What does a family buy during their first trip to the grocery store after a year of eating local in the North?
I just so happen to have some first-hand experience in this.
The items that flew off the grocery store shelves had one theme in common – breakfast.
Six different types of cereal
Yogurt (Yogurt? Yes, the super thick and sweet kind. That would be Gerard.)
Coffee (Gerard again)
And all manner of exotic fruit – oranges, kiwis, pineapple, cherries
Did I mention cereal?
And what did I choose? Vegetable oil.
Seems like my family didn’t want another breakfast of fried eggs and potato cakes for a very long time.
There is one positive thing about my family having these long-coveted breakfast items in the house again. It has got me off the hook for cooking breakfast.
Prior to a year ago, I was the sort of person who didn’t eat breakfast. My hunger sense didn’t kick in until at least 10 am. So getting up at 6:30 every morning to deal with food definitely didn’t come easily to me. But I did it. For one year, I cooked breakfast every morning. It probably did me a world of good to start my day with a protein rich, healthy meal. But since bagels and cereal have re-invaded the cupboard space, I no longer feel the need to rise early. I’ve gone back to old habits. Almost. Instead of a cup of tea to get me through my morning, I am still enjoying a big mug of hot frothed local milk. Guess I’m getting a protein rich breakfast after all. And I can sleep in. Bonus. Let them eat bagels!
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!
(Actually of our year plus one day – seemed to make sense to end on the same day we started. Or was that just me never wanting it to be over!)
It has come to an end all too fast from my perspective.
I’m enjoying my morning mug of hot, frothed milk and about to head out to pick Saskatoon berries. I have some butter culturing and a new batch of kefir on the counter. The fridge is full of fresh veggies, yogurt, goat’s cheese, eggs and milk. There are rye crackers on the counter and pumpkin Saskatoon berry muffins in the freezer. Our meat and fish stocks are low – but there are still a few meals left to sustain us until salmon fishing and moose hunting seasons begin again. Grayling is in the river and fresh local chicken is now available again. Just as we finish up last year’s potatoes, new potatoes are being harvested.
The cycle of life has a whole new meaning to me.
My feelings are a mixture of sadness, knowing that grocery store food will inevitably return to the house tomorrow, and celebration at how far I’ve come in the past year.
I certainly did not accomplish this on my own. It takes a community to feed a family! Amazing farmers, the boreal forest and northern rivers, all the people of Dawson who were lending me gardening space, sharing berries, knowledge, recipes and cheering us on.
The time for reflection will be tomorrow. Today there are berries to be picked! And for the rest of today I’m just going to bask in the joy of another day eating 100% local.
I can tell because it no longer phases me to have a two-gallon batch of yogurt on the go while simultaneously making chevre (goat’s cheese). I can whip up a triple batch of rye waffles to stack in the freezer so the kids have an easy ‘toast and go’ breakfast before they head to their summer jobs.
Mostly, I can tell I’m in my groove because I just came back from four days of camping in the Tombstone Mountains and I did it 100% local.
Last year, I would not have been able to pull this off. I would not have been able to contemplate camping without the usual campfire staples of Kraft Dinner, instant oatmeal, pancake mix, bannock and marshmallows.
This year – no big deal. I prepped intermittently a few days in advance – probably no longer than it would have taken me to go grocery shopping and then return again to the store for the things I forgot the first time. And because I pre-made most of the food, cooking while camping was both easy and delicious. Roasted moose sausages and moose stew were the supper staples – accompanied by a fresh salad with saskatoon berry dressing. Lunches were a smorgasbord of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, rye crackers, garlic chevre and smoked cranberry birch moose sticks. For breakfast we grilled pre-made waffles over the fire or fried up eggs with potato cakes. Dry meat was the trail mix during the day hikes. I snacked on birch syrup-pumpkin seed brittle instead of roasted marshmallows. I even successfully made a batch of local popcorn popped in pig lard over the open fire!
I am definitely in my groove. Seems a shame to realize I finally have it figured it out two days before the family will bring grocery store food back into the larder. Sigh!
There is nothing quite like the taste of the first cherry tomato, picked straight off the vine. Especially after 10 months without! It popped into my mouth with a burst of intense tomato flavour complimented by a long missed combination of sweet, salty and juicy.
And the taste explosion continued with the first freshly-picked cucumber from the greenhouse and the first fresh zucchini from the local Farmers Market. It is with great excitement that every Saturday morning I head to our local Farmers Market to discover which new summer vegetable will appear.
I find myself grazing on both spinach leaves and chickweed from the garden.
And then there is the lettuce! I used to think of lettuce as a vehicle for salad dressing. But this year, I can happily munch away on the leafy green all by itself.
I am sure that the fresh vegetables of summer have always tasted this good, but the flavours seem more intensely delicious to me this year. Perhaps it is simply the ten month absence of fresh greens from my diet. Perhaps it is an increased sensitivity of my taste buds, after a year without salt and pepper.
Whatever the reason, eating seasonally brings with it gastronomical joy!
With the first taste of lettuce, my desire for root vegetables instantly diminished. The potato, which has been our best friend and staple all winter, has been replaced with salad.
And salad has never been so gourmet: wild sheep and warm vegetable salad, smoked salmon salad, the sky is the limit!
Thanks to Dawsonite, Kirsten Lorenz, I have even found a salad dressing recipe that rivals anything I ever made or bought in the past. It is a flavourful combination of berries, garlic, birch syrup and rhubarb juice.
The Amazing Race Canada episode shot in Dawson City aired last night on CTV. Part of the series coverage includes follow-up See It All webisodes, where former contestants, now hosts, Andrea and Adam take a more in-depth look at the community where the racers competed.
The brother-and-sister duo visited Tombstone Provincial Park, panned for gold at Discovery Claim No. 6, visited with members of the local First Nations community, and did the infamous Sourtoe Cocktail at the Downtown Hotel. But for their culinary component, they turned to Suzanne for a truly unique experience — a meal with 100% local ingredients, including a foraging expedition to pick up some wild vegetables for the menu.
My experience last Fall taught me that hulling grain is no easy feat. In fact sometimes, as is the case for oats and buckwheat, it is virtually impossible for a home gardener. Therefore I was thrilled that Salt Spring Seeds carries hulless varieties of grain. After consulting owner Dan Jason, I decided to try Faust Barley (hulless) and Streaker Hulless Oats.
And look how well they are doing!
Gardening has never come easily to me. I struggle to grow brassicas while the local farmers produce them in abundance.
This year I decided to try my luck growing edibles that are not so easily found at our local Farmers Market. My raised beds are hosting oats, barley, amaranth, Tom Thumb popping corn and onions. The onions are not looking so good but, so far, the rest seem to be growing well.
With the idiosyncrasies of our short growing season, grains have often been difficult to grow in the North. Perhaps as a result of climate change, perhaps due to hardier cultivars, it seems that in the past few years growing grain is becoming more feasible.
So it is a good time test out the possibilities of back yard grain growing in the Yukon!
Fingers crossed that local barley and local breakfast oats will be on the menu in our house next year.
Only two months left in my year of eating 100% local to Dawson. And it is not joy nor eager anticipation that I feel as the end approaches, but a sense of melancholy. I don’t want to stop. I loathe the day that packaged and processed foods re-enter the fridge and the cupboards and I know that I will be powerless to stop it. My family has put up with this experiment for almost a year, and they are very much looking forward to the shopping spree on August 1st.
Tess misses salt and the ability to pour herself a bowl of Cheerios in the morning. Kate misses baking – the fluffy sort that comes with white flour, baking powder and white sugar. Sam misses grab and go filler food – bagels, crackers, a limitless supply of apples all year round. Gerard misses big tubs of unrationed ice-cream.
And what do I miss?
Surprisingly almost nothing. Except a hot mug of strong black tea – which I am loathe to return to after ten months of being caffeine free. I expected I would miss chocolate, avocados, oranges, sushi, nutritional yeast on butter slathered popcorn…
But it is not these things that I miss.
I miss salad dressing! Vegetable oil and balsamic vinegar salad dressing!
Fresh greens are back on the menu and I now realize just how much I miss salad dressing. Lettuce, on its own, just doesn’t cut it for me. Ghee (clarified butter) and melted animal fat do not make good vegetable oil alternatives for salad. Rhubarb juice (my vinegar) doesn’t have enough punch on its own. I have tried making a ranch style dressing with yogurt, herbs, garlic and honey but it is still missing something.
So, with 2 months left to go, and fresh greens popping out of the ground, I am determined to crack this case. There must be a 100% local salad dressing option that can rival vegetable oil & balsamic vinegar. Help? If you have any suggestions, please let me know!!
One of my favourite edible leaves, lungwort (commonly known as blue bell) is now out and about around Dawson City. The young leaves are very tasty raw and can be added to salad, steamed or added to soups and stews. The early flower buds are also quite tasty – (although I always feels a bit guilty eating them before they have a chance to flower).
Important rule of thumb: In general, blue and purple flowering plants are NOT edible. Lungwort is the exception. Don’t eat lupine or delphinium or Jacob’s ladder which are also starting to appear around the same time (but the leaves look very different from lupin).
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!
The buds on the birch trees are just starting to turn green, which means it’s coming to the end of birch sap season. For the past few weeks you could spot a birch tree being tapped in many Dawson City backyards.
Most of us have been tapping a tree in order to drink the cold, refreshing and nutrient rich birch water – loaded with thiamine (one of the Vitamin B’s) and manganese, as well as some Vitamin C, iron, riboflavin, zinc, calcium and potassium. Birch water tastes like a super fresh and delicious glass of crystal clear water with only a rare hint of sweet if you look for it.
When the sap is running, the tree is actually pulling the sap from its roots all the way up to the top of the tree to feed its leaf buds which is an amazing anti-gravitational feat in itself.
