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

Bee Whyld Produces “the Champagne of Honey”

Despite its sub-arctic climate, the Yukon is blessed with several apiaries. With care, bee hives can survive the harsh winters, even as far north as Dawson City. This is the profile of one of the Yukon’s honey producers.

Bee Whyld is a small apiary in Watson Lake, Yukon, specializing in producing Fireweed Honey. Owned and operated by Courtney and Joel Wilkinson, Bee Whyld was officially founded in June of 2016, although it had been in the works for a few years prior.

Bee hives around a field of fireweed - Photo Courtesy of Bee Whyld
Bee hives around a field of fireweed – Photo Courtesy of Bee Whyld
Courtney originally had a job as a salesperson for an Alberta honey company, and was working towards keeping her own bees. On a visit to the Yukon to visit her then-boyfriend Joel, she noticed the fields of fireweed common in the territory.  Courtney knew from her experience selling honey that Fireweed is not only one of the rarest honeys, and also one of the best for flavour and medicine, and this sparked the idea to bring bees up to the Yukon and make Fireweed Honey.

Bee Whyld’s hives have managed to successfully overwinter – Photo courtesy of Bee Whyld.
Beekeeping in the North is quite challenging, especially overwintering and maintaining the health of the hives, but through trial and error Courtney and Joel have learned what it takes to successfully produce honey in the Yukon.

This brood frame was attacked by a bear, who killed more than half the population of bees - Photo Courtesy of Bee Whyld
This brood frame was attacked by a bear, who killed more than half the population of bees – Photo Courtesy of Bee Whyld
Their honey bees gather all of the nectar that they turn into honey from the Boreal Yukon forests, with fields of flowers that are untouched by pesticides, and not genetically modified. Their honey is also both unpasteurized and raw, meaning they don’t heat it at all. This ensures all the natural antibiotics, pollen, and Royal Jelly are still intact within the honey,  making it a good choice for medicinal uses (such us helping to heal wounds, helping to fight off infections, helping to reduce allergies, and alleviating sore throats). Bee Whyld’s Yukon Fireweed Honey has been called “the Champagne of honey.” It is a rare honey prized around the world for its medicinal qualities, and its light sweet taste.

Bee Whyld’s Yukon Fireweed Honey – Photo Courtesy of Bee Whyld
     

Gerard’s Blog: Rinse and Repeat

This “diet” is an inspirational opportunity, a chance to demonstrate creativity, an exercise in economy of action.  Clearly, life would have been amiss without it and I would have felt like I had been abandoned in a black hole for eternity.

Lately, I’ve found new joys in drinking dishwater.  Sans the soap part.  And also sans the multiple and varied particles that typically inhabit true dishwater.  So, to ensure that I am communicating properly (and in order to be politically correct), let’s just call this “false dishwater.”  Or, to be even more politically correct in the nostalgic eyes of Canadian baby-boomers, we can condense this to F.D.

So, F.D. has become one of my staples.  And the variety of flavors and textures offers enough intrigue that it competes with the best of the addictive alternatives.  I’ve referred to F.D. in the past, so as a refresher, this is how I recommend it:  take an “empty” birch syrup container, add a bit of hot water, swirl, pour into the cup that was once your treasured coffee cup, drink lavishly and selfishly of the elixir of F.D.  When finished, repeat the process for an entirely different richness of flavor.  Keep repeating until the original container is virtually clean (and thank whomever that the days of wooden kegs is all but past!). 

So, while experiencing a variety of unique and flavorful drinks, one can do the family a favor by cleaning dishes using F.D. There are an abundance of missed opportunities; the joys of ingestible F.D. can be found everywhere in the kitchen, literally awaiting discovery and daring.  For a more savory mid-afternoon winter tea, try F.D. from a pickle jar.  An experience in globular texture can be readily had through F.D. yogurt.  Or if that is too stimulating to the regurgitating reflex, then one can tame it down by trying the more subtle and less distinct curds of F.D. milk.

