Suzanne’s Blog: Local Sourdough Starter

The dough rising on a batch of 100%-local sourdough bread. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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.

> View the recipe for sourdough starter

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!

> See the recipe for Yukon Sourdough Bread

A finished loaf of sourdough bread made with completely-local ingredients. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s Blog: Winter Comfort Foods

Dawson City sunset in early January. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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!

> Check out the adapted recipe here

Suzanne’s Blog: A Local Christmas Feast!

The 100-per-cent-local Christmas turkey dinner. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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.

Steamed Christmas pudding. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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!

> View recipe for Steamed Christmas Pudding with Hard Sauce
> See a recipe for Birch Eggnog

Christmas – a time for giving, a time for sharing, a time for family and friends and a time for feasting.  We have enjoyed all – during our 100% local Christmas.

Suzanne’s Blog: Nothing Says Merry Christmas Like a Moose Nose

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Victor Henry with fresh moose nose. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Drin tsul zhìt shò ä̀hłąy!

Nothing says Merry Christmas like a moose nose!

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!

Sunrise on Dec 21st at Dawson City, Yukon at 11:11 am.  Sunset at 3:21 pm.  In between, the sun stays just below the hill tops that surround Dawson. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s Blog: I Cooked a Steak!

Raw moose steak with its rub. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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.

Steak cooking on the grill. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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!

> View the recipe for Moose Steak with Yukon Rub

Suzanne’s Blog: Cut Off!


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.

Suzanne’s Blog: Christmas Experimentation


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.

A few recipes have worked out well enough to be shared and repeated – such as Birch Brittle and Yukon Shortbread.

Brittle made with birch syrup and pumpkin seeds. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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!

> See the recipe for Birch Brittle
> See the recipe for Yukon Shortbread

Suzanne’s Blog: Sugar Beets Sweeten the Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

> View the recipe for Sugar Beet Sugar and Syrup

Suzanne’s Blog:  Chef Miche Gets Me Into Hock

Pork Hocks, Cabbage and Rye Berry Casserole is another delicious dish Chef Miche Genest helped create for Suzanne with 100% local ingredients. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Recently, I had the distinct honour to have Yukon chef, Miche Genest, in my kitchen, devoting a week of her time helping me cook!

The week went by all too fast, but we covered a lot of ground – soups, dinners, sauces, desserts.  And we started experimenting with grains (more on the grains later).

I promised to share some more recipes and here is another.  (See also previous posts with Brian Phelan’s Rappie Pie and Token Gesture Custard)

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!

> View recipe for Pork Hock Rye Casserole

Suzanne’s Blog: Flour Power and the Ol’ Grind

Gerard and Tess grinding fl;our by hand. Photo by Miche Genest.

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.

A close look at the hand flour grinder and its handiwork. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s Blog: Moderation Goes Down the Grain


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.

> Check out the recipe for Mashed potato cakes

Sugar Beet Syrup and Homemade Potato Starch

By Miche Genest

Sugar Beet Syrup and Homemade Potato Starch

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.

Suzanne’s Blog: Guest Chef Dishes Out Warmth and Memories

(From left to right) Brian, Suzanne, and Miche with a big bowlful of potato pulp.

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.

Click here for our adaptation of Rappie Pie for a totally local Yukon meal .

The chefs admire their finished Rappie Pie.

Suzanne’s Blog: Cooking Up a Storm With Miche

Suzanne (left) and Miche admire one of their creations.

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.

> View the Token Gesture Custard Recipe

Suzanne’s Blog: Miche to the Rescue

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!

Michele Genest, also known as The Boreal Gourmet is passionate about cooking with local ingredients from the North and from the boreal forest. She is the author of several best selling cookbooks including The Boreal Gourmet, Adventures in Northern Cooking  and The Boreal Feast, a Culinary Journey Through the North . She also collaborated with community cooks from Old Crow, Yukon to help create recipes for Vadzaih, Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof. And, in collaboration with Jennifer Tyldesley, will soon be launching “Cold Spell, Cocktails and Savouries for a Northern Winter.”

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!

Suzanne’s Blog: First Hunt Culture Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suzanne’s Blog: Trick or (100% local) Treat?

