Suzanne’s Blog: Tree Water

Nature is turning off the tap for birch sap. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

The buds on the birch trees are just starting to turn green, which means it’s coming to the end of birch sap season.  For the past few weeks you could spot a birch tree being tapped in many Dawson City backyards.

Most of us have been tapping a tree in order to drink the cold, refreshing and nutrient rich birch water – loaded with thiamine (one of the Vitamin B’s) and manganese, as well as some Vitamin C, iron, riboflavin, zinc, calcium and potassium.  Birch water tastes like a super fresh and delicious glass of crystal clear water with only a rare hint of sweet if you look for it.

When the sap is running, the tree is actually pulling the sap from its roots all the way up to the top of the tree to feed its leaf buds which is an amazing anti-gravitational feat in itself.

Birch water goes bad within a couple of days, even in the fridge, so it needs to be consumed fresh.  Alternatively, you can freeze it  (even in ice cube trays) and save some frozen birch water to consume later in the year.  The tapping of one tree will produce a lot of birch water, so be careful not to tap more than you can consume.

Very few of us will boil down the sap we collect to make birch syrup.  We leave that to Sylvia Frisch and Berwyn Larson and their crew who are currently very busy, working around the clock, collecting sap from about 1500 trees and preparing Uncle Berwyn’s Yukon Birch Syrup to supply us all with the sweet stuff for the upcoming year.

My birch syrup supply is down to the last cupful.  We are consuming about 1  litre of birch syrup per week! So I decided to boil down some sap and see if I could supplement our supply until the end of syrup season when we can get our next 12 L bucket from Sylvia and Berwyn’s birch camp.

Birch syrup and maple syrup, although both sweet, are quite different in both taste and components.  Birch syrup contains fructose, the sugar in fruit, and it does not crystallize like maple syrup does.  Maple syrup contains sucrose, the sugar in table sugar.  One of the major differences between the two is the sugar content of the sap. It takes twice as much birch sap to make a litre of birch syrup, compared to making maple syrup.  In fact the ration of birch sap to syrup is an astounding 80:1!

What does that look like in real life?  I took my two largest pots and boiled down 14 litres of birch water.  All that sap produced a scant ¾ cup of syrup!

A big thank you to the birch trees for sharing some your sap and to Sylvia Frisch and Berwyn Larson and crew for all the hard work that goes into turning it into syrup!

If you haven’t yet tasted birch syrup, you really must.  It is delicious!  When using birch syrup in recipes, I find I don’t miss the absence of other spices such as cinnamon or allspice.  Check out the many recipes using birch syrup on our Recipe Page.

As the leaf buds start to turn green, the sap will take on a bitter taste, marking the end of the tapping season for another year.

> Check out photos of birch camp here

Suzanne’s Blog: Welcome Waffles

Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Five days a week for 7½ months translates into 150 breakfasts of eggs and mashed potato cakes.   My family has reached their limit.  Gerard can’t seem to swallow another egg.  Sam is done on mashed potato cakes.

Breakfast clafouti and crepes are reserved for weekends because they require extra time.  So that leaves smoothies or cooked rye grains as my breakfast alternatives.

That is until now….

Kate and Sam are away, competing at the Arctic Winter Games.  In their absence, there have been fewer dishes to wash which has translated into more time to experiment.  So I thought I would try waffles.  I was not optimistic as I was missing one of the key ingredients – baking powder – and, of course, salt.

But what did I have to lose (other than some precious Red Fife wheat flour).

So I pulled out my 1969 Farmers Journal Homemade Bread recipe book and a General Electric waffle maker of about the same vintage (thank you Evelyn Dubois) and gave it a go.

Success!

 Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside.  Smothered in homemade butter and birch syrup.  Didn’t seem to miss the baking powder, or the salt, in the least.

I will have a welcome breakfast surprise for Kate and Sam when they return!

Next challenge will be to try them with rye flour, as the wheat flour is in short supply.

> Check out the recipe for 100% local Yukon Waffles

Suzanne Presents at Northern Food Network Webinar


Suzanne, along with the Yellowknife Farmer’s Market and Food Charter Coalition will be guest presenter for a webinar this coming Monday 12 March 2018  from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. PST on what sustainable food means in the North.

There is no charge. Click here to register.

The Northern Food Network (NFN) is co-hosted by the Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research (AICBR) and Food Secure Canada (FSC) as a space for people working in and interested in northern food security to share, learn about best practices across the North and advance collective action on food security. They co-facilitate bi-monthly webinars and teleconferences with focused presentations and discussion around 4 core  themes: environment, health, agriculture, and food security.

