It is -42°C in Dawson City, Yukon. At 4 p.m. the sun sets, transforming the sky into rich hues of pink and orange.
It is the depths of winter. The time for comfort food.
Brian Phelan, Dawson City chef, shared Rappie Pie with us, a comfort food dish from his Acadian Roots. Miche Genest, Yukon chef and cookbook author, shared Pork Hock and Rye Casserole another great comfort food.
Here is one more wonderful winter comfort food, thanks to Alfred Von Mirbach of Perth, Ontario, who has shared his mother’s Warm Potato Salad recipe.
And, of course, with every recipe comes a story. This recipe is from Alfred’s German ancestry. When he was a child it was served every Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve with sausage, mustard and pickles. Alfred and his brothers continue the tradition today. Yet another example of how food connects us with family, tradition, ancestry and, of course, memories.
I have two precious jars of dill pickles successfully fermented, without salt, in celery juice and decided to use half a jar to make an adaptation of Marianne’s Warm Potato Salad. It was so delicious that the rest of the dill pickles have now been relegated to three more repeat performances. I will definitely be fermenting more dill pickles in celery juice next year!
Gerard has been suspiciously silent in his blogs over the past three weeks. I’m not sure if this is because he is taking a holiday from the computer, or because he has lately been so well fed that he has had nothing to complain about. I suspect it is the former, although I will choose to believe it is the latter. If any of you have been worried that his silence has been due to weakness from starvation, fear not. We have been feasting well over the Christmas season!
Our family tradition is to cook up Christmas dinner on Boxing Day. That way, we can stay in our P.J.’s all day on Christmas Day and hang out together with no time pressures. (In previous years, we have even been known to have Kraft Dinner on Christmas Day. This year we had smoked salmon, marinated in birch syrup, and left-over moose ribs).
On Boxing Day, our Christmas dinner feast was complete with all the trimmings! And it was wonderful to share this 100% local Christmas feast with friends.
Our turkey was raised by Megan Waterman at LaStraw Ranch. The stuffing was made with celery grown by Becky Sadlier with onion, sage, parsley and cooked whole rye grains grown by Otto at Kokopellie Farm and apples grown by John Lenart at Klondike Valley Nursery. We had delicious mashed potatoes grown by Otto and seasoned with butter and milk thanks to Jen Sadlier and her dairy cows at Klondike Valley Creamery. Carrots and rutabagas grown by Lucy Vogt were mixed with parsnips grown by Grant Dowdell. The gravy was thickened with home-made potato starch. The cranberry sauce was made from low bush cranberries from the boreal forest (thanks to the wonderful Dawsonites who have shared some of their precious wild cranberries with us during this very poor year for wild berries) and sweetened with birch syrup thanks to Berwyn and Sylvia.
During this year of eating local, I often find myself discovering gems of knowledge from times past, when food was perceived as a precious commodity — perhaps due to rationing or economic hard times, or just the plain hard work of growing your own. But, whatever the reason, I am struck by the difference in our perception of food today, at least in Canada, where the bounty of food stocked on grocery store shelves appears to have no limits in either quantity or variety.
One of the English traditions that stems from times past and has been passed down in my family is my grandmother’s steamed Christmas pudding with hard sauce. What better year than this to pull out her recipe. In the past, when I have decided to re-live my childhood by making Christmas pudding, I have had to search in the far corners of the grocery store freezers for the key ingredient – suet. This year, animal fat is a staple in my own freezer so, thanks to some beef tallow from Klondike Valley Creamery, I didn’t need to search far for a local suet! Christmas pudding adapted itself well to local ingredients and the result was eagerly devoured, despite the fact that I burned the bottom of it by accidentally letting the pot run dry.
As a child, I remember the small dollop of hard sauce allocated to each of us and the way it slowly melted on top of our small portion of warm steamed pudding. Its melt-in-your-mouth sweetness always lured us back to the bowl for extra hard sauce, knowing that we would regret it later for its richness. My local hard sauce adaptation this year was partially melt in your mouth – other than the lumps which I optimistically referred to as sugar beet gummies, from sugar beet sugar that wasn’t quite dry enough and clumped together irreconcilably. But even the sugar beet gummies found fans and were consumed with gusto!
