming, food storage and marketing.
The focus is on “regenerative agriculture”, or agriculture that supports a healthy and abundant ecosystem, that will also help northern people protect wild herds and wild harvesting.
Rapati said that the failure of the pig farm, established in 1990 and abandoned in 1995, demonstrates that industrial, confinement agriculture does not work in a northern context, “for our people and our markets.” The NFTI farm campus is representative of a new model of agriculture taking hold in Canada–small-scaled, highly productive farming systems. “It is now possible for small, bio-intensive market gardens to earn between $25,000 and $150,000 in Canada,” Rapati said.
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.
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.
An innovative project led by the Inuvik Community Greenhouse Society is helping small, isolated Arctic communities, where access to fresh produce is scare, set up their own greenhouses and start raising fresh food. In June, community greenhouse coordinators from Aklavik, Fort MacPherson, Paulatuk, Sach’s Harbour, Tsiigehtchic, Tuktoyaktukc and Uluhakaktok attended a week-long internship program in Inuvik.
The program covered everything from soil preparation through weeding, trellising, pruning, and soil care to harvesting and worm composting. The interns worked in the greenhouse and in outdoor gardens around the community, even receiving instruction in raising chickens.
At the end of the course, each coordinator delivered a 30-minute workshop to prepare them for giving workshops in their own communities. The coordinator from Aklavik focused on engaging young people in the greenhouse, since it has been shown that when youth participate in community greenhouses, vandalism decreases significantly.
Emily Mann, coordinator of the Inuvik Community Greenhouse, said that being gathered in once place allowed community coordinators to learn from each other and to establish a network for troubleshooting and sharing knowledge—the coordinators have since set up a Facebook page.
The interns are now busy in their own communities, reaching out, teaching workshops and bringing local people in to garden together. In Aklavik recently, local children made hanging flower baskets for the Elder’s home. Every Elder received one. As Mann said, flowers are important for pollination, but they help to build community too.
For those in the Dawson City area seeking fresh, local produce, this is the best time of year. Local producers are starting to harvest their crops and there are two separate markets available where the freshly-grown vegetables and herbs are available for purchase.
Every Saturday until mid-September the Dawson Farmers Market, located by the river on Front Street, is in full swing. You’ll not only find produce from several local growers, but there are also trees and plants for gardeners, and crafts as well. Fresh vegetables and herbs are already available in abundance, and as the season progresses there’ll be berries, apples, and preserves as well.
The Farmers Market runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. but you’re best advised not t wait until late in the day, as the produce is popular with Dawsonites, and some items sell out quickly.
Starting tomorrow, Wednesday 19 July, TH Working Farm will also sell their products to the public on their own Farmer’s Market, which will be held every Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre.
The staff at TH farm has been working hard all year to provide local produce for Dawsonites, which will include radishes, green onions, zucchinis, potatoes lettuce and spring mix among others, with more variety of veggies to come as the season progresses.
They also have been raising chickens and rabbits that are close to being ready for harvest, as well pigs and ducks, which will be available for purchase in the fall.
With this initiative, they are hoping to increase the variety and amount of locally grown food in the area, while teaching and training younger generations with an interest in agriculture.
Wild strawberries are one of the first wild berries to ripen (followed closely by soap berries, which we’ll cover in a later post). It’s best to “get low” when harvesting wild strawberries as they are located very close to the ground, often hiding underneath their foliage. You’ll typically find wild strawberries in meadows, young woodlands, sparse forest, woodland edges, and clearings.
It may take a while to cover the bottom of your bucket, but your patience will be amply rewarded. They are oh so sweet and bursting with strawberry flavour! Best popped straight into your mouth, but if you have the willpower to save them. then they can be also be frozen for later and used for all things strawberry.
It may be time to start looking at lambsquarter in a different way. Much like chickweed, this common garden weed (sometimes also known as pigweed) is another often-overlooked plant that has great potential as a wild food.
A prolific grower, lambsquarter is well-suited to Dawson gardens, and does well in many Northern regions.
Lambsquarter leaves are delicious raw and are not bitter like many other edible foraged leaves. Suzanne reports that she loves the taste, and they are her new favourite foraged leaf to eat raw. Sometimes called “northern spinach,” the leaves can also be cooked and used as a spinach substitute in stir fries or baked dishes like lasagna.
The leaves keep well in the refrigerator for a couple of days, or for the long term can be dried or frozen and stored for later use in sauces, soups, or stews. Lambsquarter is rich in Vitamins A and C, so the dried leaves can be a great source of these vitamins in wintertime.