Art Napoleon on Food, Cultural Revitalization and the Need for Balance

Art Napoleon tends to a saute of rabbit and ptarmigan at Our Camp is Our Kitchen.

by Miche Genest

When Art Napoleon found he had to cook a selection of wild and cultivated ingredients from a local food “mystery box” over a campfire with three Indigenous Yukon Elders, he said, “Oh no! You’re going to gang up on me.” He had reason to be fearful—Tetl’it Gwich’in Elder Mary Jane Moses, Teetl’it Gwich’in Elder Dorothy Alexie, and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elder Peggy Kormandy are all experienced campfire cooks with many years of cooking on the land behind them.

But as participants at “Our Camp is our Kitchen” learned, when it comes to campfire cooking Napoleon is no slouch. He and the ladies transformed the ptarmigan, rabbit, caribou guts, caribou meat, sheep ribs, wild rhubarb, cranberries, birch syrup and a host of other delicacies into soup, stew, fricassee, viande grillée and pudding that fed anywhere from 75 to 100 people. Their cooking fire burned in an galvanized metal drum with a grill set over top; their camp was a wall tent and a tarp shelter in the parking lot beside the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Community Hall.

Traditional pudding made with wild rhubarb and cranberries.

The event was part of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Myth and Medium Conference, held from February 19 to 23 in Dawson City. Napoleon was a special guest at the conference, and the organizers worked him from morning till night, calling several of his skills into play. He arrived Monday afternoon, gave the opening keynote address that evening, cooked all day Tuesday, performed a concert Tuesday evening, gave a talk on food and nutrition Wednesday morning and flew out Wednesday afternoon.

As Napoleon told the audience Monday night, he juggles several careers–singer-songwriter, educator, conservationist, naturalist. He holds an MA in Language Revitalization from the University of Victoria and is a former Chief of the Saulteau First Nation in north-eastern BC. Most recently, he’s co-host of APTN’s Moosemeat and Marmalade with British chef Dan Hayes — an exploration of two very different approaches to cooking wild game, the Indigenous and the classically trained.

Food and cooking are the sinews that tie much of Napoleon’s life and work together. He first learned how to cook on open fires and woodstoves as a child living in Peace River country, and later grew comfortable in modern cooking facilities. He has always loved cooking for people, and one of his approaches to cooking traditional food is to “gourmet it up.”

“It’s given me great pleasure to serve good food to people, especially if I can present traditional food in ways that people haven’t tasted,” he said. “If you want to show the beauty of your culture, food is one way to do that.”

Ptarmigan, rabbit, and thyme.

Napoleon said that at heart he’s an educator, and cultural revitalization is a cornerstone of his life philosophy. “So food is something that fits in there nicely. Food and philosophy and cultural teachings—I don’t really see much difference between those.”

Napoleon, who lives in Victoria, advised people on how to “Indigenize their diet” in an urban context. In his talk on food, nutrition and planning on Wednesday morning he reminded the audience, “If you live in the city there’s lots of ways you can still access your traditional resources.” He goes back to his traditional territory to hunt; he receives packages of wild food from his family; he learns what wild foods grow in his area and goes out foraging. “I can still be an Indian down there, I don’t have to be a Victorian.”

Napoleon also suggested ways of incorporating better nutrition into modern diets, noting that on the land, “People ate clean and they were very active. They were in great shape. Our meats were the original free range organic meats.” Today, he said, “The food industry sucks. It’s all about the money. You’ve got to make it all about health, and make your own choices.”

The reality is that Indigenous people live in two worlds, he added, and even hunters supplement their traditional diet with store-bought foods. “They’ve just become part of the culture.” He laughed. “Red Rose tea is part of the culture!”

He admires Suzanne for her efforts to eat only local food for a year, calling her endeavour “either crazy or brave, and maybe a little bit of both. I think it’s a lot of work, and would take great, great discipline.”

But he shares one of Suzanne’s concerns, mentioned in her presentation on Tuesday evening: how sustainable is her diet? Napoleon asked, “If everybody wanted to do it…would things get over-harvested? What kind of impact would it have on the land? Long ago people managed it in a way that was sustainable, but now there are bigger populations.”

These are questions shared and pondered across Canada and around the world: how do we feed ourselves in a sustainable manner? When the population will potentially reach 9.7 billion by 2050?

As Indigenous people who live in two cultures, Napoleon said, “There’s no way we can survive as an island. That’s the great thing about the Yukon–the divide is not so wide as it is in Souther Canada.” He ended his Wednesday morning talk on an emotional note. “You guys are lucky,” he said, near tears. “You guys who are living in territories that are bringing [the traditions] back.”