I cooked a steak! This may not seem like such a big deal, but it is the first time I have ever successfully cooked a steak. For many years, I was a vegetarian. Actually this only changed when I hitched up with a moose hunter who liked to cook. I am probably the only person on the planet who has difficulty roasting a chicken. Steak, has also been a mystery to me. How to cook it so that it is tender and not over done. Not my forté. Moose steak is particularly daunting, as it is not the tenderest of meats, requiring long, slow cooking or marinating. So I have always opted to leave the moose steak cooking to Gerard. He manages to cook it, thanks to marinades and the BBQ (a cooking device that I have also never mastered).
Ah, the marinade. Let’s see – no soy sauce, no vinegar, no wine. So how to marinade? Gerard tried marinating in rhubarb juice, but it wasn’t very successful. Perhaps it just needed more time. Dawn Dyce of Dawson City to the rescue! Dawn marinades her moose (and any wild game) in milk. I had heard tales of Dawn’s most tender moose roasts, so I decided to give it a try. In my case I had just made some chevre, so I had whey on hand and decided to marinade the moose steaks in whey. At Dawn’s suggestion, I put the thawed steaks in a ziplock bag, added some whey, removed the air and set the bag in the fridge for 24 hours, turning it over now and again when I noticed it.
Hoping that the whey would impart tenderness to the moose steak, I still had the dilemma of flavour and how to actually cook the darn thing. Enter Whitehorse chef Miche Genest! One of the many lessons I had from Miche’s week long visit in my kitchen, was how to cook a moose steak with only the local ingredients I had on hand. Miche taught me about rubs. So, remembering her moose rub lesson, I removed the moose steaks from their whey marinade and patted them dry. In the re-purposed coffee grinder (no coffee in this house) I blended together dried juniper berries, nasturtium pods, and spruce tips, and then rubbed the spice mix onto both sides of each dried steak. Then I wrapped the steaks in plastic wrap and set them into the fridge for a couple of hours. Miche also taught me about cooking – hot and fast. Miche likes her steak rare so she sears it for 1 ½ minutes per side. I decided to go a little longer – but I did watch the clock.
The result? Yummm! Tender and tasty. Drizzled with a moose demi-glaze (made from moose bones – recipe to come later). Perhaps my ears deceived me, but I think I heard 15-year-old Kate say, “You could open a restaurant after this year, Mom.” Fine praise indeed for the mother who didn’t like cooking!
The Christmas season has arrived – a season for many wonderful things, not the least of which is Christmas baking. Holiday baking traditions in my family are melt-in-your-mouth shortbread and rum-soaked fruit cake that has aged for 6-12 months.
This year is a little different.
My family recently headed to Whitehorse for various sporting events (and two days of eating contraband!) So I took advantage of the empty house and settled in for a two-day Christmas baking extravaganza. Although it might be better described as a two-day Christmas baking science lab.
What is unusual about this year’s baking, is that it is all experimental. No white flour, no white sugar, no icing sugar, no baking powder nor baking soda nor corn starch. No salt. No nuts. No chocolate. No candied orange and lemon peel. No raisins. No currents. No cinnamon, ginger or cloves. I pulled out my traditional recipes for short bread, ginger snaps, aspen rocks and fruit cake and attempted to adapt them to the local ingredients I have on hand. I pulled out old dusty copies of December editions of Chatelaine and Canadian Living and scoured them for recipes that might suit my ingredients. I have yet to find a recipe for just my ingredients, so adaptations, substitutions and imagination have taken over.
I am extremely grateful for the ingredients I do have available. Thanks to the hard work of Dawson farmers, and the abundance of edibles the Boreal forest can provide, there will be 100%-local Christmas baking in my house this year!
I now have flour (thanks Otto) and sugar beet sugar (thanks Grant, Becky, and Paulette). I also have butter (thanks Jen), eggs (thanks Megan and Becky), birch syrup (thanks Sylvia and Berwyn), honey (thanks David) and berries (thanks Diana, Maryanne, the forest and the many Dawsonites who shared some of their precious wild berries with me this year). I have potato starch (thanks Lucy, Otto, Tom, Brian and Claus). I have a few winter hearty apples (thanks John and Kim). I have dried spruce tips (thanks forest) and dried nysturtiam seed pods (thanks Andrea and Klondike Kate’s).