Birch water goes bad within a couple of days, even in the fridge, so it needs to be consumed fresh. Alternatively, you can freeze it (even in ice cube trays) and save some frozen birch water to consume later in the year. The tapping of one tree will produce a lot of birch water, so be careful not to tap more than you can consume.
Very few of us will boil down the sap we collect to make birch syrup. We leave that to Sylvia Frisch and Berwyn Larson and their crew who are currently very busy, working around the clock, collecting sap from about 1500 trees and preparing Uncle Berwyn’s Yukon Birch Syrup to supply us all with the sweet stuff for the upcoming year.
My birch syrup supply is down to the last cupful. We are consuming about 1 litre of birch syrup per week! So I decided to boil down some sap and see if I could supplement our supply until the end of syrup season when we can get our next 12 L bucket from Sylvia and Berwyn’s birch camp.
Birch syrup and maple syrup, although both sweet, are quite different in both taste and components. Birch syrup contains fructose, the sugar in fruit, and it does not crystallize like maple syrup does. Maple syrup contains sucrose, the sugar in table sugar. One of the major differences between the two is the sugar content of the sap. It takes twice as much birch sap to make a litre of birch syrup, compared to making maple syrup. In fact the ration of birch sap to syrup is an astounding 80:1!
What does that look like in real life? I took my two largest pots and boiled down 14 litres of birch water. All that sap produced a scant ¾ cup of syrup!
A big thank you to the birch trees for sharing some your sap and to Sylvia Frisch and Berwyn Larson and crew for all the hard work that goes into turning it into syrup!
If you haven’t yet tasted birch syrup, you really must. It is delicious! When using birch syrup in recipes, I find I don’t miss the absence of other spices such as cinnamon or allspice. Check out the many recipes using birch syrup on our Recipe Page.
As the leaf buds start to turn green, the sap will take on a bitter taste, marking the end of the tapping season for another year.
It is ‘break up’ time in Dawson City. Break up as in the river, not as in divorce!
The ice is breaking up, the rivers are not crossable and my milk supply is on the other side of the Klondike River.
In anticipation, I froze 12 gallons of milk in advance. Throughout the winter, they easily remained frozen on our verandah. However, Spring has now arrived and the great outdoor deep freeze is no more. Twelve gallons of milk would take up too much room in the freezer so I have been trying to keep them frozen in an ever-shrinking snow bank – the last of the winter snow around our house.
Unlike my children, Sadie, the family dog, desperately wishes she had been included in the local diet this year.
We found out the hard way that she was lactose intolerant, after letting her lap up some whey — a by product of yogurt and cheese making. Sadie loved it, but was quickly cut off when her intestines revolted. She steals whatever bit of local food she can get her paws on. Rock hard sourdough bread, that my family can’t chew, is better than dog biscuits according to Sadie. If you accidentally drop a carrot on the floor, you had better be quick to pick it up before Sadie devours it.
Recently Sadie struck it rich when she realized she could chew the caps of the milk jugs in the snow bank!
Despite the fact that it snowed yesterday in Dawson City and there is still ice on the river, Spring has, in fact, arrived. As announced by the blooming of the wild crocus, the first wildflower of Spring!
No, it’s not edible, but it is a harbinger of edible plants to come. In one week the fireweed shoots, nature’s version of asparagus, should begin poking their heads out of the ground.
I marvel at nature. While I have been busy ordering, planting, watering, fertilizing and tending to my fragile seedlings in preparation for transplanting the end of May, nature has been quietly taking care of all this without any human intervention at all — year after year producing successful crops of wild edible plants that help sustain both animals and humans.
Welcome to the wild crocus and all the wonders of Spring that will soon appear!
In bygone days, when folks weren’t relying on freshly stocked grocery store shelves, the months of March, April and May were known as ‘The Hungry Gap”. The time of year when much of the winter’s store of food had run out and the potential of a new crop still awaited planting season.
We ate the last of our lettuce in September. Our last squash was consumed in February. We are close to finishing off the last of the carrots. And now we have no more onions.
In this new reality, where our consumption is almost entirely based on what we have stored away for the winter, I would have thought that consuming the last taste of onion would cause me anxiety. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t seem to matter as much as I had thought it would.
Perhaps it is because we are far from hungry. My worry last summer about not having enough seems to have resulted in over stocking. I think I have put away enough tomatoes for two years!
Perhaps it is because of our new reality of eating with the season.
Perhaps it stems from the challenge of cooking well with what we have instead of pining away for what we don’t have.
So we have run out of onions. But I still have garlic. I have one jar of dried chives. And I still have lots of dried herbs.
No more onions, no big deal.
Come July, the first taste of a fresh onion will be all the more delicious!
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.
Living in the far North, I usually take Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, during the winter months (1000 IU/day). This year I wanted to see if a local diet alone would keep my Vitamin D levels stable. Not unexpectedly, my levels dropped below normal as the days became shorter.
But, thanks to local Dawsonite and ice fisher, Jim Leary, I was introduced to burbot and it saved the day!
Burbot is an amazing fish. It is a freshwater, carnivorous, bottom feeder that thrives at the coldest times of the year under the ice of the Yukon River. In fact, it has chosen January as its favourite spawning month. Burbot live to be decades old. They have no scales and some folks find them a bit ugly and eel like. I think they have beautiful eyes. A survivor if ever I saw one. Which leaves me with some ambiguity about catching them. But their flesh is a thick and delicious white fish and their livers are especially nutritious.
Burbot liver is huge – six times larger than the livers of other freshwater fish of the same size, and comprising about 10% of their body weight! And their liver is packed with Vitamin D and Vitamin A, in fact 4 times the potency of the Vitamin D and A found in cod liver.
Turns out that a mere 10 grams of burbot liver per day would supply me with the equivalent of 1000 IU of Vitamin D. Chopped into chunks and sautéed in butter, burbot liver tastes similar to scallops. So consuming 150 grams of burbot liver every couple of weeks was no hardship on the palate.
And it worked! Thanks to the burbot, my Vitamin D levels returned to normal.
Fish tend to accumulate toxins from our water systems, especially carnivorous bottom feeding fish. I will share my findings on mercury levels in burbot and some other Yukon fish in the next blog.
If you’ve ever wondered about the nutrients in wild meat and fish harvested from the land, check out this comprehensive table of data compiled by Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment at the University of McGill:
Yeah for the Easter Bunny who recognized that, this year, our house was Dawson local food only!
The kids were a bit worried that they would be sent on a hunt for hard boiled eggs. But, instead the Easter Bunny hid local carrots (fresh, sweet & crunchy), fruit leather (in flavours of wild strawberry, raspberry, haskap and saskatoon berry) as well as birch syrup toffee.
Guess the neighbourhood kids got extra chocolate eggs this year.
Five days a week for 7½ months translates into 150 breakfasts of eggs and mashed potato cakes. My family has reached their limit. Gerard can’t seem to swallow another egg. Sam is done on mashed potato cakes.
Breakfast clafouti and crepes are reserved for weekends because they require extra time. So that leaves smoothies or cooked rye grains as my breakfast alternatives.
That is until now….
Kate and Sam are away, competing at the Arctic Winter Games. In their absence, there have been fewer dishes to wash which has translated into more time to experiment. So I thought I would try waffles. I was not optimistic as I was missing one of the key ingredients – baking powder – and, of course, salt.
But what did I have to lose (other than some precious Red Fife wheat flour).
So I pulled out my 1969 Farmers Journal Homemade Bread recipe book and a General Electric waffle maker of about the same vintage (thank you Evelyn Dubois) and gave it a go.
Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. Smothered in homemade butter and birch syrup. Didn’t seem to miss the baking powder, or the salt, in the least.
I will have a welcome breakfast surprise for Kate and Sam when they return!
Next challenge will be to try them with rye flour, as the wheat flour is in short supply.
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!
It is the middle of winter and in my hand I hold a crunchy, juicy, sweet, locally-grown apple. Yes, that’s right, locally grown – in Dawson City, Yukon – 64 degrees north. Further north than Iqualuit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse.
It is all thanks to the ingenuity of John Lenart at Klondike Valley Nursery, Canada’s northernmost nursery. John has spent the last thirty years studying and grafting apple trees in order to cultivate varieties that can withstand the climate of the north. The nursery now has 65 cultivars and some of those varieties are ‘winter apples’ – meaning that they keep well in cold storage throughout the winter.
2017 was a tough season on the apple trees due to a late frost in the middle ofJune. But Klondike Valley Nursery has generously been sharing some of their personal apple supply with me for this year of eating local. And I can tell you that a crunchy locally-grown apple in the middle of winter is a treat beyond all measure!
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.
I continue to search for a local option for salt in my community of Dawson which is nowhere near the sea. I haven’t yet had to resort to collecting the sweat off Gerard’s back as he chops wood.
So far coltsfoot ash has been the most surprising result – a wild plant whose bland tasting leaves magically transform into a salty ash after they are dried and burned. Dried celery leaves have been my go-to salt substitute – adding a mineral rich flavour to all things savoury.
Coltsfoot ash (left), and celery leaves. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.
I am still researching the possibility of harvesting salt from local animal mineral licks. In the meantime, the Takhini Salt Flats came onto my radar – an endangered ecosystem that occurs in a small pocket of the Yukon a short drive from Whitehorse. This ecosystem is so unique that it is not even found in nearby Alaska. The Flats are not close enough to Dawson to be considered an option for my year of eating local. But it did inspire me to question if the salt from Takhini Salt Flats would be suitable for human consumption. I contacted Bruce Bennett, Coordinator of the Yukon Conservation Data Centre, at Environment Yukon to find out more.