Halloween candy made with 100% local ingredients. Left to right: birch syrup candy, sugar beet toffee, dried strawberry yogurt, sugar beet candy. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

For the first time in my life as a mother, all three of my children had Hallowe’en without me this year.  No doubt it had something to do with the house rule about ‘only local food allowed in the house’.  They were not about to sacrifice their holiday tradition of gorging on mini chocolate bars, rockets and bags of chips, so they each conveniently made plans to be at the houses of others on All Hallow’s Eve.

This left me with the realization that there would be no Halloween candy for me this year! No snacking from the bowl meant for the trick-or-treaters (who rarely ever come to our out-of–the-way house).  If a stray child came knocking on our door this year, we would be handing out carrots. No bargaining with my kids to share some of their loot.  And no sneaking into their treat bags when they are at school, hoping that they won’t notice the occasional missing chocolate bar.

But since Halloween is the season for unreasonable sugar consumption, I decided I would find a way to do it local –  even without sugar.   So I pulled out the candy thermometer, took stock of my local food resources and set to it.

I can now proudly say, that I have successfully overindulged on local sweets for Halloween.  Thanks to birch syrup candy, dehydrated yogurt sweetened with wild strawberries and …. sugar beet candy! (see the recipes)  More on the sugar beets later.  But suffice it to say, Halloween inspired me to dig into my 350-pound store of sugar beets and start experimenting.  I feel a bit sickly and my teeth are sticky, but I do not feel left out of the Halloween candy splurge.

> Halloween candy recipes

Suzanne’s Blog: A New Appreciation of Freeze-Up

The George Black ferry sits on shore after being pulled for the season. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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.

After slush makes the rivers unnavigable, those living on the opposite sides from Dawson must wait until they can cross over the ice. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suzanne’s Blog: Fermentation Success Without Salt!

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

It worked!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have celery. I have whey.

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

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

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

Suzanne’s Blog: Preservation Reservations – Pickling Without Vinegar

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

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

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

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

 

So — rhubarb juice pickling is out.

Pumpkin Pie for Thanksgiving After All

Crustless pumpkin pie just out of the oven. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

We previously posted how Suzanne was having some angst about coming up with a local option for her family’s  traditional Thanksgiving favourite — pumpkin pie — with no grains available for crust and no traditional pumpkin pie spices.

Thanks to Miche Genest, Suzanne was able to adapt the Boreal Gourmet’s recipe for pumpkin pudding — to great success.

Here is Suzanne’s adapted recipe for Crustless Pumpkin Pie — Northern Style.

She tried Miche’s suggestion of using ground dry-roasted low bush cranberry leaves as a spice, but it didn’t work for Suzanne.

So, instead Suzanne tried two adaptations:
1. Birch syrup alone adds a delicious flavour with no extra spice needed.
2. For a spicier option add ground dried spruce tips, ground nasturtiam seed pod ‘pepper’  with the optional addition of ground dried labrador tea leaves.

Both were topped with a dollop of whipped cream.

The jury was split as to which variety was preferred, but both were devoured!

Note:  the cream, hand separated from the milk, was naturally sweet and needed no sweetener addition.  Interesting observation compared with store bought whipping cream.

Hint: To get hand-separated cream to whip, pour it into a bowl and let it chill in the freezer until it gets a thin frozen crust on top. Then whip.

Unfortunately for Sadie, she is NOT on the local diet. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s Blog: A Thanksgiving Message to Farmers

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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.

Suzanne Blogs: As Quiet as a Moose

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Pile of Pumpkins for Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

Pumpkins and corn in storage. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Buckwheat Provides A Grain of Hope for Suzanne

Buckwheat ready for harvest. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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

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

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

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

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

Early-Buckwheat
Buckwheat-flowering

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

Top of the World Cloud Bread a Family Crowd Pleaser

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

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

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

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

> Click here to view the recipe

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Versatile Cloud Bread used as a hamburger bun , and under Eggs Benedict. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Celery Salt and Nasturtium Pepper

Celery salt, nasturtium pepper and dried nasturtium seed pods. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s quest for a local salt option continues. And of course, Suzanne also has no pepper. In the meantime, she has found two good alternatives for seasoning the family’s food.

In the absence of table salt, Suzanne and family have started noticing that certain foods taste naturally salty — especially tomatoes and spinach.  And, saltiest of all, there is celery. So instead of salt, the family is using dried, ground celery leaves.