Of course, experimenting is also limited by quantity. Every ingredient I have has been hard fought for. The sugar takes several days to create from sugar beets. The butter takes several days to make from the cream skimmed off the fresh milk. And before I have flour, I need to clean the grains and then grind them. Whereas I once automatically doubled or tripled recipes for Christmas baking, this year I find myself cutting every recipe in half. I have become leery of recipes that call for 2 cups of sugar for example – as that would use up almost all the sugar I have on hand before starting the arduous task of processing more sugar beets.
Mixing and matching, substituting, altering quantities – such is the alchemy behind Christmas baking this year.
But many have been less than desirable. My friend Bridget dropped by during my baking frenzy and sampled some of my experiments. “You can’t call these cookies,” she announced after tasting one of my shortbread trials. I was deflated. “But you can call them biscuits.” She then proceeded to lather some butter onto one of my cookies and declared it quite good. After I got over my moment of self-pity, I too tried one with butter and then with cream cheese and had to admit she was right. They taste more like oatcakes (without the oats). So sweet biscuits they are. The recipe included here for Yukon Shortbread did, however, pass the cookie test.
My family has now returned from Whitehorse and I will bring out the results of my baking bit by bit to see what they think. The experimenting will continue – adjusting this and adjusting that. Trying a few new recipes. But first … I have to make some more butter, grind some more flour, and peel some more sugar beets.
If you have any Christmas baking recipes that you think might adapt well to my local ingredients, I would be more than happy to have you share them!
One of the favourite supper recipes was Pork Hock Rye Casserole, although it doesn’t have to include pork hocks – it is adaptable to any slow cooking meat. And the rye could easily be substituted with barley (once I thresh it) and probably even with wheat grains (although I think I will preserve every precious grain of wheat for baking!) This, like Rappie Pie, is another excellent one dish winter comfort food – filling, delicious and 100% Dawson City local!
Despite a very cold November, with several weeks of -35° to -40°C, it looks like it is going to be a long freeze-up for the Yukon River again this year. I am lucky enough to have 25 kg. of wheat grains and 25 kg. of rye grains that were secured from Otto at Kokopellie Farm just before the ferry was pulled. But Otto’s wonderful grinder is on the other side of the Yukon River. So, for now, I am left to my own devices.
I tried to grind the grain with a combination of blender and flour sifter. It took many, many passes. It was possible to eke out a small amount of flour, but certainly not very efficient.
Although Dawson is small (about 1,500 people), it is the kind of community where you can put out a request for an obscure item, such as flour grinder, on the local Crier Buyer Facebook page and expect to get a response.
I was not disappointed.
Within a day, I was very grateful to receive a call from Louise Piché. She had a hand crank flour grinder, not yet tried, that she had picked up somewhere or other and I was welcome to borrow it. A flour grinder is a wonderful thing! A couple of passes through the grinder along with a bit of an upper body workout and voilà – flour! Flour!! Flour means the possibility of bread and baking!
We have flour!
Subsequently, I received another call – this time from Becky Sadlier who has an electric flour mill that we could borrow. However Becky lives on the other side of the Klondike River, now filled with slush. But Yukoners are never too daunted by the weather. Loren Sadlier was making one last canoe trip across the Klondike, through the slush, and the grinder could go with him. I had thought the hand grinder was a gift from the heavens. The electric grinder was able to make an even finer flour!
There are still a few obstacles to overcome, such as the lack of yeast, baking soda, baking powder and crystalized sugar. But where there is a will, there is a way. Let the baking experiments begin! (And let me remember my lesson in grain moderation! )
Miche Genest sent me this wonderful breakfast option, Breakfast Caflouti, which only requires ½ cup of flour and no leavening agent. It was a tremendous hit in our family – and a very welcome change from our usual fried eggs and mashed potato cakes.
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 has been a wonderful and very busy first two days in the kitchen with Yukon chef Miche Genest. Despite several interruptions for broken down cars, 40 below temperatures, dog walks and Christmas bazaars, Miche and her sous-chef (me!) have still managed to cook up a storm! In between meal preparations we have been boiling down sugar beets into syrup, hand-grinding flour, experimenting with sprouting rye and wheat grains, making yogurt and preparing chevre.