With time, tolerance overrides tact.  I sometimes find myself unscrupulously indulgent, thinking selfishly that there are no other cravers of F.D. in the room.  Why, just the other day, I casually picked up the nearly empty pot of stew, added some boiled water, swirled, and proceeded to drink directly from the pot, entirely skipping the stage of soiling a clean mug. 

My kids were appropriately aghast: clearly I should have shared my bounty.

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.

Gerard’s Blog: Liquid, Solid, and Gas


Another weekend of “balls and braces” has passed.  This is my new term for those weekends that I take one or more of the kids to Whitehorse for sporting events and orthodontic work.  There have been many such journeys over the past couple of years;  so much so that when people ask about Dawson recreational opportunities, I glibly respond that on weekends, we like to drive to Whitehorse.

Another notable aspect of these trips is the inherent opportunity for dietary transgressions.  What could be more stimulating, after prolonged periods of personal restraint, than experimental observation of the effects of self-indulgence?  Who could have ever imagined the joys that this year would provide?

Coffee is generally one of my first dietary infractions when I find myself succumbing to temptation “on the road.”  And with alarming consistency, the taste of real coffee is always less enjoyable than that conjured up in my memory.

But soon enough, I find bread, and that’s a different story.  Whether it is a bun with butter, or garlic toast, or a muffin, donut or morning toast, it doesn’t matter.  All forms of pastry are absolutely enthralling, urging me to have just one more…  And so I do! The grains are satisfying, quelling the emptiness that is so familiar to me now. 

But, the downside is some bloating, which unfortunately is paired with enough gas to make the concealment of dietary misdemeanors problematic.  Between the caffeine and the grains, my guts awaken!  The grumbling and gurgling, I feel, is almost orchestral.

Sadly though, my family is disinclined to appreciate the musical genius contained within my body.  And to this, I remind them of the notable scientific advancements through personal experimentation, and that my gas production affords them a critical role as participants in this ongoing process of discovery…

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

Let the Experiments Begin!

By Miche Genest


It’s my first night in Dawson, it’s -22C, and there’s a starry sky up there. I just walked home along First Avenue in the quiet, snow-lit darkness. I’m staying at Bombay Peggy’s on the last night they’re open for the season—maybe I should be down in the bar but instead I’m up here in the Gold Room enjoying the solitude and the feeling of a season coming on, the winter revving up. The trees are heavy with snow. The cold, the quiet, the snow, the dark trees, the deep excitement of winter, remind me of when I first arrived in the Yukon, 23 years ago.

When I was a kid growing up in Toronto, Collingwood was our version of the North. We skied there every weekend in winter. I loved the pillows of snow, the slanting light, the blue shadows of those winters. But coming to the Yukon was like coming to where winter began. The stillness at night, the snow sparkling like diamonds—I’d never seen that before, snow in Southern Ontario doesn’t do that.

Winter began here. I got that feeling again tonight. And, buzzing underneath the crisp cold air, was the low-voltage, warming hum of possibility. That’s another thing I remember about first coming to the Yukon. Anything is possible here.

Tomorrow I move up to Suzanne’s house, and we will start a week of  experimenting with the food she  has grown, gathered from farmers and the forest, processed, preserved and stored over the past several months. The work she has done is mind-boggling. There is enough in her larder for a rich and sustaining menu of delicious local food all winter long.

Our task list is lengthy. Transform 350 lbs of sugar beets into syrup. Figure out what to do with the delicious pulp. Lessons in meat cooking. Discover new quick ways to cook potatoes. Devise snacks that the kids can grab and go. Crackers—how are we going to make crackers? Pizza crust with steamed cauliflower—can we make it work? Yes we can. Anything is possible.

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!

Gerard’s Blog: Showing Some Humidity


Our house is dripping.  The windows are sweating and there is rime on the outside soffits wherever the moisture has found breaches in the vapor barrier of the house.  Opening the door releases a cloud of humidity into the starkly contrasting cold world outside, engulfing everything in a fog dense enough to cause nightmares in a Newfoundland fisherman.