They have also come up with a pepper alternative — nasturtium seed pods, which are dried and ground.  If you still have nasturtiums in your garden, hunt for the seed pods and taste one fresh – it is like a burst of wasabi!  Nasturtium seed pods can also be pickled (maybe even in rhubarb juice for Suzanne) as a locally grown caper.  Of note, nasturtium flowers and leaves are also edible and have a mild wasabi-like bite to them.  Try tasting one!

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Nasturtium plant in blossom (left). Nasturtium pods after picking (right).  These are then dehydrated, ground and used as a pepper substitute. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

The Bounty of the Harvest

Grant Dowdell (foreground) with Suzanne and family and their onion and pumpkin harvest. Photo by Karen Digby.

Here in Dawson City, it’s harvest season!

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.

The pigs at Kokopelli Farm enjoying the end of harvest season, when they get an amazing buffet — being allowed to eat up the leftover kale and broccoli in the garden. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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.

> See Grant’s Seed Guide

 

From the Land of the Giants

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!

Paulette Michaud shows off her giant romanesco. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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.

Suzanne checks out the girth of Louise Piché’s prize-winning giant cabbage at Dawson’s Horticultural Fair during Discovery Days Weekend in mid-August. Photo by Cathie Archbould.

 

Where Have All the Mushrooms Gone?

By Aedes Scheer

Lactarius deliciousus (saffron milk cap) mshrooms in the wild. Photo by Aedes Scheer.

Each year I wait for the late summer to start hunting wild mushrooms. I have been an amateur mycologist (“fungiphile”) for about 30 years. The Dawson City region is generally abundant with many different species of mushrooms over the months of July to October, and occasionally November, if it is a warm fall.  What sets this region apart from much of Canada and even the lower portions of the Yukon Territory is that it escaped glaciation in the last ice age. Dawson City actually has topsoil, which holds not only fungal spores but also mammoth bones and all sorts of curiosities from the Pleistocene era.

I use the field guides for the Northwest Pacific American States as I find the mushrooms in our region key-out most closely — not exactly, but pretty darn close — to the winter species listed there. I use a combination of fruiting body appearance with spore prints and, because I geek out on this sort of thing, microscopic spore examination. The remnants of the mammoths have long since stopped adapting to the local environment but our mushrooms have continued their own path of adaptation over the intervening tens of thousands of years since those glaciers scraped off all the topsoil between the Tintina Trench and Spokane.

But this year has been a bust. I cannot recall a year so devoid of mushrooms in my time living up north. Not even the usually prolific, hardy and poisonous Cortinarius has appeared. Yesterday I found a portion of a deer mushroom (Pluteus cervinus) which a nervous squirrel dropped as I walked by on a trail. After a good rainfall over the last couple days a pathetic cluster of maggoty puffballs (Bovista plumbea) appeared beyond my doorstep. A week ago I found a couple mummified Lactarius deliciosus or delicious milk cap (not always delicious but always pretty). And that has been it.

My hunch is that it has been too dry this summer to promote decay of the substrates (dead wood, forest floor duff) along with the growth of the fungal mycelia which are the “roots” of a mushroom but actually the largest component of the organism that live for days to hundreds of years. Perhaps if we get more rain and some warm days, we could still see a decent crop of mushrooms. Fingers crossed!

Bowl full of Hydnum repandum (Hedgehog mushroom). Photo by Aedes Scheer.

References:

Arora, David. (1991) All that the Rain Promises and More… Berkley, California: Ten Speed Press

Ward, Brent & D. Bond, Jeffrey & Gosse, John. (2007). Evidence for a 55–50 ka (early Wisconsin) glaciation of the Cordilleran ice sheet, Yukon Territory, Canada. Quaternary Research. 68. 141-150. 10.1016/j.yqres.2007.04.002. (Specifically reference to the diagram)

“52 Buckets of Kale in the Hall”

Pile of kale awaiting processing. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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

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

Yummy kale chips after baking. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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

Kale Chips Recipe

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

 

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

The Challenge of School Lunches

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

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

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

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

 

Mineral Salt May Yet Shake Out

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

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

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

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

Alchemy Café Concocts 100%-Local Smoothies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Long, Short Season!