And the more I learned about the Takhini Salt Flats, the more fascinated I became – unique plants that can be watered with salt water, ancient arctic ground squirrel cloaks from the Beringia Era, and inland ponds of shrimp! Read on and I will share some of the fascinating information I have learned about the Takhini Salt Flats.
Takhini Salt Flats is considered an athalassic salt flat which means the salt does not come from the sea. Instead, with a mountain range close by, the salt comes from silt from glacial lakes. Areas of permafrost prevent the water from soaking into the ground and there are no outlets to take the water to nearby rivers. So the water gradually evaporates leaving salt crystals on its surface.
Besides being very salty, the ground at Takhini Salt Flats is also very alkaline with pH values between 8.5 to 9.5. For both these reasons, most plants will not grow there. However there are some unique salt and alkali loving plants that flourish, many of which give the salt flats its distinctive red hue. And some of these plants are also edible.
One such edible red plant, that does not grow elsewhere in the Yukon, is Sea Asparagus or Arctic Glasswort (of the Salicornia family). Too bad it doesn’t grow near Dawson. Apparently, the young shoots taste salty and are rich in calcium, iron, Vitamin B and C and are exceptionally high in Vitamin A.
Another fascinating edible plant at Takhini Salt Flats is Salt Water Cress (Arabidopsis salsuginea) part of the mustard family and a relative of canola. Salt Water Cress, is a ‘super plant’ – you could water it with sea water and it would grow! And it will survive freezing, drought and nitrogen deficiency! It used to be common throughout Alberta, Saskatchewan but is now virtually non-existent in those areas due to agriculture and housing developments.
Chenopodium (the Goosefoot family) is related to quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). The two most common Chenopodium in the Yukon are Lamb’s Quarter (Chenopodium album) and Strawberry Blite (Chenopodiumcapitatum) – both edible. (I ate a lot of both while foraging last summer and Fall!) However there is a rare Chenopodium, Chenopodiumsalinium, that dates back to the Beringia Era, that can still be found at Takhini Salt Flats. Chenopodium salinium pollen, which is preserved by freezing, helps archeologists date artifacts uncovered by melting permafrost in the North.
The remains of Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi , Long Ago Person Found, was discovered in 1999 by sheep hunters on Champagne and Aishihik First Nations territory in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Wilderness Park in British Columbia near Haines Junction, Yukon. His remains were found as well as his walking stick, a spruce root hat, a small bag made of beaver skins and a fur cloak made out of arctic ground squirrel pelts. A high portion of preserved Chenopodium salinium pollen was found on the fur of the cloak and that clue showed that he had visited alkaline flats and helped date Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi to around 1700 AD.
Arctic ground squirrel cloaks were worn ceremonially by indigenous people long ago and traditional trails can still be found in the Takhini Salt Flats which would have been used by indigenous hunters over 700 years ago. The Takhini Salt Flats were a natural grassland for arctic ground squirrels because the high salinity of the soil prevents forests from taking over. Although, for unknown reasons they died out for a time, Arctic ground squirrels are now starting to return to the Takhini Salt Flats.
One would expect to have to go to the ocean to find shrimp. Not so! Several varieties of shrimp live in the inland ponds of the Takhini Salt Flats. One such variety is the Fairy Shrimp. Fairy Shrimp are the Sea Monkeys that many of us remember from our childhood! Many migratory shore birds come to the Takhini Salt Flats for a shrimp feast.
But I digress. What about the salt?
The salt itself is mainly in the form of mirabilite (Na2SO4·10H2O – also known as Glauber’s salt) and thenardite (Na2SO4). There is about 5% sodium chloride (NaCl) which is what we eat as table salt, but there is no easy way to separate out the NaCl from the mirabilite and thenardite. Mirabilite and thenardite are used by the chemical industry to make soda and also used in glass making. Mirabilite is also used in Chinese medicine and thernardite is also used in the paper industry.
My conclusion? Even if I did live closer to the Takhini Salt Flats, I’m not sure it would be safe to be sprinkling this salt on my food. Although I would certainly be taste testing the edible plants that grow there.
Corn is notoriously difficult to grow in the North. Even with nearly 24 hours of sunlight in June and July, our growing season is just not hot enough for long enough. Last summer, Dawson had only 66 consecutive frost-free growing days.
When I was thinking about eating local to Dawson for one year, my mind went immediately to what I would miss. Popcorn was right up there! I know it is not an essential food item. But a large bowl of popcorn smothered in melted butter and nutritional yeast has, for years, been one of my favourite snacks and one of my comfort foods. Call me a ‘popcorn geek’ – since high school, I have carted my hot air popcorn maker around the country – to various universities and job sites. In fact, I still have it. And Friday Night Family Movie Night has always been accompanied by several large bowls of popcorn.
Grant Dowdell, who has been farming on an island up river from Dawson City for over 30 years, has the best luck growing corn in this area – in part due to his farming skills and in part thanks to the unique microclimate on his island. Grant has tried many varieties over the years and Earlivee (71 days to maturity) is the only one that has ever been successful.
That is until last year.
Last year, I asked Grant to grow Tom Thumb popping corn for me. With the shortest maturity date of any corn I know – only 60 days – Grant agreed.
I let the cobs dry for a month and then crossed my fingers and tried to pop them.
The kernels cracked, but didn’t actually pop. Having never popped popcorn that didn’t come from a store, I wasn’t sure if they were too dry or not dry enough. Distraction intervened and I let them hang for another month before I had a chance to think about them again.
This time they did pop! And they popped really well, with very few kernels leftover. The popcorn is small, but very tasty. So good the kids say it doesn’t even need butter! My winter is saved. Bring on Friday night movie night!
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!
I definitely did not have a green thumb prior to starting this project. Never ask me to take care of your house plant. I’m not sure my thumb is yet brilliant green, but it is several shades closer than it used to be.
So this year I am excited to pull out the seed catalogues and decide what to order for the upcoming growing season. In the North, tomato seeds are started indoors the end of February and most everything else gets started indoors in March and April.
As you get ready to dog-ear pages in your seed catalogues, check out the seeds that have proven themselves to grow well for other Northerners on the First We Eat Seeds page. And if you have some favourites that grow well in your part of the North, let us know (there’s a contribution form on the page) and we will share it .
Here are my seed ordering tips for 2018:
Fothergill’s Perpetual Spinach. Spinach is notoriously difficult to grow in Dawson. Sure we have a short season. But our short summers are really hot! And regular spinach just bolts up here. Both New Zealand Spinach and Fothergill’s Perpetual Spinach grow well in Dawson and do not bolt. I tried them both last year, but preferred the texture of Fothergills.
My favourite tomato last year was Black Prince.
And while you’re at it, consider growing some GMO-free sugar beets. They grew well in several locations in Dawson last year. They are a delicious white beet to eat and the pot liquor you cook them in can be boiled down to make a sweet syrup!
Salt Spring Seeds, based on Vancouver Island, only carries organic, non-GMO seeds and is your one-stop shop for Fothergills Perpetual Spinach, Black Prince tomatoes, and non-GMO sugar beet seeds!
Precious, precious grains of wheat and rye. This is how I think of them now. Every food has become more precious to me since starting this project of eating only food that can be hunted, foraged, fished, grown, or raised in Dawson City, Yukon.
Just prior to the ‘freeze-up’, that time of year in October and November when the Yukon River is too full of ice to boat across, but not yet frozen enough to cross by foot or by snowmobile, Otto at Kokopellie Farm handed me a 25 kg bag of wheat grain and a 25 kg bag of rye grain. The wheat grain has been disappearing all too quickly thanks to sourdough bread and Christmas baking experimentation. So I now am turning my attention to rye flour and saving the wheat for special occasions.
I carefully consider how much flour a recipe calls for. Two cups or less and I’m in. More than 2 cups and it’s usually out. There hasn’t been much sourdough bread recently in our household for just that reason. I also carefully consider if rye flour could be substituted for wheat flour and in many cases it can.
Thus far in my experimentation it seems that rye flour makes dough stickier. But it easily works in many recipes including this delicious Saskatoon Berry Beet Cake, by Miche Genest. It makes a great 9×9-inch ‘spice cake’ or muffins. The grated beets make the cake moist and add a charming pink colour to the batter. The birch syrup adds sweetness as well as a cinnamon/allspice flavour. Although any berry would do, Saskatoon berries and birch syrup just taste like they were made for each other!
Do you have a recipe that uses rye flour (but not more than 2 cups!) – let us know.
My three kids have been desperately missing bagels. And toast.
You might recall that last winter, in anticipation of this, I experimented with sourdough rye and barley bread – with mixed results.
Our first three months of eating local were entirely grain free. Then, against many odds, a successful crop of wheat and rye was harvested just as winter started to blanket Dawson with snow. Shortly thereafter I found a way to grind the grains and the miracle of flour re-entered our diet.
I have no yeast. But sourdough starter has been around the Dawson area for over one hundred years – introduced during the Klondike Gold Rush. In fact, there are Yukoners who continue to feed sourdough starter from the Gold Rush days. With regular feeding, you can keep it indefinitely. Therefore, I decided to classify it as a ‘local’ ingredient.
But I wondered – could you actually make a sourdough starter from scratch, from 100% local Dawson fare? Bev Gray’s “The Boreal Herbal” held a clue – juniper berries. I thought I would give it a try.
I started with 1 tbsp of flour from wheat grown at Kokopellie Farm, added to that 1 tbsp of Klondike River water and about 5 dried juniper berries that I had picked in the Fall. I mixed them all in a small clear glass – so that I could easily see any remote chance of bubbling– a successful sign of fermentation. I covered the glass loosely and let it sit in a warm place. I wasn’t very optimistic. When I checked on it later I was rather shocked to see those wonderful bubbles appearing within the mixture! Now sourdough starter truly is a local ingredient!