One cautionary note: lambsquarter absorbs pollutants so avoid harvesting near roads or industrial areas.
In a feature published this week, The Yukon News profiled Suzanne and her upcoming year of eating only local foods, which will start by the end of July. The piece, by Lori Garrison, discussed the project, and highlighted some of the challenges – as well as pleasant surprises – Suzanne has encountered in preparing for her one-year experience.
It is clear that Suzanne’s journey thus far has been a highly educational one, and while she laments some of the things she will be forced to go without (such as coffee, chocolate, and salt) the lessons she is gaining from the project have been invaluable. As a filmmaker and storyteller, Suzanne can naturally find the lighter moments and human interest aspects of First We Eat, but the interview also touches on the project’s potential importance beyond entertainment value. The traditional food acquisition methods – and their practitioners – that she is documenting can ultimately have a beneficial impact for all Northerners in terms of developing their own long term food security.
Suzanne also paid tribute to the many and diverse local producers on whom she is leaning heavily, both to acquire food for her larder, and to provide the insights and knowledge to help her with her own growing and foraging activities. As noted in the article, the local growing activities are even more remarkable when you take into consideration that many farms in Dawson are off-grid without access to electricity or municipal running water.
One of the leaders in Northern food sustainability, Jackie Milne, the Founder and President of the Northern Farm Training Institute, was in Ottawa last Friday to receive the Meritorious Service Decoration from the Governor General.
With global warming affecting traditional hunting grounds, Jackie saw a need to increase access to fresh produce in Canada’s northern communities. She established the NFTI in Hay River, NWT to teach the local population about sustainable, environmentally sound farming practices that would supplement traditional diets. Since 2013, the institute has trained nearly 100 farmers from across the north, with Indigenous students making up more than half of the program’s graduates.
The Meritorious Service Decorations were established by Queen Elizabeth II to recognize the extraordinary people who make Canada proud. Their acts are often innovative, set an example or model for others to follow, or respond to a particular challenge faced by a community. The best candidates are those who inspire others through their motivation to find solutions to specific and pressing needs or provide an important service to their community or country.
Miche here. When you go up to visit Old Crow you never know what that unique and generous community will send back with you — a haunch of caribou traded for some Taku River sockeye, or several pounds of King salmon roe. This year a friend and colleague presented me with a whole, wild, specklebelly goose.
I had never tasted a wild goose before. Bringing it home to Whitehorse, I plunked it in the freezer while I decided how to cook it.
The specklebelly, or greater white-fronted goose, migrates through Old Crow every fall and spring on the way to and from their nesting grounds in the Arctic. These geese are an important part of the traditional diet in Old Crow.
In early May the hunters were out on the Porcupine River, bringing home the birds for the family pot.
Every year, the hunter who got my goose gives all the women in his family a bird for Mother’s Day. He tells their men, who cook the goose, to follow the magic formula: 2-2-2. That is, slow-roast the specklebelly with two cups of water for two hours in a 200°F oven.
According to Ducks Unlimited, the specklebelly “provides the makings for one of the most delectable wild game meals you’ve ever eaten.”
This cook concurs. I followed a modified 2-2-2 formula, and that specklebelly was the best wild fowl I’ve ever tasted. Thank you Old Crow.
Pelly River Ranch is the the oldest, continuously working farm in the Yukon territory, located 10 kilometres up the Pelly River from its confluence with the Yukon River. Dale and Sue Bradley are the second generation of Bradleys to run the Pelly River Ranch, and the Bradley family are the fifth in a series of owners dating as far back as 1901, when Edward Menard bought 20 acres on the Pelly River and brought in farmer George Grenier as his partner. The farm changed owners through the years until 1954 when Dale Bradley’s uncles Hugh and Dick Bradley bought the place from the Wilkenson family.
Like their family before them, Dale and Sue and their son Ken run a mixed farm, which means they engage in several agricultural practices. They raise chickens and beef cattle, mostly Hereford and Angus, have a big vegetable garden, and they raise hay to feed their cattle. The Bradleys sell their eggs, chickens and beef to customers in Dawson, Faro and especially Whitehorse. In addition, they supply local markets with a range of root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, rutabaga and parsnips.
Pelly River Ranch mantains a herd of about 50 cattle, which they feed with their farm grown hay as well as fresh forage, from grasses to rose leaves to young fireweed, a feed that gives the beef a wild, natural flavour that Bradley appreciates.