Three of the stove-top burners are blasting away at pots of boiling sugar beets.  The stove fan is humming, desperately trying to do its job of ridding the house of moisture.  Our daughter’s fiddle is out of tune.  There is a new scrape under one of the doors and another needs unusual persuasion to close properly.  Suzanne’s hair is a mass of tight ringlets.  Everyone’s skin is nice, wrinkle-free, offering a glimpse of our appearances a decade ago.

We have had another assembly line of production.  Sugar beets have been double washed and scrubbed.  Then peeled and sliced thinly or grated.  Then boiled to extract and concentrate the sugar.  And there is so much boiling that I worry that our ancient repurposed camp stove might take an early and unexpected retirement, even before it runs out of propane. Or that the outside of the house begins to resemble a quinzhee as the inside becomes resurfaced in slime mold.

I’ve taken to closely examining my appendages for early signs of webbing.  Last night I awoke in a sweat, dreaming that the pain I felt in my leg was the first indication of its metamorphosis into a mermaid’s tail.  After reassuring myself of the nonsensical nature of dreams, I feel comfortably back to sleep, only to awaken this time in a panic, thinking I was a goldfish trapped in an aquarium.

And so it will continue today; another assembly line of working children is planned.  But first we must wait till they surface for the day and swim out of their rooms to demonstrate their new adornments of scales and slime.

Gerard’s Blog: Contained Culinary Creativity


I’m an uninspired chef these days, attempting to navigate unfamiliar territory. The problem is that I am the type of person who needs visual cues to achieve inspiration.  Normally I would shop by walking every aisle, identifying the things needed or wanted as I see them.  I pack for trips similarly, wandering from room to room, recognizing things that I might need.  And if I don’t see them, then there is a high probability that there will be no spontaneous reminder of the need.

And similarly, I’ve always cooked that way … browsing through the cupboards and fridge, praying for visual cues and inspiration, looking forward to getting this duty over with. But now, when I open the fridge, I am met with an unknown terrain. 

Certainly, I can identify the cheese, the eggs, the 4 containers of milk and the vegetables.  But then, things get challenging.  Almost all that remains in this packed fridge is an unrecognizable assortment of containers.  And even though they are dutifully labeled and dated with strips of masking tape, I still have trouble navigating my way through, to find any relevance to my plans for meal preparation.

This is an example of some of the items in the fridge: two containers of chicken broth, bottles of pickles that do not resemble pickles, bottles of kephir grains labeled “do not throw out,” (for which there is neither worry of me throwing out, or of ever, ever, using them).  There are bottles of apple cider, rhubarb vinegar, two creams, one yoghurt, tomato sauce x 2, the very dark colored “ketchup,” sausage water, and water kephir (whatever that is!). 

To continue, there are containers of spruce tips, separate containers of boar fat, bacon grease and butter.  There are 3 buttermilk containers, all with different dates, and one with visible separation and worrisome coloring.  There is one labeled “moose thickener,” which I imagine is a body-building supplement for the aspiring young moose. 

And it continues:  there is one labeled crushed tomatoes, another called ghee, another of boar “scrunchions,” and one of “moose in veggie stock,” (who I imagine is praying for his eventual release, much like a genie in a jar, or a man on a restricted diet). It could be just me, but this is a difficult supply list for my creative juices.  So, I resort to the very recognizable and mundane vegetable and meat.  Sorry, family.  But I intend to make up for all this. 

Having recognized all the masking tape we are going through for labeling, I intend to buy shares in the company.  With this new-found profit, I will have a celebratory feast when these difficult times come to an end!

Rooting Around in The Root Cellar

by Miche Genest

Sheila Alexandrovitch at Mount Lorne Community Centre in September 2017
Sheila Alexandrovitch has homesteaded on the Annie Lake Road, 40 kilometres south of Whitehorse, since 1981. Over the years she’s raised goats, llamas and sled dogs; she’s brought up her two children on the farm, and pursued an artistic practice there, working with materials like willow, beads, precious stones and wool. These days she raises sheep (producing beautiful felted work with their wool) and as always, vegetables.