I continued to feed the starter for a few days until it seemed quite active and then proceeded to make a loaf of sourdough bread. For my first attempt, I decided to be decadent and use only freshly ground wheat flour – no rye. And it worked! Beginner’s luck perhaps, as it was the best batch I have made to date. Subsequent batches have varied between bricks requiring chainsaws to slice them and slightly more palatable varieties.
Bread dough is like a living organism and sourdough bread even more so. Every time I make it, it comes out differently. It has become a luxury (depending if it is a good batch or a brick batch), not a staple. But great to know that, even starting the sourdough starter from scratch – a 100 % local Dawson bread is possible!
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!
Using all parts of the moose or caribou is important when you are harvesting food from the land. This is one of the many lessons I have been learning during my year of eating local. For Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elders, the delicacies are not the moose steaks or the moose roasts, but the often-overlooked parts of the moose: moose nose, moose tongue, moose head soup, moose heart, moose liver, kidneys, and bum guts. Yup, I said bum guts. Part of the large intestine (cleaned well!) and cooked. I am venturing into the world of moose delicacies. Stay tuned… Victor and his Moosemeat Men will be cooking up a feast for the upcoming Myth and Medium conference, organized by the Tr’ondëk Hwëchin Heritage Department, and taking place in Dawson City, Yukon from February 19 to 22, 2018.
Happy Solstice everyone – the shortest day of the year a.k.a. the longest night. It only gets brighter from here!
Suzanne made another one of her regular appearances recently on CBC Yukon Radio’s A New Day with host Sandi Coleman on the Yu-Kon Grow It segment to talk about the latest happenings on the First We Eat project.
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!
For two days the North Klondike Highway has been closed due to unseasonably warm weather causing black ice and massive frost heaves. This means that my community of Dawson City, as well as the communities of Mayo, Fort MacPherson and Inuvik, are all cut off from the rest of Canada. No road in. No road out. No grocery trucks. No mail. Ten days before Christmas.
Air North, the only airline that links our communities to Whitehorse and hence, the rest of Canada, has managed to squeeze in extra flights during the short window of December daylight, to help transport the many people who are now unable to drive south. But this is not a panacea. Yesterday the plane couldn’t land in Dawson due to bad weather. Some folks won’t get a seat on the plane for another four days. And although the planes can transport people, they can’t supply Dawson and Inuvik with groceries.
So here it is, another reminder of our particular vulnerability in the North. It’s not the first time. It happened on an even larger scale in 2012 when the only road into all of the Yukon was closed due to mudslides – causing the shelves of the many large grocery stores in the Yukon’s capital, Whitehorse, to go bare within a couple of days.
There is no doubt we are seeing the effects of climate change around the world, and especially in the North.
Dawson’s average temperature this time of year should be minus 20° to minus 30° C. For the past two weeks we have had temperatures ranging from plus 2° to minus 10°C. Whitehorse has had above zero temperatures and rain.
This is the second year that the Yukon River has failed to freeze between Dawson and West Dawson. Without an ice bridge, the journey to town for West Dawsonites for supplies is now 12 km instead of 2 km – and currently only passable by foot, skidoo, or dog team.
These are quickly becoming the new norms in the North. Another poignant reminder of the importance of increasing our self-sufficiency and our food security. The importance of lessening our dependence on infrastructure that links us to the south. The reason why I am putting myself to the test and feeding my family of five only food that can be sourced locally for one full year.
I, of course, have enough food to get me through. Many others have freezers full of moose meat. Hopefully, the highway will soon re-open and this event will be considered a mild inconvenience in the memories of many. But should we pass it off so casually? Is it actually the canary in the coal mine. And rather than a temporary inconvenience, a foreshadowing of things to come. A memory that should inspire adaptation and change.
Many studying global food security suggest the answer will be in the development of more local, small-scale organic farms and growers. I agree. And I believe this will be especially important for Northern Canada along with a renewed understanding of what we can source locally from the land. The less we need to rely on ‘one road in, one road out’ the better off we will be.
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!
I love birch syrup and am grateful to Sylvia Frisch and Berwyn Larson who are raising their two daughters in the bush and producing birch syrup commercially. During the past 4 ½ months of eating only local foods, we have consumed 24 litres of birch syrup. I have discovered that the flavour of birch syrup alone can substitute for the ‘far east’ spices of cinnamon and all-spice. I have even been known to down a shot of birch syrup, straight up, during those moments when, in a previous life, I would have grabbed a piece of chocolate – to get me through a moment of emotional or physical despair.
I also love David McBurney’s local honey – it is pure, delicate, and divine. And it is treated like a delicacy in the family. It also makes the perfect sweetener to enhance other delicate flavours that would be overpowered by the robust flavour of birch syrup.
But there are times, especially in baking, when chemistry is required and a liquid sugar option just doesn’t do the trick. Now that I have local flour, and Christmas is coming, baking is on my mind. So what to do when crystalized sugar is required?
Birch syrup, unlike maple syrup, does not crystalize. I learned this last April while visiting Birch Camp. So, with birch sugar no longer an option, I ordered GMO-free sugar beet seeds. I have never had any luck growing regular beets, so I recruited others to grow the sugar beets for me – the great gardeners Paulette Michaud and Becky Sadlier. Unbeknownst to me, long-time Dawson farmer, Grant Dowdell, also had my year of eating local on his mind and ordered non-GMO sugar beet seeds to see if they would grow in the north. The sugar beets grew marvelously for all, confirming that they are indeed a reasonable crop for the North. They like warm days and cool nights – perfect for a Dawson City summer. I ended up with 350 pounds worth to experiment with!
Sugar beets contain approximately 20% sucrose, the same sugar found in sugar cane. One quarter of the world’s refined sugar comes from sugar beets. In Canada, Taber, Alberta is the industrial hot spot for growing and processing sugar beets into sugar. On a commercial scale, lime (calcium oxide) and carbon dioxide are added to form calcium carbonate which solidifies and pulls out any impurities – thus resulting in familiar white sugar. No such additions for a local home-made sugar, so the resulting sugar is brown with a richer taste.
There is a paucity of information out there on just how to make sugar from sugar beets at home, so I gave up on research and moved to trial and error. After all, with 350 pounds of sugar beets, there was room for experimentation and failure. And failure there has been! Although no failure has yet to see itself in the compost. The family seems more than willing to devour the failures – be they sugar beet toffee, sugar beet gum, sugar beet tea. Even burnt beet sugar has found a use. (Thank goodness because there has been a lot of burnt beet sugar!)
In the process, I have also discovered the wonder of the sugar beet – a root vegetable that was previously unknown to me. Sugar beets are often touted as a food for livestock or a green manure crop so I was expecting the taste of the sugar beet itself to be unpalatable. But it is just the opposite! Cooked up, it is a delicious, sweet, white beet. The sugar beet leaves are also edible. And amazingly, even after the sugar is extracted, the sugar beet pulp remains sweet and delicious. I’m afraid the local Dawson livestock will be getting less sugar beet pulp than previously anticipated this year.
One thing is for certain – processing sugar beets into sugar requires time and patience. Here are my step-by-step instructions on how to make syrup (easy) and sugar (difficult) from sugar beets.
Sugar was first extracted from sugar beets in the mid 18th century. In the early 19th century, during the Napoleonic wars when French ports were cut off from the rest of the world, Napoleon encouraged wide-scale sugar beet production and processing. France remains one of the world leaders in sugar beet production and most of Europe’s sugar comes from sugar beets, rather than sugar cane.
Consider adding non-GMO sugar beet seeds to your next seed order. In Canada, they can be found from Salt Spring Seeds and from T&T seeds. Sugar beets grow well in the north and are a delicious root vegetable in their own right. But don’t throw out the water you cook them in, as this water is sweet and can easily be used to make beet syrup and beet syrup candy. And, if you are brave, sugar! If you live in an area populated by deer, be warned that sugar beet tops are a great attractant for deer. Word is now out to the Yukon moose so perhaps next year Dawson’s sugar beet rows will require fencing!
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.
Grains have now entered my local diet. And, unfortunately, I did not heed the concept of moderation with their re-introduction.
Spending almost four months entirely grain free was very interesting. Certainly, it was the one food that haunted me. When I ventured outside my house, the smell or sight of baking was associated with a sense of longing. Plates of bannock at Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in feasts, the smell of Nora Van Bibber’s cinnamon buns at Fall Harvest Camp, the desert table at potluck dinners, the baking at Christmas bazaars – those were the difficult times. Those were the times when I realized how important it was that my family agreed to the ‘no grocery store food in the house’ policy. I do have will power, but I’m not sure how much.
I have also come to realize how much grains contribute to a sense of being full. Without them, potatoes help fill the gap. As does a mug of steamed milk. In the absence of grains, these have become my go-to’s when I need a quick snack. Mashed potato cakes have become the morning staple to replace toast, bagels, or cereal. I have really become quite fond of them and haven’t yet tired of eating them almost every morning.
At the start of this local diet, there was an almost instant melting away of extra pounds. Gerard’s weight loss was the most noticeable, losing 30 pounds during the first two months! Was this due to being grain free? The other unexpected result of eating local was a distinct lack of body odour. Could that also have to do with being grain free? Have those folks who live a gluten free existence noticed the same phenomena?