Napoleon said he always likes to contribute food for thought in his work. Asked what he would like people to take away from his participation at Myth and Medium, he reflected for a minute and said, “The need for balance. Always remembering that we walk in two worlds, and there’s ways to return to your cultural integrity while still living in these modern times.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Myth and Medium 2018: Food, Culture, Identity

Every second year, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation in Dawson City, Yukon, hosts a colloquium/conference entitled Myth and Medium. The theme in 2018 was Food, Culture, and Identity, so not surprisingly, given her First We Eat project, Suzanne was asked to be one of the  contributors to the event.

Suzanne with fellow speaker Art Napoleon (a.k.a. Travelling Sun). A former Chief from the boreal foothills of Northeastern BC, Art is a recognized cultural educator and faith-keeper, and co-host on the popular cooking show Moose Meat and Marmalade. He is also a talented singer-songwriter and humorist with an uncanny ability to improvise and meaningfully engage audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Photo by Miche Genest.

The week-long celebration kicked off on Monday with a potluck dinner, where attendees were invited to bring a dish that helped denote their heritage or identity. (Suzanne’s contribution to the potluck was her 100% locally-sourced garlic chevre on rye crackers.) But the evening’s main course was the collection of food-centered stories that followed by various guest speakers, including Suzanne and her husband Gerard.

The next day the official presentations began, given by a collection of notable speakers, indigenous and non-indigenous alike, including luminaries like Art Napoleon and Lawrence Hill, to name just a couple. Participating in a session entitled The Land Sustains Us, Suzanne paid tribute to those in the local community whose wisdom and aid have made her local-only experience possible. The audience was also treated to a preview snippet from Suzanne’s film, with very favourable crowd reaction.

Famed author and current Berton House Writer-in-Residence Lawrence Hill was among the conference presenters. He described how food and drink enriched his experiences travelling as a young man and volunteer in West African countries of Niger,
Cameroon and Mali, and how it influenced his development as a writer. Photo by Maria Sol.

Other Myth and Medium 2018 sessions touched on a wide variety of subjects, as one would expect from something as fundamental and far-reaching as food. From looking at wild plants for food and medicine — and a way to reconnect with traditional values — to finding what ancient stories can teach us about our food, the speakers were diverse, knowledgeable, and thought-provoking.

The next two afternoons saw Suzanne at a booth and doing hands-on cooking demonstrations and tastings of some of the things she has learned during her journey — from using colts foot ash as a salt substitute, to frying up burbot liver to help boost her Vitamin D levels.

Myth and Medium wasn’t all business. The event, which told attendees to: “Bring your dancing shoes and your appetites,” included lots of feasting, music, laughter, and activities.  One of the highlights was the outdoor campfire, where there was cooking of all manner of wild local meat, including some rarer fare, such as moose nose, lynx, and a local ‘haggis’ made by stuffing a caribou stomach.

Ultimately though, the conference proved the old adage (although perhaps on several new levels as well), that we are what we eat.

 

 

Suzanne’s Blog: Happy Valentine’s Day!

A Valentine’s Day treat. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Who needs chocolates on Valentine’s Day. (Don’t answer that.)

We will be celebrating with one of our favourite deserts — Birch Syrup Ice Cream Cake.

Check out the recipes for Birch Syrup Ice Cream and Creamy Birch Syrup Frosting.

Pour the ice cream into a mold and let it freeze overnight, then slather on the frosting. Yumm!!

(Just don’t say the word ‘chocolate’ and I’ll be fine.)

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: 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:  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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Pemmican – Wild Kitchen Style

Another great pemmican recipe!

This “Traditional Raspberry Pemmican” recipe comes from the show and blog “Wild Kitchen”.  Wild Kitchen is a project based in the Canadian sub-arctic about people who harvest wild food. 100% of the cast and crew are from the Northwest Territories and they work with what is available on the land to prepare nutritious recipes with a distinct wild flavor.

You can watch Wild Kitchen episodes here and on their website you can find their awesome recipes.

Traditional Raspberry Pemmican recipe by Wild Kitchen
Traditional Raspberry Pemmican recipe by Wild Kitchen

 

Pemmi-can-do with Ch’itsuh

Ch’itsuh or pemmican - photo by Mary Jane Moses from Old Crow
Ch’itsuh or pemmican made by Mary Jane Moses from Old Crow

Suzanne is looking for ways to keep her ever-hungry 17-year-old son, Sam, full next year.  Sam suggested that pemmican might be a reasonable locally-sourced snack food that will help him get through the year, especially since he spends lots of time doing physical activity.  After all, Canada was practically built on pemmican. Trading posts would seek this high-protein and high-energy food from the natives, and it was used to sustain the voyageurs, especially in winter,  as they traveled long distances.