Lots and lots of vegetables. Alexandrovitch is locally famous for her vegetable ferments, selling jars and jars of them at the Fireweed Market in Whitehorse and the weekly market at the Mount Lorne Community Centre on the Annie Lake Road all summer long. At Mount Lorne’s last, stock-up market of the year, on September 26, she and her helper stood behind two tables groaning under her ferments, and giant mounds of fresh carrots and potatoes.

As I purchased a few pounds for our house, we struck up a conversation about root cellars — I knew she was pretty much self-sufficient, and curious about her storage methods.

Every winter, Alexandrovitch stores an impressive weight of vegetables in her root cellar — this year, she’s got 135 pounds of potatoes, 80 pounds of carrots, 40 pounds of beets, 20 to 30 pounds of parsnips, 35 pounds of turnips and 7 or 8 cabbages. Asked when she runs out of supplies, she replied, “I don’t. By the end of June I’m out of carrots, but I always have rutabagas and beets, and I always have potatoes. And by the end of June, we’ve got greens.”

The cellar that stores this bounty is a hole dug into the ground under her house, accessed by a trap door in the kitchen floor. The cellar is framed in with 2 x 6 boards, insulated with Styrofoam, sheeted in on the inside and completely sealed. In the 2½-foot crawlspace between the earth and the floor of the house, the walls of the cellar are exposed, so the above-ground portion is wrapped with Styrofoam and foil and banked with dirt.

The space is 7 feet long by 6 feet wide and around 4 ½ feet deep — about chest height for Alexandrovitch. There’s no ladder — she just lifts the trap door and jumps in. She piles whatever supplies she’s retrieving onto the kitchen floor, and then jumps out of the cellar, the same way you’d push yourself out of a swimming pool. (She finds this athletic feat unremarkable.)

In winter the temperature in the root cellar is around 2° or 3°C above freezing. There’s no air circulation system, but she’s never noticed any ill effects from ethlylene — not surprising, because most of the foods she stores don’t produce ethylene. (Learn more about the fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene here.)

Alexandrovitch keeps endive, leeks and chicory in pots, in another cold space, this one on her porch. She runs out of those greens sometime in January, but then she’s got all her ferments, plus frozen leeks and kale, kept in her freezer at a neighbour’s place.

She has canned goods and grains in the root cellar, and she might drive to town for coffee, butter and oil, but she prefers to use goose fat—she’ll render 6 to 8 litres this year–or pork fat, which she’ll also render.

Alexandrovitch estimated that she spends about 95% of her time growing, processing, preserving and preparing her food. “But what a good way to spend 95% of your time,” she said. “It’s not so hard. It’s just a bunch of work.”

Some of Sheila’s work.

Gerard’s Blog: If the Juniper Berry Could Talk

Moments of unscrupulousness sometimes have the redeeming quality of offering insight into one’s behavior.  I seem to find or create many such moments in the normal course of my day. Suzanne and I share the meal preparations so I decided to marinate some moose steaks a couple of nights ago. 

First, I grab the rhubarb “vinegar” from the fridge, only to be redirected to the rhubarb juice department.  The vinegar, I was instructed, had a separate specific purpose. Then I grab the container of juniper berries, take a liberal portion, and proceed to crush them, adding them to the lovely evolving marinade. 

This was duly noted. Suzanne suggested that the flavor could be enhanced if they were ground in the now repurposed coffee grinder.  When I did not respond to this suggestion enthusiastically, she tried once again, stating that the supply of juniper berries was perilously scant, and that grinding them would make them last longer.  But by this time, the deed was done, berries stubbornly crushed and added.