An accumulation of ice following a recent 20-minute hail storm in Dawson City. The next day the region received the first nip of end-of-Summer frost. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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.

The Search for Salt: Coltsfoot Galloping to the Rescue?

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

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

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

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

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

Berries Abound … But Will There Be Enough?

Blueberry season is just beginning in the Dawson City area. Photo by Cathie Archboud. #ArchbouldPhotography

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.

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A berry prolific bounty. Clockwise from upper left: high bush cranberries, low bush cranberries, saskatoon berries, soap berries, raspberries, haskaps. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Wild Berries
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.

Not technically a berry, rose hips can be foraged and used in a similar fashion. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Mama, Don’t Let Your Quinoa Grow Up to Be Turnips

Sebastian Jones with a prolific field of quinoa last fall. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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.

“Turnips!Why did it have to be turnips?” Sebastian holds up one of the quinoa-turned-turnips. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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!

Rhubarb Juice to the Rescue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Has Salt Got Suzanne Licked?

Illustration by Chris Healey.

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

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

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

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

 

Worth Its Weight In Salt?

With no local source of salt for spicing up and preserving her food, Suzanne is looking for a natural, local substitute. One possible alternative that has surfaced is coltsfoot.

Suzanne will be trying out coltsfoot as a possible salt substitute.

Coltsfoot is a wild plant that is often found in boggy terrain and disturbed areas. Its flowers open on leafless stems in early spring before the leaves come out. The leaves, which resemble a colt’s foot in outline and have angular teeth along the edges, appear after the flowers die in the early summer.

According the The Boreal Herbal by Bev Gray, in the past, coltsfoot ash was used by indigenous people as a salt substitute. The large coltsfoot leaves and stems were rolled into balls, dried, and then placed on top of a small fire rock and burned. The ash was then used in cooking.

Suzanne has been gathering coltsfoot and drying it, and will test out this possible salt substitute. Stay tuned to see how it turns out.

 

The Moose is Loose … and Looking for Popcorn!

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.

1 a.m.  end of June –  cow moose looking wistfully across Grant and Karen’s fields towards Suzanne’s Tom Thumb popcorn! Take at Grant’s Island, Yukon River. Photo by Karen Digby

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.”

The Question of Salt

Illustration by Chris Healey

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

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

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

Any ideas?

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

Cooking Lessons With Driss

The finished gnocchi recipe Driss taught Suzanne how to prepare. Photo by Driss Adrao.

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.

Fish skin crackers are a great way to use more of your fish. Photo by Driss Adrao.

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.

> Click here for the gnocchi recipe
> Click here for the Fish Skin Crackers recipe

Do you have a recipe that you think would be good for Suzanne to try? Let us know.

Driss Adrao and Suzanne pose with their finished gnocchi dish. Selfie by Driss Adrao.

A Very Special Gift to Start Suzanne’s Journey

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Angie Joseph-Rear (right) presents Suzanne with fish eggs from the first King Salmon harvested by that First Nation in several years. Photo by Tess Crocker

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.

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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.

Mähsi cho.

The roe from one King Salmon. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Haskaps Are First Domestic Berries of the Season

Suzanne hard at work picking haskap berries at Tundarose Garden in Dawson City, Yukon. Photo by Tess Crocker.

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.

Tess Crocker helps out with the picking. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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.

In Whitehorse there are several local haskap producers. Click here for a list.

Do you grow or sell haskaps in your northern community?  Let us know.

The berries of their labours. Haskaps are great eaten raw, can be made into jams, or used in cooking. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Wild Rhubarb – Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elder gives Suzanne new eyes

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Victor Henry with a basket of wild rhubarb. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Victor Henry has taught Suzanne to see with new eyes.

Victor generously agreed to show Suzanne and ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph how to harvest wild rhubarb around Dawson. It seems like Victor can spot wild rhubarb a mile away!  In the process, Suzanne also learned to look at her environment in a new way.  She can now spot these plants easily (maybe not quite a mile away) and since has noticed wild rhubarb in many of her foraging locations — even in her own yard!