Mary Jane Moses of Old Crow shared some of her ch’itsuh (pemmican) with Suzanne.  Click here for a couple of classic pemmican recipes:

Have a recipe for pemmican for Suzanne to try?  Please share here.

 

 

 

 

“Le Refuge” – France Benoit’s charming farm in Yellowknife

France Benoit in Le Refuge - Photo by Up Here Magazine
France Benoit in Le Refuge – Photo by Up Here Magazine

In a beautiful article by Up Here Magazine, France Benoit opens the gate to her home and farm “Le Refuge“, which she has lovingly built and tended to for the past 25 years. On this property, by the shores of Madeline Lake in Yellowknife, France grows a variety of vegetables to feed herself as well as to sell in the local farmer’s market, of which she is a founding member.

France has been kind enough to share many growing and homesteading tips with Suzanne, which we have featured on FWE, and her creative and smart solutions for northern greenhouses keep us inspired.

Thanks, France!

Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof

The Caribou cookbook has arrived!  Learn how to use all parts of the caribou. Traditional recipes such as ch’itsuh (pemmican), head cheese, and Caribou Bone Broth combined with new recipes such as Caribou Wonton Soup and Mushroom and Caribou Brain Ravioli.

Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof" published by The Prcupine Caribou Management Board
“Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof” published by The Porcupine Caribou Management Board

Continue reading “Vadzaih: Cooking Caribou from Antler to Hoof”

Celery Flavor All Year Round

One way to have celery year round from the garden is to grow celeriac root. Weird looking but quite flavorful, celeriac root is edible raw or cooked, and tastes similar to the stalks of common celery. 

It grows well in the North, keeps well in cold storage all winter, and apparently can have a shelf life of approximately six to eight months if stored properly. You can serve it roasted, stewed, blanched, or mashed, or added to your favorite stews or casseroles.  Peel it and chop it and use it in place of fresh celery in cooking.  Excellent combined with potatoes when cooking mashed potatoes! 

Celeriac Root - Wikimedia Commons
Celeriac Root – Wikimedia Commons

 

Traditional Plants Community Info Session in Dawson City

On April 18th, Dawson City based ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph hosted a community information session at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre .  It was a great chance for Dawsonites to learn about the area’s traditional plant foods and medicines, as well as an opportunity to take part in the conversation.
Ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph
Ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph working with Devils club, an important medicine plant in Squamish.

Don’t Judge a Vegetable By Its Cover!

Another tasty, although not so pretty vegetable that grows well in the Yukon is the root called salsify.  Don’t let the hairy dark exterior intimidate you. Peel it, and it tastes similar to a very sweet parsnip, and you can eat it raw or you can cook it as you would cook most root vegetables.

Salsify, peeled and unpeeled - photo by Suzanne Crocker
Salsify, peeled and unpeeled – photo by Suzanne Crocker

Salsify might not be easily found in the average grocery store, but it actually grows wild in many places in the world, especially the Americas.

Purple Salsify flower- Wikimedia Commons
Purple Salsify flower- Wikimedia Commons

But not everything is under the ground: the flowers from the salsify root are gorgeous to look at, and also edible! The shoots can be used like asparagus, either raw or cooked, and the flowers can be added to salads.

 

 

Ginger in the North?

Louise Piché is experimenting growing ginger this year – by planting a piece of ginger root from the grocery store.  So far it’s doing well!

Louise Piché's ginger is looking great! Photo by Louise Piché
Louise Piché’s ginger is looking great! Photo by Louise Piché

Did you know you can re-grow other vegetables from what you buy in the grocery store? Apparently, you can re-grow celery, romaine lettuce and even herbs like mint and basil. All it takes is a little patience!

Have you re-grown any store bought veggies at home? How did it go?

Peanuts and Ground Cherries Growing in the North!

Ground cherries in their husk - wikimedia commons
Ground cherries in their husk – ph. Wikimedia commons

If there is something exotic you wish to grow in the North, ask Louise Piché of Rock Creek, Dawson City, Yukon.  Louise is a well known gardener in Dawson and a frequent ribbon winner at Dawson’s annual Discovery Days Horticultural Fair.  She loves experimenting with new and colorful varieties.  She has successfully grown peanuts and ground cherries (aka golden berries) as well as asparagus, giant pumpkins and buckwheat.

Louise has generously shared her ‘tried and true’ cultivars that grow well in Rock Creek, which you can view on our seed page.   This year she is experimenting with ginger, turmeric, artichokes and pink potatoes.