When Yukon chef, Miche Genest, came to stay with us last week I had to clean up the grains that had been drying in the loft floor so that Miche would have a place to sleep. The barley is not yet threshed. And I haven’t figured out how to de-husk the buckwheat or hull the oats. But thanks to Otto and his combine, the wheat and the rye were threshed and just waiting for me to find a way to grind them. So, one evening, when 12-year-old Tess started talking about how much she yearned for a bowl of cereal, I came up with an idea. Why not boil the whole rye grains! And so Tess did. Accompanied by warm milk, the first mouthful was an extremely comforting and satisfying experience. All my grain longings seemed to come to the forefront as I ate spoonful after spoonful. Somewhere in the logical side of my brain was a small voice suggesting that downing a giant bowl of cooked whole rye might not be the best way to re-introduce grains after four months without. But I couldn’t stop. So I ate the whole bowl. I had a fitful sleep that night. For the next 2 days, I felt like there was a brick in my stomach. I produced enough gas to power our house. Short-term gain for long-term pain. Lesson learned. I will attempt a more moderate re-introduction once I recover from this one.
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 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.
The kitchen is not my natural habitat. It used to be the one room in the house that I tried to avoid. (Having a husband who is, or should I say ‘was’ a good cook, certainly helped with my kitchen avoidance issue). But for the past 110 days, the kitchen has felt like it is the only room in the house that I occupy – from early morning till bedtime. I am thinking of setting up a cot beside the fridge. And it has been quite the learning curve. Clearly, necessity is also the mother of creativity in the kitchen.
So you can imagine how thrilled I am that celebrated Yukon chef and cookbook author, Miche Genest, is arriving in Dawson today for the sole purpose of spending ONE WHOLE WEEK in my kitchen. I feel like I have won the lottery! In fact the whole family, feels like they have won the lottery!
Miche has been invited to share her passion and skills for Northern cooking at events across the country – both north and south. This summer, Miche was a guest cook on Canada C3 expedition, a 150 day expedition from Toronto to Victoria through the Northwest passage to celebrate and share the stories of coastal communities and connect Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
When Miche arrives in Dawson today, she will be taking stock of the local ingredients I have in the house and then tomorrow, we start cooking!
Expect some great 100% northern local recipes to be coming this way soon!
At First Hunt Culture Camp students learn about all aspects of caribou hunting under the guidance of experienced Elders and hunters. Photos by Ashley Bower-Bramadat.
I don’t think many high schools in Canada offer caribou hunting as a high school credit. But Robert Service School in Dawson City, Yukon does.
Since 1995, every October, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation have introduced youth in the community to caribou hunting under the guidance of experienced Elders and hunters at First Hunt Culture Camp. It is open to all high school students, both First Nations students and non-First-Nation students, and counts as one high school credit.
This year 18 youth participated. They spent four days up the Dempster Highway (the northernmost highway in Canada) on traditional land that has always been an important source of food for Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in ancestors. The youth chop wood for the woodstoves that heat the cabins (this year the temperature dropped to -22°C during First Hunt), they learn gun safety and rifle target practice, they practice archery, they learn how to snare rabbits, and they go caribou hunting. After a successful hunt, they also participate in skinning, hanging and butchering the caribou. The meat is then distributed to local elders and used for community feasts.
I had the privilege to be part of this year’s First Hunt Culture Camp, which was held Oct. 19-22. What struck me most, apart from all the adults who volunteer time to be part of First Hunt, is how all the students totally thrived in this element, regardless if they came to First Hunt already with skill sets or were learning new skills for the first time.
Mähsi Cho for inviting me to be part of First Hunt!
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.
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.
Shortly after posting my tale on Oct 23, I received a call from Kokopellie Farm. More snow was in the forecast so Otto decided it was now or never for harvesting the rye and the Red Fife wheat. And so the story continues:
After some serious labour with ropes, the wet snow was removed from most of the grain heads in the field. Unfortunately some of the grain was laying flat under the snow. Fortunately some could be resurrected via pitch fork and muscle power. Unfortunately some patches were already frozen to the grown and not harvestable. Fortunately there was still a good section standing. Unfortunately the wet stalks of the rye kept getting jammed in the combine requiring manual removal. Fortunately Otto was able to do this without injury. Unfortunately the engine of the combine broke down. Fortunately Otto was able to fix it. Unfortunately the combine engine kept breaking down. Fortunately Otto never gives up and was able to get it going again each time and finish harvesting the rye. Unfortunately it was getting close to dark, more snow was in the forecast and the wheat had not yet been harvested. Fortunately, Otto discovered the final issue with the engine, repaired it and was able to harvest the wheat before darkness fell! Yeah!!!
Many, many thanks to the tenacity, mechanical genius, ingenuity and hard work of Otto and Conny who were able to harvest the rye and wheat against all odds! Now it dries (under shelter) and can eventually be ground into flour.
The last of the crops has now been harvested. There is sourdough bread in my future. Let it snow!
I am often asked which food I miss the most. I had expected it would be chocolate or caffeine (very strong black tea was my comfort drink). Surprisingly it is neither. What I miss most is grains: cookies, pies, bread, bagels, rice, pasta – these items that were once staples in our household are no more. The potato is trying its best to fill the gap, but after 85 days without, grains are definitely missed.
It is not easy to grow grains in the far north, as our growing season is so short. But it has been done.
I feel like Northern grain is a character in one of those ‘Good News, Bad News’ stories:
The good news is that in 2016, Otto at Kokopellie Farm had a successful crop of rye and barley that he was able to grind into flour. The bad news is that I used up all I had last winter experimenting with wheat-free and salt-free sourdough bread recipes.
Fortunately Otto planted rye and barley again this year and it grew well. Unfortunately, in August, a moose ate the barley. Fortunately the moose didn’t eat the rye (because it was protected by a fence). And the GREAT NEWS is that, unbeknownst to me, Otto had also planted Red Fife wheat and it grew well (and was protected by the fence)!
Unfortunately, the combine required to harvest the grain was stuck 550 km away in Whitehorse, waiting for a bridge on the North Klondike Highway to be repaired. Fortunately the bridge repairs finished just in time for harvest season mid September. Unfortunately, while hauling the combine to Dawson, the trailer had several flat tires which caused another week’s delay. Fortunately, the combine did eventually make it to Dawson.
Unfortunately by the time the combine arrived in Dawson, it began raining and you can’t harvest grain when it is wet. Fortunately there was a brief break in the weather in early October. Unfortunately, there was no time to put the combine together because the root vegetables had to be harvested before the ground froze. Fortunately grains can withstand frost. Unfortunately, after all the vegetables were harvested it began to snow. Fortunately dry snow can easily be knocked off the grain. Unfortunately this snow was heavy and wet. Fortunately the combine is now fully assembled and ready to go. Unfortunately it is already October 23 and the wet, heavy snow remains on the grains.
Otto, a very pragmatic and optimistic farmer, still feels there is hope. The wheat and rye are still standing. Some cold, clear weather might dry up the snow and make it possible to remove the snow from the grain so it can be combined, but time is running out. I am not sure how this good-news, bad-news story is going to end. My moose anxiety resolved with a successful hunt. Now I have grain anxiety.
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.
What about lacto-fermentation? Fermentation is as old as humanity. Think beer, cheese, sauerkraut and kimchi.
Lacto-fermentation of vegetables, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, takes advantage of the naturally occurring good lactic acid bacteria on the surface of the vegetables, which helps transform the juice of the vegetable into an acid that essentially ‘pickles’ the veggies. There are lots of experts in lacto-fermentation in the Yukon including Kim Melton here in Dawson. I recently took a wonderful fermentation workshop by Kim at Yukon College. However, the fermentation of vegetables calls for a brine, made from salt. And I have no local salt.
Not to worry, the ingenuity of northerners prevails! Leslie Chapman, who spent many years living in the Yukon bush near Dawson, ferments without salt. She uses celery juice.
I also consulted Kim Melton’s copy of the fermenting bible, The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz, a very large book with a very small paragraph on fermenting vegetables without salt. It mentions the option of using a starter culture of whey.
I have celery. I have whey.
So I tried a new experiment. I made sauerkraut, kimchi, and dill pickles, fermenting one jar with celery juice and another jar with whey. No salt.
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.
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.
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 have been suffering from moose anxiety. I suspect this might be a diagnosis particular to northern Canadians, with variations such as caribou anxiety and seal anxiety depending in which part of the North you call home.
Every October when the first snow falls, I look out at a woodshed full of wood and a freezer full of moose meat and feel the tremendous comfort of knowing that, come what may, we will have heat and food through the winter. “It’s like money in the bank”.
This year is different. This, the year we are eating only food local to Dawson City. The name ‘Murphy’ comes to mind.
Gerard has been hunting for almost 2 weeks and had yet to even see a bull moose. Very unusual. Lots of tracks, but no moose. Unfortunately, you can’t eat tracks.
It has been a surprisingly warm Fall this year in the Yukon. Perhaps the bull moose are waiting for colder weather before going into full rut. Whatever the reason, they have not been interested in the call of a pseudo-cow (i.e. Gerard). Perhaps he should have shaved.
On Oct 1st, after re-stocking his food (3 dozen local eggs, 2 pounds of local cheese, 20 pounds of local carrots, 10 pounds of local potatoes and the remnants of last year’s moose — 3 pounds of moose burger and 15 moose sausages), Gerard headed out on the river again for one last hunt. I’m sure I had given him the strong impression that he was not to come home again until he had a moose. But as the days passed this week, I began hoping that he wasn’t taking that literally. He is hunting alone.
And then, late last night, the phone rang.
It was a call from a satellite phone. And it was Gerard’s voice at the other end of the line. He was still alive. And one bull moose wasn’t. Phew! A relief on both accounts.
It has not just been the moose that have been affected by the weather this year in Dawson. A late frost in mid June seemed to have destroyed many of the wild berry blossoms resulting in an unusually poor year for wild berries. A very dry summer affected the wild mushrooms such that mushroom foragers have been scratching their heads to find any at all – worst year for wild mushrooms in 25 years!