Saturday’s supper: scalloped potatoes, baked spaghetti squash glazed with butter and birch syrup and rare moose steaks prepared with a savoury rub from both garden and forest, served with a morel mushroom cream sauce.
Sunday night’s supper: was a delicious pork hock casserole cooked with whole rye grains and a yummy custard with cranberry sauce for desert.
Eventually we will post most of the recipes. But for now – here is the recipe for the delicious custard with cranberry sauce, otherwise known as ‘Token Gesture Custard’ by Gerard in reference to a portion size that was incongruous with his desire for more.
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?
For the first time in my life as a mother, all three of my children had Hallowe’en without me this year. No doubt it had something to do with the house rule about ‘only local food allowed in the house’. They were not about to sacrifice their holiday tradition of gorging on mini chocolate bars, rockets and bags of chips, so they each conveniently made plans to be at the houses of others on All Hallow’s Eve.
This left me with the realization that there would be no Halloween candy for me this year! No snacking from the bowl meant for the trick-or-treaters (who rarely ever come to our out-of–the-way house). If a stray child came knocking on our door this year, we would be handing out carrots. No bargaining with my kids to share some of their loot. And no sneaking into their treat bags when they are at school, hoping that they won’t notice the occasional missing chocolate bar.
But since Halloween is the season for unreasonable sugar consumption, I decided I would find a way to do it local – even without sugar. So I pulled out the candy thermometer, took stock of my local food resources and set to it.
I can now proudly say, that I have successfully overindulged on local sweets for Halloween. Thanks to birch syrup candy, dehydrated yogurt sweetened with wild strawberries and …. sugar beet candy! (see the recipes) More on the sugar beets later. But suffice it to say, Halloween inspired me to dig into my 350-pound store of sugar beets and start experimenting. I feel a bit sickly and my teeth are sticky, but I do not feel left out of the Halloween candy splurge.
We previously posted how Suzanne was having some angst about coming up with a local option for her family’s traditional Thanksgiving favourite — pumpkin pie — with no grains available for crust and no traditional pumpkin pie spices.
She tried Miche’s suggestion of using ground dry-roasted low bush cranberry leaves as a spice, but it didn’t work for Suzanne.
So, instead Suzanne tried two adaptations:
1. Birch syrup alone adds a delicious flavour with no extra spice needed.
2. For a spicier option add ground dried spruce tips, ground nasturtiam seed pod ‘pepper’ with the optional addition of ground dried labrador tea leaves.
Both were topped with a dollop of whipped cream.
The jury was split as to which variety was preferred, but both were devoured!
Note: the cream, hand separated from the milk, was naturally sweet and needed no sweetener addition. Interesting observation compared with store bought whipping cream.
Hint: To get hand-separated cream to whip, pour it into a bowl and let it chill in the freezer until it gets a thin frozen crust on top. Then whip.
One of the most challenging food items in Suzanne’s 100%-local-only diet is bread. Especially since no grains have yet been available. So, she was thrilled to discover carb-free bread!
Thanks to Cindy Breitkreutz in Whitehorse who found this recipe on MOMables.com. Suzanne adapted it to fit with her local ingredients, and it not only worked, but was a big hit in her family — on its own, as the english muffin in eggs bennie, and as the bun for a burger (which finally satisfied Tess’s longstanding cheeseburger craving). In fact it was so good that Tess and Kate declared they want cloud bread for their birthday cakes this year.
Suzanne adapted the original MOMables.com recipe, and we’re now calling it Top of the World Cloud Bread (a tribute to the legendary Top of the World Highway that runs from Dawson to Alaska). She used ¼ tsp rhubarb juice instead of cream of tartar (used to keep the egg whites stiff). The cream cheese she used was homemade (by draining yogurt overnight in cheesecloth).
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.
One of Suzanne’s big challenges is going to be condiments. She’s nailed the ketchup, and maybe her mustard plants will yield enough seeds for homemade mustard. But what about mayonnaise? Fresh eggs she’ll have in abundance; oil is going to be a problem.