In the year 2000, the Yukon Agriculture Branch presented the Bradley family with the “Farmer of the Century Award” for their nearly 50 years of agricultural work at the Pelly River Ranch.
Join the Northern Food Network for its third FREE webinar. This installment is on Growing Food and Community in the Northwest Territories. It takes place Monday 19 June from 10-11:30 a.m. PST (1-2:30 EST). The webinar will feature presentations by:
A vertical agriculture facility is in the planning stages with the goal of having it built in Carcross this fall. This innovative project will be the first of its kind in the Yukon.
Tami Grantham, Natural Resources Coordinator with the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, says: “What attracted us to this technology is the ability to grow greens year-round. It’s a goal and a mission for the government of Carcross-Tagish First Nation to become food-secure.”
Construction would be managed through a new corporation created as a partnership between the Carcross-Tagish First Nation and Northstar Agriculture of which the First Nation will be 51 per cent owner.
The system will recirculate water from a fish tank through a vegetable grow bed. Nutrients from the fish waste feed the plants, and the plants filter the water to keep the fish healthy. In normal aquaculture, excretions from the animals being raised can accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity. In an aquaponic system, water from an aquaculture system is fed to a hydroponic system where the by-products are broken down by bacteria into nitrates, which are utilized by the plants as nutrients, and the water is then recirculated back to the aquaculture system.
The vertical part of this type of farming will be in the form of stacked layers that could be up to 10 meters high, in order to maximize production, contained in a warehouse-style space.
Not only would this mean a possibility for fresh local produce and lower food prices in the community, but also the promise of food security, as this system allows year-round growing of vegetables in a sustainable way.
The fish raised would be Tilapia, which is common in farming systems. Vegetables grown would include kale, spinach, and perhaps even strawberries and other vine crops.
While dandelions are the bane of gardeners who are cultivating a lawn, the flowers from this plant — one of nature’s most prolific growers — are a blessing for those foraging for wild food.
The flower is a sun-lover, opening when the sun is out and closing up when it gets dark or cloudy. The flowers should be picked when they’re in full blossom, and the petals should be removed immediately after gathering before the flower heads start to close up.
Dandelion flowers can be used in variety of ways, including the well-known dandelion wine. They can be eaten raw in salads, or used for stir-fries, baking, or sauces.
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.
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.
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.
Claus Vogel is growing celery from celery!
This is a great way to get more veggie from the bottom of a veggie that you would usually cut off anyway. Take the base from a stalk of celery, rinse it off, and put it in a shallow cup of warm water on a window sill. Change the water daily and keep an eye on it to see if any regrowth begins. You’ll see remarkable results in days and if you want, you can transplant the celery outdoors and have a great harvest at the end of the growing season.
Apparently this also works with romaine lettuce and green onions, and veggies similar to celery like fennel and celeriac. Louise Piché was successful at re-growing ginger from a piece of store bought ginger root, and some adventurous people have even re-grown pineapples from the tops!
Anyone else had any success with re-growing veggies?
The first Fireweed Market of the season opened Thursday at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse on a beautiful sunny day—let’s hope Thursdays stay sunny for the rest of the summer!
A small but mighty crowd of farmers, vendors and enthusiastic customers were there, reconnecting after the long winter, sharing gardening tales, buying bedding plants, and snacking on kettle popcorn or samosas. Buskers busked, little kids chased each other through the stalls and the occasional dog was spied eyeing up the snackers and hoping for a dropped pakora.
Supplies of produce were limited, as always at the beginning of the season, but Bart Bounds and Kate Mechan of Elemental Farms had swaths of starts for sale. (Bart said recently, “My ultimate dream is to get everyone in the Yukon growing their own vegetables and I grow the seeds.”)
Local cook and author Michele Genest came home with starts of beets, cabbage and kale from Elemental Farms, (she’s not a gardener, but this year, in solidarity with Suzanne, she’s determined to succeed) a dozen eggs (the blue ones are so beautiful) from Michael Ballon, and an order for two chickens and two turkeys from Grizzly Valley Farms. All in all, she reports, a most satisfying day.
It won’t be long before markets open in Dawson, Mayo and Haines Junction. Here’s to a great growing and eating season!
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’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 .
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.
One of the great treats of spring in the Southern Yukon is fresh whitefish from the Yukon end of Atlin Lake. The local fisherman lays a net underneath the ice anytime from late March to early May, and sells his catch under the name Great Northern Fish Company. The season is short and the yield small, but on a good day he can take out 75 fish, each one about weighing about two kilos.
