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: 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

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.

 

 

 

Vertical Agriculture Coming to Carcross

A vertical agriculture facility is in the planning stages with the goal of having it built in Carcross this fall. This innovative project will be the first  of its kind in the Yukon.

Tami Grantham, Natural Resources Coordinator with the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, says:  “What attracted us to this technology is the ability to grow greens year-round. It’s a goal and a mission for the government of Carcross-Tagish First Nation to become food-secure.”

Construction would be managed through a new corporation created as a partnership between the Carcross-Tagish First Nation and Northstar Agriculture of which the First Nation will be 51 per cent owner.

The system will recirculate water from a fish tank through a vegetable grow bed. Nutrients from the fish waste feed the plants, and the plants filter the water to keep the fish healthy. In normal aquaculture, excretions from the animals being raised can accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity. In an aquaponic system, water from an aquaculture system is fed to a hydroponic system where the by-products are broken down by bacteria into nitrates, which are utilized by the plants as nutrients, and the water is then recirculated back to the aquaculture system.

The vertical part of this type of farming will be in the form of stacked layers that could be up to 10 meters high, in order to maximize production, contained in a warehouse-style space.

Not only would this mean a possibility for fresh local produce and lower food prices in the community, but also the promise of food security, as this system allows year-round growing of vegetables in a sustainable way.

The fish raised would be Tilapia, which is common in farming systems. Vegetables grown would include kale, spinach, and perhaps even strawberries and other vine crops.

 

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

“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”

Yu-kon Grow It – Brian Lendrum: Goat farming pioneer


In this episode of Yu-kon Grow It,  Sandi Coleman interviews Brian Lendrum and Susan Ross, who have been goat farming outside of Whitehorse for decades and producing delicious goat cheese.

Pioneers in the dairy business around Whitehorse, Lendrum and his wife found that their area around Lake Laberge had perfect conditions for raising goats, with rolling hills and lots of different vegetation for the goats to enjoy. On a regular basis, they would produce about 30 litres of milk a day, which translates to around 3 to 4 kg of cheese. Every week, they would take around 10 kg of their freshly made goat cheese to the local market, and sometimes sell out within the hour. They also experimented with goat milk yoghurt and sold bottled goat milk.

Continue readingYu-kon Grow It – Brian Lendrum: Goat farming pioneer”

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

 

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?

Early Leafy Greens in a Cold April Greenhouse?

Asian Greens - Photo by Wikimedia Commons
Asian Greens – Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Take advantage of your greenhouse in April and May,  before you plant your tomatoes and cucumbers, to give you an early crop of spinach or Asian greens!

Riley Brennan, of Dawson City, direct seeds spinach in her greenhouse as soon as the soil thaws in April.  She leaves the greenhouse unheated and the seedlings don’t require any covering.   By the time she goes to plant her greenhouse proper in late May, she has a crop of baby spinach to harvest.

Continue reading “Early Leafy Greens in a Cold April Greenhouse?”

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.

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”

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”