It is another poignant reminder on our dependence on the forces of nature. And the importance of diversity (if not moose, at least we have some local chicken and local pork in our freezer). And the importance of community. Despite the slim pickings, Dawsonites have been generously sharing their precious supply of berries with us this year and I am sure that if this was to be Gerard’s first ever unsuccessful moose hunt, those who had more luck would have been sharing their moose as well.
Moose anxiety has now been lifted. Mähsi Cho Jejik. And thank you Gerard.
Recently Suzanne and family harvested the plants, hoping for a favourite family treat to accompany their movie watching. Unfortunately, first attempts at popping have been unsuccessful. Suzanne’s not sure if the kernels are not dry enough — or perhaps they’re too dry. She will keep experimenting, but any suggestions are very welcome. If anyone has grown and successfully popped their own popcorn, let us know.
Thanksgiving weekend is coming up. For Suzanne and family. a favourite Thanksgiving treat is pumpkin pie. Now, Suzanne does have 91 pie pumpkins in storage for the winter! Thanks to Grant Dowdell who grows great pumpkins on his Island about 10 km upstream from Dawson on the Yukon River. Grant has had great success with the Jack Sprat variety of pie pumpkin (check out Grant Dowdell and Karen Digby’s Seed Guide). Grant finds they have the best storage capacity of all the squash, storing well into May.
So, although Suzanne has no grains for a crust, she certainly has the pumpkins — as well as cream for whipping, eggs, and birch syrup for a sweetener. But she has no pumpkin pie spices such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, or allspice. So what to do? Could she use dried and ground spruce tips or Labrador tea?
First We Eat collaborator Miche Genest has a great pumpkin custard recipe for Suzanne. Miche has suggested adapting it using cream instead of evaporated milk. plus birch syrup to taste instead of sugar, and adding an extra egg. For spices, Miche suggests dry-roasting low bush cranberry leaves in a frying pan, then grinding and adding those. Suzanne will give it a try and report back on the results.
If you have any suggestions for alternative pumpkin desert recipe, or a northern local alternative to pumpkin pie spices, let us know!
It’s been 65 days since Suzanne started eating locally, which means it’s also been that long since she’s had any grains! But there’s a glimmer of hope on that front, thanks to some buckwheat that was grown in Dawson this year by Stephanie Williams and Mike Penrose. They planted it as a cover crop for their yard and it grew quite well in our northern climate.
Suzanne has harvested the buckwheat groats. Now, if she can just figure out how to thresh them by hand she will try cooking it. (If anyone has experience with hand threshing, suggestions are welcome. Just contact us.)
Despite the name, buckwheat is not related to wheat, as it is not a grass. (It’s actually related to sorrel and rhubarb). It is one of the so-called ancient grains, having been first cultivated around 6,000 BCE.
Porridge made from buckwheat groats, known as kasha, is often considered the definitive Eastern European peasant dish. The dish was brought to North America by Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish immigrants who also mixed it with pasta or used it as a filling for cabbage rolls, knishes, and blintzes.
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).
Suzanne’s quest for a local salt option continues. And of course, Suzanne also has no pepper. In the meantime, she has found two good alternatives for seasoning the family’s food.
In the absence of table salt, Suzanne and family have started noticing that certain foods taste naturally salty — especially tomatoes and spinach. And, saltiest of all, there is celery. So instead of salt, the family is using dried, ground celery leaves.
They have also come up with a pepper alternative — nasturtium seed pods, which are dried and ground. If you still have nasturtiums in your garden, hunt for the seed pods and taste one fresh – it is like a burst of wasabi! Nasturtium seed pods can also be pickled (maybe even in rhubarb juice for Suzanne) as a locally grown caper. Of note, nasturtium flowers and leaves are also edible and have a mild wasabi-like bite to them. Try tasting one!
Nasturtium plant in blossom (left). Nasturtium pods after picking (right). These are then dehydrated, ground and used as a pepper substitute. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.
For Suzanne, this means it is ‘now or never’ for many of the veggies grown this summer. Suzanne is trying to gather enough for her family for the year and to store them all away.
On Grant’s Island on the Yukon River, the harvest for Suzanne’s family included 148 pounds of onions and 226 pounds of pie pumpkins, along with 10 large seed pumpkins.
Fortunately for Suzanne, she will continue to be able to buy root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, turnip, beets and kohlrabi throughout the winter thanks to the amazing root cellar at Kokopelli Farm.
Saturday, Sept 16th will be the last Dawson Farmers’ Market for Lucy for the year. However, Kokopelli Farm will continue to sell for a few more Saturdays in town and to sell root veggies from the farm gate in Sunnydale all fall and winter. Lucy Vogt will continue to sell veggies at the gate at Henderson Corner into October.
The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Teaching and Working Farm will be having their final public market on Wednesday 20 September at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre.
If you are interested in which onions and pumpkins grow and store well in the North: the onions that Grant grows are Expression onions, which store extremely well if they are well dried before storage. Grant’s pie pumpkins are of the Jack Sprat variety, and they store well in a cool room till May.
Despite the short growing season in Dawson City, Yukon (there were only 66 consecutive frost free days this summer), with almost 24 hours of daylight in June and July the growing season is intense. If you happen to be able to create rich soil to go along with the short, concentrated growing window, then Dawson can grow some mighty big vegetables.
Check out this romanesco grown by Paulette Michaud, weighing 7½ lbs!
Romanesco is a member of the cauliflower family. It was originally introduced by Grant Dowdell to the Dawson community and its unique beauty still turns heads at the Saturday Farmers’ Markets.
Cabbages also thrive in the unfettered Dawson summer daylight despite the short grown season. Take a look at this giant cabbage grown by Louise Piché.
Each year I wait for the late summer to start hunting wild mushrooms. I have been an amateur mycologist (“fungiphile”) for about 30 years. The Dawson City region is generally abundant with many different species of mushrooms over the months of July to October, and occasionally November, if it is a warm fall. What sets this region apart from much of Canada and even the lower portions of the Yukon Territory is that it escaped glaciation in the last ice age. Dawson City actually has topsoil, which holds not only fungal spores but also mammoth bones and all sorts of curiosities from the Pleistocene era.
I use the field guides for the Northwest Pacific American States as I find the mushrooms in our region key-out most closely — not exactly, but pretty darn close — to the winter species listed there. I use a combination of fruiting body appearance with spore prints and, because I geek out on this sort of thing, microscopic spore examination. The remnants of the mammoths have long since stopped adapting to the local environment but our mushrooms have continued their own path of adaptation over the intervening tens of thousands of years since those glaciers scraped off all the topsoil between the Tintina Trench and Spokane.
But this year has been a bust. I cannot recall a year so devoid of mushrooms in my time living up north. Not even the usually prolific, hardy and poisonous Cortinarius has appeared. Yesterday I found a portion of a deer mushroom (Pluteus cervinus) which a nervous squirrel dropped as I walked by on a trail. After a good rainfall over the last couple days a pathetic cluster of maggoty puffballs (Bovista plumbea) appeared beyond my doorstep. A week ago I found a couple mummified Lactarius deliciosus or delicious milk cap (not always delicious but always pretty). And that has been it.
My hunch is that it has been too dry this summer to promote decay of the substrates (dead wood, forest floor duff) along with the growth of the fungal mycelia which are the “roots” of a mushroom but actually the largest component of the organism that live for days to hundreds of years. Perhaps if we get more rain and some warm days, we could still see a decent crop of mushrooms. Fingers crossed!
Arora, David. (1991) All that the Rain Promises and More… Berkley, California: Ten Speed Press
Ward, Brent & D. Bond, Jeffrey & Gosse, John. (2007). Evidence for a 55–50 ka (early Wisconsin) glaciation of the Cordilleran ice sheet, Yukon Territory, Canada. Quaternary Research. 68. 141-150. 10.1016/j.yqres.2007.04.002. (Specifically reference to the diagram)
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.
iIt’s back to school time, which means another year of trying to figure out what to pack in school lunches for our hungry pupils.
For Suzanne’s family during their year of eating only local foods, school lunches are an even greater challenge — especially at this time of year, when no local grains are yet available, which means no bread for sandwiches.
Today, they headed off with potato pancakes, moose sausage and carrots – all local of course.
So Suzanne is looking for creative ideas and can certainly use your help. Take a look at the Dawson City list of local ingredients (keeping in mind that there are no grains yet, as they have yet to be harvested). Any suggestions are always welcome, just let us know.
Recently we posted how Suzanne was looking into mineral licks as a possible source of salt. Well, the lab results have returned and there is salt!
We should note that here are many different types of salt. Table salt is sodium chloride. There are also other minerals that combine with chloride to form salts such as calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Here are the results from Suzanne’ s salt lick sample: sodium (Na) 331 mg/kg; calcium (Ca) 129 mg/kg; magnesium (Mg) 73 mg/kg; potassium (K) 46 mg/kg; Chloride (Cl) 489 mg/kg
Now the question is: can Suzanne distill the salt from the mud? She is waiting for a large mineral lick sample to experiment with and she will give it a try.
One thing that’s especially difficult about eating 100% locally is the difficulty socializing outside of one’s own home — like meeting someone for ‘coffee,’ or going out for lunch or supper.
Sophia Ashenhurst’s creativity at Dawson City’s Alchemy Café, on a busy Discovery Days weekend, allowed Suzanne and family to ‘go out’ for the first time since they started their completely-local diet.
Instead of going out for coffee (the Alchemy is famous for its delicious coffee), the family went out for smoothies — 100%-local “alchesmoothies”.
The 100%-local alchemsoothie consists of: carrot juice, kale, steamed swiss chard, haskaps and rasperries. Yumm! And for those who didn’t want a smoothie there’s a tall glass of carrot-celery juice — all from completely locally-grown Dawson City vegetables and berries. Delicious!