The solution is surprisingly easy. Hollandaise! The familiar, creamy, buttery sauce we love slathered over Eggs Benedict is very much like mayonnaise once it’s chilled. Same basic ingredients: egg yolks, acid, fat. But in the case of Hollandaise the eggs are cooked and the fat is melted butter.
There is another stumbling block though — one of the key ingredients in Hollandaise is lemon juice. Not to worry. The sharp, slightly-stringent flavour of crushed juniper berries, combined with a splash of homemade rhubarb vinegar or rhubarb juice, do a great job of brightening the sauce’s flavour and cutting through the butterfat.
Suzanne’s family has a weekly family movie night that traditionally was accompanied by a very large bowl of popcorn slathered in butter and nutritional yeast. It still remains to be seen if popping corn will grow in the Klondike region, so Suzanne has been thinking of an alternative — a bucket of kale chips. The snack is seasoned with ghee and birch syrup.
The recipe was tested last year and Suzanne discovered that the kale chips can retain their crispness for many months if they are stored in an ice cream bucket with at tight-fitting lid.
So Suzanne’s plan is to create 52 bucket of kale chips before the kale disappears. She’s not convinced she will be successful; she has made the equivalent of 22 four-litre buckets to date. But she will keep on trying!
Kale Chips Recipe
Break up the kale into large pieces (without the stem).
Mix equal amounts of ghee and warm birch syrup in a bowl and pour some of mixture onto the kale pieces.
Mix well until all the kale is covered in ghee/syrup combo.
Spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet.
Bake at 250F for 16-20 minutes until crisp.
Cool and then store in an airtight container or zip lock bag.
While the weather in the Dawson area is starting to cool off, there are still hopes of a summer reprise before fall kicks in.
Certainly, during the recent hot weather creamsicles were a favourite and refreshing treat for Suzanne’s family. They’re easy to make, and for Suzanne’s kids were ideal for hot sunny days … or when you’re craving a sweet treat (and trying not to think about chocolate).
2 cups cream
3 tbsp birch syrup.
Mix together well and pour into popsicle molds. Freeze.
When you don’t have much access to the usual suspects like grains, flour, nuts and seeds, and you’re making absolutely everything from scratch, breakfast for a hungry family of five becomes a real challenge. No toast, no pancakes, no bannock, no granola, no muesli, no porridge. What? What is a person determined to eat only the foods available in Dawson to do? You can only eat eggs so many days a week!
Suzanne called on Miche Genest for help in designing a seven-day breakfast menu that she can rotate over the coming year. Drum roll, please … breakfast number one is up: Potato and Carrot Latkes, made with only ingredients available in Dawson.
Dawsonite Driss Adrao knows his way around a kitchen, and was generous enough to share some of his culinary skills with Suzanne recently. During her year of eating only local foods, recipes and cooking techniques will be very helpful in making the most of the fare available to Suzanne and her family.
Two recipes that Driss shared with Suzanne, and patiently taught her how to prepare, are gnocchi (a traditional Italian potato dumpling dish) and fish skin crackers. The latter is a case of how something we often throw out can be consumed as food — a lesson long preached by indigenous hunters who have traditionally harvested fish and game with minimal waste. As fishing season approaches (in the Dawson City area you can already fish for grayling and whitefish, and later there will be chum salmon) this recipe could come in handy. This year, don’t leave the fish skin on your plate.
Spruce tips will become one of Suzanne and family’s candy during their year of eating local. Miche Genest has a wonderful recipe for making Candied Spruce Tips using homemade Spruce Tip Syrup in The Boreal Feast, A Culinary Journey Through the North by Harbour Publishing. And Miche has generously allowed us to share her recipe.
However, Suzanne probably will not have access to sugar to make the syrup, so Suzanne has adapted Miche’s recipe and combined coniferous with deciduous trees to make Candied Spruce Tips in Birch Syrup. They are more ‘birchy’ than the original recipe, but still quite delicious. (And, according to 11-year-old Tess, addictive!) Before you worry about using precious birch syrup to candy spruce tips, remember, you can keep re-using the birch syrup for batch after batch. The birch syrup gradually takes on a more sprucey taste with every batch.