We will keep you posted!

Continue reading “Peanuts and Ground Cherries Growing in the North!”

Hear it on the radio: CBC Yukon’s “A New Day” catches up with Suzanne

Great news!

The CBC morning radio show “A New Day” hosted by Sandi Coleman on CBC Yukon, has started a  new regular column called “Yu-kon Grow It”, which will air every other Wednesday morning between 7 and 7:30 am. On this segment,  Sandi will check in with Suzanne about her “First we Eat: Food Security North of 60” project, as well as featuring other Yukoners involved in local food issues such as Miche Genest and other guests.

Sandi Coleman will next check in with Suzanne on Wednesday March 8th, between 7.00 and 7.30 am on CBC Radio Yukon.

Don’t forget to tune in!

You can listen to the first interview with Suzanne and Elyn Jones here,

 

Northern Food Network’s 1st Webinar – Dawson’s TH Working Farm School and Shirley Tagalik from Arviat, Nunavut

If you are interested in issues of Northern Food Security, consider signing up for webinars with the Northern Food Network.

Their First Webinar is taking place Monday, Feb 27 from 10-11 am. It will feature Dexter MacRae & Darren Bullen,  from Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Teaching and Working Farm and Shirley Tagalik and team, from Arviat Wellness and Arviat Greenhouse.

The Northern Food Network (NFN) is co-hosted by the Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research (AICBR) and Food Secure Canada (FSC) as a space for people working in and interested in northern food security to share, learn about best practices across the North and advance collective action on food security.

Sign up here for this great opportunity.

Local Fertilizer in Arviat, Nunavut


When you live in a fly-in community in the North, shipping by plane can be very expensive, especially for heavy items such as soil and fertilizer.

The people behind the community greenhouse  in Arviat, Nunavut, have taken on the very important issue of food security by devising a strategy to grow their own produce.

And one of the biggest obstacles they have found is that the local soil lacks nutrients. Commercial soil works fine, but it is costly and it needs to be flown in, which impacts the sustainability of the project.

Arviat's Greenhouse, Photo by Arviat Goes Green
Arviat’s Greenhouse, Photo by Arviat Goes Green

Continue reading “Local Fertilizer in Arviat, Nunavut”

Arviat Goes Green

Many northern Canadian communities do not have the luxury of the rich soil found in southern Yukon.  This is the case for the fly-in community of Arviat, (population 2,800) – the second largest community in  Nunavut.

Arviat Map, Nunavut, Canada
Arviat Map, Nunavut, Canada

In 2014 Arviat built a greenhouse beside the school to see if they could grow their own vegetables with local soil and local fertilizer. And they have been very successful!

Continue reading “Arviat Goes Green”

Sweet and Crunchy Local Carrots in January in Dawson?

Klondike carrots
Klondike Carrots! – Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Yup!  Suzanne has been munching on sweet & crunchy carrots from Kokopellie Farm all January.  “They taste like they are freshly picked only even sweeter!” offers Suzanne.

Otto Muehlbach, whose farm is in Sunnydale (Dawson), has designed a large root cellar to store carrots, potatoes, cabbage, beets, and other root veggies all winter long.  The trick seems to be 2-4 degrees C and keeping the humidity and condensation low.   If you can find a way to get to Sunnydale, Otto’s fresh root vegetables are sold from his house on Saturdays between 2 and 5 pm as long as it is warmer than -30C.

It is definitely worth the trek!

New Life on the Sadlier’s Farm!

Newborn calf and two kids
Newborn Klondike calf and two kids

Introducing Lily’s calf and Cleo’s kids – born today, Feb 9th, at the Sadlier’s Klondike Valley Creamery in Rock Creek, Dawson, Yukon. Successful overwintering and breeding of livestock in the Klondike!

Thank you Jen and Becky for welcoming Suzanne and Tess to witness the births.

Stay tuned Dawson – Jen’s delicious local cheeses will be coming to you later this year or next!

Grant Dowdell Shares His Best Seed Varieties

After close to 40 years of supplying fresh local produce to Dawson City, Yukon, Grant Dowdell, a legend in local growing, is retiring.

Grant Dowdell
Photo by Suzanne Crocker

As his retirement gift to the community, Grant is generously sharing some of his tremendous farming knowledge accumulated over 40 years of growing vegetables in the Klondike: Grant and Karen’s ‘tried and true’ seed varieties as well as their planting and harvesting schedule

Grant Dowell and Karen Digby's Seed Guide
photo by Suzanne Crocker

Let us know your ‘tried and true’ produce seed varieties that grow well in your area.

Continue reading “Grant Dowdell Shares His Best Seed Varieties”