This year, on a blazing, blue-sky morning, Michelle Genest’s husband went out to Atlin Lake to help with the harvest. He came home in the late afternoon with 10 kilos of beautiful pinky-white filets wrapped in 10 500-gram packages. (The harvesting, fileting and packaging all happen on the same day, and the guts feed the eagles and the ravens.)
Michelle and her husband cooked a batch that night, in the simplest way imaginable: dipped in egg and flour and fried in butter. Glorious. Atlin Lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) cooks up firm and tender and is so delicate in flavour you have to pay attention. The reward for that attention is the flavour of lake, sky, and a sparkling spring day on the Yukon end of Atlin Lake in late April or early May. It doesn’t get much better.
This “Traditional Raspberry Pemmican” recipe comes from the show and blog “Wild Kitchen”. Wild Kitchen is a project based in the Canadian sub-arctic about people who harvest wild food. 100% of the cast and crew are from the Northwest Territories and they work with what is available on the land to prepare nutritious recipes with a distinct wild flavor.
You can watch Wild Kitchen episodes here and on their website you can find their awesome recipes.
Suzanne is looking for ways to keep her ever-hungry 17-year-old son, Sam, full next year. Sam suggested that pemmican might be a reasonable locally-sourced snack food that will help him get through the year, especially since he spends lots of time doing physical activity. After all, Canada was practically built on pemmican. Trading posts would seek this high-protein and high-energy food from the natives, and it was used to sustain the voyageurs, especially in winter, as they traveled long distances.
In a beautiful article by Up Here Magazine, France Benoit opens the gate to her home and farm “Le Refuge“, which she has lovingly built and tended to for the past 25 years. On this property, by the shores of Madeline Lake in Yellowknife, France grows a variety of vegetables to feed herself as well as to sell in the local farmer’s market, of which she is a founding member.
The Caribou cookbook has arrived! Learn how to use all parts of the caribou. Traditional recipes such as ch’itsuh (pemmican), head cheese, and Caribou Bone Broth combined with new recipes such as Caribou Wonton Soup and Mushroom and Caribou Brain Ravioli.
On April 21 and 22 Vuntut Gwich’in citizens, conservationists, scientists, members of the public and families got together to celebrate the Porcupine Caribou Herd with two days of presentations, films, panel discussions, kids’ activities, and caribou tastings at the Beringia Centre in Whitehorse. The event was hosted by Yukon Conservation Society (YCS), Vuntut Gwich’in First Nation (VGFN) and the Porcupine Caribou Management Board (PCMB), all of whom have a keen interest in the health of the herd.
There was lots to celebrate. The herd is robust and growing in size. The relationship between northern indigenous peoples and the caribou that sustains them is respectful and strong. Harvest management strategies and hunter education programs are helping to ensure the herd continues to thrive.
But there’s bad news, too. Of 15 barren ground caribou herds the Porcupine herd is one of only two that are known to be increasing. The others have decreased alarmingly in recent years. Barren ground caribou have been listed as threatened in Canada. And the Porcupine herd’s calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are once again under threat from oil and gas exploration. VGFN and their First Nations and Inuvialuit neighbours, conservationists, scientists and concerned citizens are working together to ensure protection of the herd, and Porcupine Caribou: Celebrate and learn about the herd was part of that effort.
J.B. MacKinnon, the award-winning independent journalist and author whose works include The 100-Mile Diet, a bestseller that helped catalyze the local foods movement, will be speaking and showing slides this week in the territory as part of the 2017 Yukon Writers’ Festival. The Festival is produced by Yukon Public Libraries in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts.
All events are free and open to the public. MacKinnon’s Yukon schedule is as follows:
Monday 1 May
7 p.m. – 8 p.m. Dawson Library
Tuesday 2 May
1:30 – 2:30 p.m. Pelly Crossing School (students only)
7:30 – 8:30 p.m. Faro Library
Wednesday 3 May
7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre, Whitehorse
15-minute reading along with other Festival authors plus reception
Thursday 4 May
7:00 – 8:00 p.m.Teslin Library
From vanished bison herds to collapsing fish stocks, the natural world as we know it is a shadow of what it used to be. In his talk and slideshow, bestselling author J.B. MacKinnon revisits a time when grizzlies roamed the Canadian prairies, wolves howled in England, and ten times more whales swam in the sea. He calls for an “age of rewilding,” in which we rebuild a wilder world everywhere—from the city to the backcountry, and also in ourselves.