Thanks to the creativity of the Alchemy Café, the possibility was opened up of going out — guilt free. So if you see Suzanne or her family sipping on a tall glass at the Alchemy, they are not actually ‘cheating’ — they are drinking out 100% locally.
The Alchemy Café supports sustainable living and farming practices. The café uses as many organic ingredients as possible. In the summer, The Alchemy sources as much local, chemical free produce as possible from Dawson’s local farmers. The café also offers several gluten-free options, even in sweets and baked goods. They have a sizeable selection of smoothies, protein shakes, iced drinks, and fresh juice, but are perhaps best known for their cornucopia of coffee drinks — all fair-trade organic coffee from the local Yukon roaster Bean North Coffee Roasting Co.
As is often the case, the first frost in Dawson hit mid-August, on the Discovery Days Weekend.
On August 17th there was a 20-minute hail-storm down the Yukon River. Although this bypassed the town, it caught Suzanne and family while they were out berry picking!
Then on the morning of August 18th, temperatures dropped to -1°C in town and went down to -4°C along parts of the Klondike River Valley and at Henderson Corner. Some gardens froze hard, while others were frost touched. Most of the mature veggies, especially the brasicas, weathered the frost, but it is nature’s reminder that summer is over and Suzanne had better speed up her harvesting, as more frost filled-nights may be just around the corner.
Recently we wrote about Suzanne’s investigation of coltsfoot as an alternative source of salt, which Suzanne needs for flavouring and preserving over the next year. Well, Suzanne tried it. It was like magic!
If you taste a fresh or a dried coltsfoot leaf, it really doesn’t have much taste — perhaps a fine hint of celery flavour. But if you burn it, the resulting ash tastes salty! Admittedly it’s a smoked salt taste, but definitely salty.
Suzanne tried mixing the burnt coltsfoot in with foods during preparation and unfortunately the salt taste didn’t really transfer, but when sprinkled on top it works – as long as the coltsfoot ash touches your tongue. So it looks like Suzanne’s family will be shaking on the coltsfoot ash this year!
The experiment with mineral salt licks is also in the works, so we’ll be reporting back on that soon as well.
Here in Dawson City it’s the height of berry season!
This has even more significance for Suzanne and her family, as berries will be their main fruit supply for the next year, while they eat only local foods.
Suzanne recently did a calculation that has her rather nervous. If she and her family each ate 1 cup of berries each per day (which seems reasonable considering it will be their main fruit source for the year), and since one cup of berries weighs about 1/4 lb., she would need 456 pounds of berries for the year! This seems impossible. Currently she has 170 pounds of berries in the freezer (which seemed like quite a lot until she did her fateful calculation). Regardless, she will continue to collect and purchase as much as she possibly can and the family will just have to ration them accordingly.
Thankfully, Suzanne has help in her berry-gathering endeavour. Local producers Emu Farms and Tundarose Garden are helping her out tremendously. (If it were all up to her family picking wild berries, they would be in serious trouble.) Emu Farms supplies Dawson restaurants with delicious local berries. Maryanne from Tundarose Garden sells her scrumptous local berry jam every other Saturday at the Dawson Farmers’ Market.
A berry prolific bounty. Clockwise from upper left: high bush cranberries, low bush cranberries, saskatoon berries, soap berries, raspberries, haskaps. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.
For Dawsonites, berries abound throughout the short summer. Although the wacky weather this summer has, so far, resulted in lower than average harvests of wild berries. Wild strawberries started in mid-July and were over in early August. Soapberries also started mid-July and are now falling off the bushes. Wild raspberries began appearing towards the end of July. Wild blueberries are in season now — if you are lucky enough to find any this year. High bush cranberries are starting and low bush cranberries and rosehips will follow shortly.
Domestic Berries Haskaps were the first domestic berries to appear, back in early July. Saskatoons started late July and into August. Black currents and domestic raspberries are ripe now. Unfortunately domestic strawberries did not fare well this year in the Dawson area because of the weather.
Earlier, we posted how Suzanne was looking forward to having some quinoa in her diet, thanks to conservationist and local grower Sebastian Jones. Quinoa is not normally a northern crop, but Sebastian has been experimenting with growing it in previous years. He’s had good success with the plants, although he has just never gotten far enough during the short season to be able to harvest the quinoa seeds before the fall frost.
This year, he planted early, and Suzanne was excited about the prospect of quinoa in her local diet, as there will be no rice, and minimal grains. Unfortunately, the quinoa has grown up … and turned out to be turnips instead. The culprit was a seed mislabeling issue, as quinoa seeds look similar in size and shape to those from turnips. Even after the plants had germinated, the power of positive thinking had convinced Sebastian for a while that he had a field of lovely baby quinoa seedlings — until the harsh reality, turnip root and all, could be denied no longer. “I don’t even like turnips,” Sebastian complained.
That may or may not be the end of the story. Suzanne has four struggling actual quinoa plants of her own in the ground, and her fingers are crossed in hopes that they take off. There are also some potential alternatives. She will be looking at the wild plant lambsquarter, also sometimes known as pigweed (which is a cousin to quinoa) to see if she can harvest and cook the seed this autumn in a similar manner.
Has anyone had any success processing lambs quarter seeds, or have some other tips for Suzanne? Let us know!
It looked like the problem was solved. Miche Genest did some experimenting and was able to produce homemade vinegar. Unfortunately, Suzanne has not had the same success. Her first batch of vinegar was a dismal failure. It was not sour, and not drinkable — she’s still not sure what she’s going to do with it. She has another batch on the go, but is losing confidence in her fermenting abilities.
Hope remains, however, for some other possible sources. Suzanne also has an attempt at apple cider vinegar fermenting on the go thanks to some of John Lenart’s culled apples (small, sour and green) that he saved for her. And, of course, the birch sap vinegar experiment is also doing its thing until Fall.
But Suzanne needs a vinegar substitute now (in order to make ketchup, string cheese, mayonnaise, etc.) So it was perfect timing for an inspired idea by Jen Sadlier of the Klondike Valley Creamery — rhubarb juice.
One bite of raw rhubarb and you know how sour it is. Rhubarb apparently contains malic acid, which is the ingredient used commercially in flavouring salt-and-vinegar chips.
Suzanne tested the juice with pH strips and it is almost as acidic as white vinegar (pH 3). This makes it a great substitute for vinegar or lemon juice.
Unfortunately, rhubarb is not easy to juice. The best way is to freeze it first and then let it thaw before putting it through a juicer or blender, and then squeezing out the juice.
So far, things are looking promising. Suzanne has successfully made string cheese and hollandaise and ketchup with it. Next, she is going to use the juice to try pickling cucumbers. We will keep you posted on Suzanne’s progress.
Last week we wrote about how Suzanne is looking into coltsfoot as a possible source of salt for her year of eating only local foods. At the moment, salt for seasoning food and curing meats remains one of the unsolved problems on Suzanne’s journey.
Another possible natural source that has been proposed is salt from mineral licks. These can be found all around the Yukon — places where moose and other wild animals go to get their salts. Salt licks mostly look like dirt or mud, but could there be human-consumable salt in them?
Thanks to some hearty hiking friends, Suzanne recently obtained a sample from a mineral lick and has sent it out for testing. Before it left, she had a taste, but it looked and tasted only like dirt. Stay tuned, and we’ll let you know whether Suzanne has found a saline solution.
With no local source of salt for spicing up and preserving her food, Suzanne is looking for a natural, local substitute. One possible alternative that has surfaced is coltsfoot.
Coltsfoot is a wild plant that is often found in boggy terrain and disturbed areas. Its flowers open on leafless stems in early spring before the leaves come out. The leaves, which resemble a colt’s foot in outline and have angular teeth along the edges, appear after the flowers die in the early summer.
According the The Boreal Herbal by Bev Gray, in the past, coltsfoot ash was used by indigenous people as a salt substitute. The large coltsfoot leaves and stems were rolled into balls, dried, and then placed on top of a small fire rock and burned. The ash was then used in cooking.
Suzanne has been gathering coltsfoot and drying it, and will test out this possible salt substitute. Stay tuned to see how it turns out.
In a previous post we wrote how Suzanne and family were looking forward to some popcorn in their local-only diet, with the help of growers Karen Digby and Grant Dowdell. Having had success with sweet corn in the past, they planted a field of Tom Thumb popping corn especially for Suzanne.
The plants survived the mid-June frosts that savaged so many other local crops, but now there’s another, much larger, hazard afoot. It turns out a trio of moose have been hanging out at Grant’s Island. Of all the vegetables growing in the fields, the moose seem to have a particular appetite for Suzanne’s Tom Thumb popcorn plants, even more so that Grant’s sweet corn.
The family dog does his best to dissuade the marauding ungulates, but finds it harder to run off moose than bears. A scarecrow is now on the job and we will just have to see if it can keep the moose at bay and protect Suzanne’s precious popcorn. Grant’s Island is one of the rare microclimates in the Dawson area capable of growing corn outside, so Suzanne’s popcorn experiment is “all in one basket.”
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.
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.
Suzanne has been given a very special gift to start her journey of a year of eating local — fish eggs from the first King Salmon harvested by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in many years. Mähsi cho to Angie Joseph-Rear and all the elders, youth and adults involved in First Fish Culture Camp at Moosehide Village.
First Fish Culture Camp is an opportunity to pass on knowledge to youth regarding the fishing, cleaning, processing and smoking of salmon. It takes place over 5 days at Moosehide Village. Chum salmon has generally been the salmon processed at First Fish. With the decline of the King Salmon population and the moratorium on commercial King Salmon Fishing in the Yukon, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in voluntarily stopped harvesting King Salmon for subsistence fishing approximately 5 years ago in order to aid in the re-growth of the King Salmon population in the Yukon River. And there is evidence that the King Salmon population is increasing.