Young wild rhubarb. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
When Victor was a kid living at Moosehide (just down river from Dawson) he and his friends used to pick wild rhubarb and then sneak some sugar from the house to dip it in.
Victor suggests picking wild rhubarb before it flowers, when the stalks are young (late May to early June around Dawson), not hollow, and when they are juicy when cut and squeezed.  Peel back the leaves and eat wild rhubarb fresh, or chop it and freeze it for later.
You can use wild rhubarb the same way you use domestic rhubarb. Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Angie Joseph-Rear, especially loves wild rhubarb relish with moose meat.  You can find some great recipes for rhubarb stalks (wild or domestic) at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks website.
Wild rhubarb all chopped up and ready for freezing., Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
The young leaves can be eaten as well, either raw or cooked.  (Note:  only wild rhubarb leaves should be eaten, as domestic rhubarb leaves contain too much oxalic acid and are not edible.) To store the leaves, blanche and freeze them using a similar technique as with stinging nettle.
Mähsi cho Victor Henry.

Northern Popcorn?

Popping corn for Suzanne and her family growing on Grant’s Island. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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.

Tess (foreground, left) helping Grant Dowdell (right) with the planting. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Nature’s Candy

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

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

lungwort-flower
Wild-Rose-close-up

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise Dawson Cold Snap Takes Its Toll

Unusually cold temperatures struck the Dawson area bringing frost and crop damage. Ice on grass in Henderson Corner.  Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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.

Suzanne covers her garden in preparation for possible frost. Photo by Tess Crocker.

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.

Brassicas (plants like cauliflower and broccoli) were especially hard hit by the frost. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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.

Kokopellie Farm’s crop of winter rye survived the frost. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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.

 

 

Plant. Water. Worry.

Bolted Spinach
There’s a frost warning in Dawson, and baby plants will be especially vulnerable. Photo by Suzanne Crocker

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!

Suzanne’s Sad, Sad Sunflowers

Some rookie mistakes have cast a cloud on Suzanne’s plans to add sunflower seeds to her local diet.
Photo by Tess Crocker.

Right now Suzanne is feeling more like a “green horn” than a “green thumb.” Normally, sunflower seeds from the Mammoth Russian Sunflower are know for growing huge 8- to 14-inch heads, packed with seeds.  Suzanne was hopeful that she could get them to grow in Dawson with enough time to go to seed.  Facing a year without nuts, sunflower seeds were her hope for a local seed.  And, in theory, if one grew enough perhaps some oil?

 

Continue reading “Suzanne’s Sad, Sad Sunflowers”

Refreshing and Versatile Birch Sap

Birch sap makes a delicious drink fresh from the trees – refreshing water taste with only a hint of sweetness – but packed full of minerals. Birch sap contains natural carbohydrates, organic acids, fruit acids, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, sodium, iron and copper, vitamins B (group) and vitamin C.  It is said to have diuretic and detoxifying effects on the body, and it has been used as a folk remedy for many ailments in Europe and Asia for hundreds of years.

But birch sap needs to be consumed right away – it doesn’t last more than 24 hours even in the fridge.  Sylvia Frisch, however, tried pressure canning the birch sap and storing it in her root cellar and it preserved very well and tastes great!

Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Also, Sylvia Frisch took advantage of the natural yeasts in birch sap to try and make vinegar.  She bottled fresh birch sap last year and added a few raisins or black currents in each bottle and stored them in her root cellar.  Suzanne and Sylvia cracked one open last week at Birch Camp and it was a delicious light white vinegar. They have bottled some fresh birch sap with local low bush cranberries this year and will see if they have equal success.

Will keep you posted!

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

Photo by Suzanne Crocker

See the Bees, Eh? Dawson Hive Successfully Overwinters

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

David McBurney’s honey bees have survived the winter!

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

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

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

Sweeeeeeet! A Bucket of Birch Syrup

Suzanne’s main sweetener for her year of eating local will be birch syrup from Berwyn Larson and Sylvia Frisch’s birch camp not far from Dawson. The sap has been running well and Suzanne is starting her year with a 12-litre bucket of delicious Uncle Berwyn’s Yukon Birch Syrup .

Photo by Scott Buchanan

Suzanne recently talked about her experience at the camp on Yu-Kon Grow It on CBC North‘s A New Day with host Sandi Coleman.

Suzanne’s Greenhouse Looking Good

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.

Things are looking good in Suzanne’s greenhouse as planting season nears. Photo by Tess Crocker.

Our Baby Spinach is Growing Up

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!

Photo by Suzanne Crocker