J.B. MacKinnon’s latest book, The Once and Future World, was a national bestseller and won the international Green Prize for Sustainable Literature. Other works include the seminal local-food book The 100-Mile Diet (with Alisa Smith), and Dead Man in Paradise, which won the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction. J.B. also writes in the field of interactive documentaries, most notably for the NFB’s Bear 71, which premiered at Sundance. As a journalist, he appears in both major outlets such as The New Yorker and National Geographic and vanguard publications like Adbusters. J.B. is a rock climber, mountain biker, snowboarder, and—yes—a birdwatcher. He lives in Vancouver.
In this episode of Yu-kon Grow It, Sandi Coleman interviews Brian Lendrum and Susan Ross, who have been goat farming outside of Whitehorse for decades and producing delicious goat cheese.
Pioneers in the dairy business around Whitehorse, Lendrum and his wife found that their area around Lake Laberge had perfect conditions for raising goats, with rolling hills and lots of different vegetation for the goats to enjoy. On a regular basis, they would produce about 30 litres of milk a day, which translates to around 3 to 4 kg of cheese. Every week, they would take around 10 kg of their freshly made goat cheese to the local market, and sometimes sell out within the hour. They also experimented with goat milk yoghurt and sold bottled goat milk.
Tonight, April 11th, is the date of this year’s Pink Moon, and everyone is talking about it on social media. But what makes the Moon pink on this particular date?
Sorry to disappoint you, but turns out the Pink Moon isn’t actually of a rosy hue. The title “Pink Moon” is credited to Native American tribes, many of them practiced the custom of naming every Full Moon according to the cycles of the year (like Cold Moon in December or Harvest Moon in September). In the case of this moon, the “pink” comes from the wild ground phlox that rapidly blooms in the springtime. The different full moons were a way of tracking the seasons ahead, and you can still find this knowledge in the Farmer’s Almanac.
Miche here. About five days into this second round of vinegar experiments, a thought occurred to me—low bush cranberries keep forever in the fridge. That’s because–oh yeah—I remember this–they are high in benzoic acid, a naturally occurring preservative. Are low bush cranberries, then, a good choice for making vinegar? Well, maybe not.
I called Sheila Alexandrovitch, who has a homestead far down the Annie Lake Road 30 kilometres southwest of Whitehorse and asked if she’d ever fermented low bush cranberries. (Sheila is a locally famous for her fermentation knowledge. Her caveat: “I don’t know the science, I just know what works.”) She said, “Oh no. Low bush cranberries actually stop the fermentation process.” Aha!
Another tasty, although not so pretty vegetable that grows well in the Yukon is the root called salsify. Don’t let the hairy dark exterior intimidate you. Peel it, and it tastes similar to a very sweet parsnip, and you can eat it raw or you can cook it as you would cook most root vegetables.
Salsify might not be easily found in the average grocery store, but it actually grows wild in many places in the world, especially the Americas.
But not everything is under the ground: the flowers from the salsify root are gorgeous to look at, and also edible! The shoots can be used like asparagus, either raw or cooked, and the flowers can be added to salads.
Kohlrabi is not a vegetable you will often find in the grocery store. However, it is a root vegetable that grows well in the Yukon.
It doesn’t look so inviting from the outside, but slice into it and it is tender and delicious – raw or cooked. Suzanne’s husband, Gerard, discovered that it slices into crunchy and fresh tasting crackers quite easily!
Suzanne tried some sliced fresh local kohlrabi crackers with a delicious cream cheese and chum salmon caviar topping, with a sprinkling of dill – all ingredients local to Dawson City, Yukon!
Not only tasty and healthy, but also a beautiful looking snack!
Take advantage of your greenhouse in April and May, before you plant your tomatoes and cucumbers, to give you an early crop of spinach or Asian greens! Riley Brennan, of Dawson City, direct seeds spinach in her greenhouse as soon as the soil thaws in April. She leaves the greenhouse unheated and the seedlings don’t require any covering. By the time she goes to plant her greenhouse proper in late May, she has a crop of baby spinach to harvest.
Next weekend, Dawsonites will have a chance to participate in two amazing workshops!
Seedy Saturdays will be held on Saturday March 25th at the Recreation Centre, and it will include presentations by Karen Digby and Grant Dowdell about northern gardening and by Scott Henderson about mushroom cultivation.
The following day on Sunday the 26th, there will be a Birch Syrup workshop in which participants will meet at the Rec Centre and then go hunting for Birch sap.