First Fish Culture Camp teaches youth traditional methods for fishing, cleaning, processing and smoking of salmon. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.
On Tuesday, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elders Committee made the decision to allow a 48-hour window of King Salmon harvesting for the purpose of this year’s First Fish Culture Camp. So yesterday, for the first time in many years, the fish nets were set for King Salmon. And that evening, under the watchful eye of a boat of elders and another boat of youth and Hän singers singing ‘Luk Cho’ (which means big fish in the Hän language), the first net was checked and two beautiful King Salmon were harvested. A special day for the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and First Fish Culture Camp, and a very generous and special gift to start Suzanne’s journey of eating local.
Berry season has begun! Berries are one of the most common foraging foods to be found in the North, and we’ll be reporting on them as the different varieties reach maturity and get added to Suzanne’s larder. Wild strawberries are starting to emerge, but here we’ll have a look at haskap berries.
Haskaps are the first domestic berries of the season to ripen. They generally grow well throughout the north, and taste like a combination between a sweet blueberry and a tart green grape.
In addition to eating them raw, haskap berries can be made into jams or fruit leather. Or try them mixed in with vanilla ice cream. And they freeze well so they can be enjoyed throughout the winter.
In Dawson City, Yukon, Maryann Davis of Tundarose Garden sells fresh haskaps and haskap jam at the Dawson Farmers Market approximately every other Saturday while they last. Emu Creek Farm (run by Diana and Ron McCready) supply Dawson’s local restaurants with haskaps. Both are helping out Suzanne with a source of haskaps for her year of eating local. And if you would like your own haskap bushes, they can be purchased from Klondike Valley Nursery, run by John Lenart and Kim Melton.
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Victor Henry has taught Suzanne to see with new eyes.
Victor generously agreed to show Suzanne and ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph how to harvest wild rhubarb around Dawson. It seems like Victor can spot wild rhubarb a mile away! In the process, Suzanne also learned to look at her environment in a new way. She can now spot these plants easily (maybe not quite a mile away) and since has noticed wild rhubarb in many of her foraging locations — even in her own yard!
When Victor was a kid living at Moosehide (just down river from Dawson) he and his friends used to pick wild rhubarb and then sneak some sugar from the house to dip it in.
Victor suggests picking wild rhubarb before it flowers, when the stalks are young (late May to early June around Dawson), not hollow, and when they are juicy when cut and squeezed. Peel back the leaves and eat wild rhubarb fresh, or chop it and freeze it for later.
You can use wild rhubarb the same way you use domestic rhubarb. Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Angie Joseph-Rear, especially loves wild rhubarb relish with moose meat. You can find some great recipes for rhubarb stalks (wild or domestic) at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks website.
The young leaves can be eaten as well, either raw or cooked. (Note: only wild rhubarb leaves should be eaten, as domestic rhubarb leaves contain too much oxalic acid and are not edible.) To store the leaves, blanche and freeze them using a similar technique as with stinging nettle.
One of the things Suzanne and her family really love eating is popcorn with butter and nutritional yeast. She’s hoping they’ll still be able to indulge their craving during the year of eating only local foods, thanks to Grant Dowdell and Karen Digby.
Grant’s Island is located on the Yukon River about 10 km upriver from Dawson. It has a microclimate unique to the Klondike area that has previously allowed Grant and Karen to grow sweet corn outdoors – something that is usually very difficult to do this far North. This year, they are experimenting growing Tom Thumb popcorn for Suzanne, since this variety takes only 60 days to reach maturity.
If it works out Suzanne may have some popcorn for the upcoming year after all. She will certainly have butter. Next she’ll have to look for local options for toppings as there will be no salt and no nutritional yeast available. Any suggestions for locally available popcorn toppings for Suzanne and Family? If so, let us know.
Wild rose flowers are out in abundance around Dawson City. Suzanne and Tess have been gently grazing as they walk through the forest. Two delicacies are wild rose petals and lungwort (blue bell) flowers, which are lightly perfumed with a touch of sweet. Spruce tips (late May) provided the citrus candy of the forest.
Blue bells (lungwort flowers) and Wild Rose petals are two edible delicacies for foragers. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.
Wild rose petals can be eaten fresh, used as a garnish, steeped as a tea, or sun-steeped for rose-flavoured water. They can also be dried for storage through the year. Recently Suzanne has learned they can also be frozen. Remember to leave a few petals on each flower you pick so that they continue to attract bees.
If you know of any tips/recipes for eating rose petals that only include ingredients local to Dawson, let Suzanne know through email@example.com
Suzanne’s preparations for her year of eating local suffered a setback this week as the lowest temperatures in 35 years descended on Dawson, bringing three days of frost . Microclimates abound in the Klondike, so depending on their location the severity of damage to gardens and farms varied, with the town only mildly affected, while outlying areas saw temperatures as low as -4.7°C.
Where frost did occur, even some plants that were covered suffered — especially brassicas (plants like cauliflower and broccoli) and beans. Many of those who suffered losses were veteran growers, who had taken precautions to try to mitigate the frost damage.
Klondike Valley Nursery in Rock Creek, where they are adapting fruit tress to the north, was especially hard hit. They lost their haskap berry crop as well as their early apples, even those that were in shelters with kerosene heaters. Only the apple trees that were in greenhouses heated with wood stoves made it through.
Lucy’s Plants and Vegetables in Henderson Corner has a sprinkler system that is thermostat controlled and turns on automatically when the temperature hits zero. The sprinkler system and the row covers saved the day. There was still some frost damage to early peas and early potatoes, but hopefully they will recover. The rhubarb was frozen hard, but there’s still time in the season for them to bring out new shoots.
Kokopellie Farms in Sunnydale irrigated their plants and put them under row cover but still suffered frost damage to some of their cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce and early potatoes. Fortunately for Suzanne’s hopes of getting some grains, their winter rye is doing well.
Growers have always been at the mercy of the weather, but occurrences like this one underscore the challenges of gardening and farming in the north. Northern growers have developed techniques for weathering frost, including irrigating well before and during the frost, covering crops, and moving what one can into heated shelters and greenhouses.
Do you have other ways of dealing with frost or some lessons to share with us? Let us know.
According to Environment Canada, the next three days will see the chance of frost in the Dawson City area. This is much later in the month than even the most pessimistic of local planting advice that Suzanne had to consider when planting her garden.
While this particular frost warning is a local issue — and even in Dawson, temperatures and exposure to frost will vary based on altitude, terrain. and proximity to water — it highlights a point about sub-arctic/arctic growing, and the quest for Food Security North of 60. Our colder climate brings its own set of challenges and risks.
Suzanne will be busy the next few nights trying to protect the plants in her garden by covering them with row cover and sheets. John Lenart at the Klondike Valley Nursery will be putting kerosene heaters in his greenhouses to keep the precious Dawson apple trees with sensitive blossoms warm during the next few nights. Lucy Vogt at Lucy’s Plants and Veggies will be irrigating her fields to help keep the frost away from her growing produce. Lucy has a sprinkler system attached to a thermostat. The sprinkler system automatically turns on when temperatures drop below freezing. Fingers crossed that Dawson gardens and farms will make it through the next three nights unscathed!
Right now Suzanne is feeling more like a “green horn” than a “green thumb.” Normally, sunflower seeds from the Mammoth Russian Sunflower are know for growing huge 8- to 14-inch heads, packed with seeds. Suzanne was hopeful that she could get them to grow in Dawson with enough time to go to seed. Facing a year without nuts, sunflower seeds were her hope for a local seed. And, in theory, if one grew enough perhaps some oil?
In this episode of Yu-Kon Grow Iton CBC North’s A New Day with Host Sandi Coleman, Suzanne discussed her search for natural sweeteners, as well as the challenges around finding a locally-sourced vinegar.
Birch sap makes a delicious drink fresh from the trees – refreshing water taste with only a hint of sweetness – but packed full of minerals. Birch sap contains natural carbohydrates, organic acids, fruit acids, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, sodium, iron and copper, vitamins B (group) and vitamin C. It is said to have diuretic and detoxifying effects on the body, and it has been used as a folk remedy for many ailments in Europe and Asia for hundreds of years.
But birch sap needs to be consumed right away – it doesn’t last more than 24 hours even in the fridge. Sylvia Frisch, however, tried pressure canning the birch sap and storing it in her root cellar and it preserved very well and tastes great!
Also, Sylvia Frisch took advantage of the natural yeasts in birch sap to try and make vinegar. She bottled fresh birch sap last year and added a few raisins or black currents in each bottle and stored them in her root cellar. Suzanne and Sylvia cracked one open last week at Birch Camp and it was a delicious light white vinegar. They have bottled some fresh birch sap with local low bush cranberries this year and will see if they have equal success.
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.
Suzanne’s greenhouse is planted and the tomatoes and cucumbers are growing well — along with an early crop of radishes and baby spinach, which were seeded in the greenhouse in mid-April, when the greenhouse was still unheated. They are ready for harvest!
The tomatoes were started indoors on Feb. 25th and transplanted to the greenhouse on May 8th, where they were heated at night with the wood stove. The cucumbers were started too early on Mar. 15th and transplanted to the greenhouse on May 8th, but they appear to be adjusting well.
You may remember an earlier post where we mentioned Riley Brennan’s success growing an early crop of spinach in an unheated greenhouse in Dawson and France Benoit’s similar success with an early crop of Asian greens. Suzanne tried planting spinach seeds this year in mid-April in her unheated greenhouse and they have sprouted. Hopefully they’ll provide a crop of baby spinach by the beginning of June!
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!