There are limited spaces on both, so make sure you sign up soon!
If there is something exotic you wish to grow in the North, ask Louise Piché of Rock Creek, Dawson City, Yukon. Louise is a well known gardener in Dawson and a frequent ribbon winner at Dawson’s annual Discovery Days Horticultural Fair. She loves experimenting with new and colorful varieties. She has successfully grown peanuts and ground cherries (aka golden berries) as well as asparagus, giant pumpkins and buckwheat.
Louise has generously shared her ‘tried and true’ cultivars that grow well in Rock Creek, which you can view on our seed page. This year she is experimenting with ginger, turmeric, artichokes and pink potatoes.
Suzanne Crocker loves nuts. She really loves them. So how is she going to get by without nuts for a whole year?
Easy–She’ll eat seeds instead! Sunflower seeds, Styrian pumpkin seeds. She’s recruited a couple of farmers to grow the pumpkins, and she’s ordered up some Russian sunflower seeds to plant in her own garden. Both varieties are high-yield; in fact Styrian pumpkins are grown for their seeds, not their flesh. The question is, will the Dawson growing season be long enough for the seeds to mature? We don’t know. But here are a couple of recipes Suzanne might use, should she be successful. Call them aspirational. Oh. But the olive oil might be a problem…not so many olive trees in Dawson…
The CBC morning radio show “A New Day” hosted by Sandi Coleman on CBC Yukon, has started a new regular column called “Yu-kon Grow It”, which will air every other Wednesday morning between 7 and 7:30 am. On this segment, Sandi will check in with Suzanne about her “First we Eat: Food Security North of 60” project, as well as featuring other Yukoners involved in local food issues such as Miche Genest and other guests.
Sandi Coleman will next check in with Suzanne on Wednesday March 8th, between 7.00 and 7.30 am on CBC Radio Yukon.
Don’t forget to tune in!
You can listen to the first interview with Suzanne and Elyn Jones here,
Suzanne, new to the world of sourdough baking, has been experimenting with sourdough bread using store-bought rye flour (before she uses Otto’s precious rye and barley flour from Kokopellie Farm, in Sunnydale). She has also added Yukon’s own Uncle Berwyn’s birch syrup and water. No salt!
The Northern Food Network (NFN) is co-hosted by the Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research (AICBR) and Food Secure Canada (FSC) as a space for people working in and interested in northern food security to share, learn about best practices across the North and advance collective action on food security. Sign up here for this great opportunity.
And one of the biggest obstacles they have found is that the local soil lacks nutrients. Commercial soil works fine, but it is costly and it needs to be flown in, which impacts the sustainability of the project.
Many northern Canadian communities do not have the luxury of the rich soil found in southern Yukon. This is the case for the fly-in community of Arviat, (population 2,800) – the second largest community in Nunavut.
In 2014 Arviat built a greenhouse beside the school to see if they could grow their own vegetables with local soil and local fertilizer. And they have been very successful!
It is a wonderful thing that our farmers have the ability to overwinter and breed livestock in the North!
Piglets, Calves, Kids and Chicks are a Spring ritual at Aurora Mountain Farm in Whitehorse. Aurora Mountain produces certified organic chicken, eggs, hay and vegetables (including garlic, yum!) available seasonally from their farm. They also offer delectable wild crafted preserves, jams & mustard, and even handmade goat milk soap!
Yup! Suzanne has been munching on sweet & crunchy carrots from Kokopellie Farm all January. “They taste like they are freshly picked only even sweeter!” offers Suzanne.
Otto Muehlbach, whose farm is in Sunnydale (Dawson), has designed a large root cellar to store carrots, potatoes, cabbage, beets, and other root veggies all winter long. The trick seems to be 2-4 degrees C and keeping the humidity and condensation low. If you can find a way to get to Sunnydale, Otto’s fresh root vegetables are sold from his house on Saturdays between 2 and 5 pm as long as it is warmer than -30C.
First We Eaters! Homemade flax seed crackers, homemade pumpkin butter and homemade cranberry chutney. Food for thought: can we grow enough Styrian pumpkins to support a home-grown pumpkin butter and pumpkin oil industry? Why not? – Miche Genest
Suzanne will use her one-year challenge to start a public conversation about food self-sufficiency with communities across the North.
Through social media and this website, First We Eat wants to collaborate with people and organizations that can help Suzanne’s journey by sharing knowledge, both traditional and innovative, on eating local North of 60 – not just in Dawson, but all across the North.