In the time it took for the unmoved grinder to gather an infinitesimal modicum of dust, I was offered a generous portion of humility.  The visibly upset Suzanne delivered a composed and articulate commentary on the scarceness of juniper berries this year, which I had clearly not appreciated. 

She outlined the cold and prickles she endured, and reminded me that she bore the lone responsibility for gathering those berries.  As I said earlier, the only redeeming aspect of the moment was the personal insight I acquired.

Clearly, this was about more than juniper berries.  This was about respect and appreciated effort and shared commitment to a course.  It was about meaningful communication and the need to understand potential ramifications before acting.  It was about the value we place on personal involvement in the acquisition of security, and how even the simplest of tactile tasks can foster feelings of tremendous individual engagement and ownership.

So, the things we grow, gather or build have more personal value than their monetary value would suggest.  Might this explain the disproportionate satisfaction we enjoy with a shed full of firewood?  Or a freezer full of moose, or berries, or blanched broccoli?  Might it explain why we build our own boats, or shelves or sheds?  Why we crochet, knit or needlepoint?

Given that, then why has our society increasingly moved away from the joy we could acquire through manual tasks?  What will be the price for this evolution?  And what would it say, if the juniper berry could speak?

Look Under the Snow for Versatile Juniper Berries

Juniper is a coniferous shrub that produces berries.  In Old Crow, Yukon it is sometimes known as ‘sharp tree’ thanks to its very prickly needles which are very familiar to all who pick juniper berries. Juniper berries should be picked with great respect as it takes 3 full years for a berry to ripen!  When ripe they turn from green to a dark blue. The ripe berries can be picked any time of the year, but you may have to dig to find them under the snow in the winter, as juniper is a low lying shrub.

Eaten raw, juniper berries have a distinct aromatic spicy flavour reminiscent of gin.  Juniper berries make an excellent spice — especially once ground into a powder.  A coffee grinder works very well for this.  A small amount of ground juniper berry goes a long way.  It can be used in marinades or dusted on wild game including moose, caribou and grouse.  It can even be lightly dusted on salmon.   A small amount can also be added to soups or stews. 

According to Boreal Herbal, in Sweden a conserve is made out of juniper berries and used as a condiment for meats. Juniper berries have a few extra qualities as well.  They help digest gas-producing foods such as cabbage. Also, because juniper berries have a light coating of yeast on their skin, a few berries are often added to ferments to help out the lacto-fermenting process. 

So adding a few juniper berries when making sauerkraut has a triple effect:  flavour, aiding the fermentation, and less gas when you eat the kraut!  The yeast coating on the berries also makes them a useful ingredient in creating sourdough starter (which is another form of fermentation).  Mix some flour and water and add a few juniper berries.  Once it becomes bubbly and smells yeasty, you can remove the berries and the sourdough starter will be well on its way! 

In Old Crow, juniper berries are also boiled as a tea, which the Vuntut Gwitchin  say also helps ease colds and cough symptoms. Juniper berries should be used in moderation and avoided in people with kidney disease and in pregnant women. Research for this post is from Boreal Herbal by Beverley Gray and Gwich’in Ethnobotany by Alestine Andrew and Alan Fehr.

Suzanne’s Blog: First Hunt Culture Camp

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation introduce youth to caribou hunting under the guidance of experienced Elders and hunters at First Hunt Culture Camp. Photos by Ashley Bower-Bramadat. From FirstWeEat.ca, the Food Security North of 60 website supporting First We Eat, a documentary by Yukon filmmaker Suzanne Crocker about eating only locally-grown foods in in Dawson City, Yukon, in Canada's North, for one year.
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation introduce youth to caribou hunting under the guidance of experienced Elders and hunters at First Hunt Culture Camp. Photos by Ashley Bower-Bramadat. From FirstWeEat.ca, the Food Security North of 60 website supporting First We Eat, a documentary by Yukon filmmaker Suzanne Crocker about eating only locally-grown foods in in Dawson City, Yukon, in Canada's North, for one year.
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation introduce youth to caribou hunting under the guidance of experienced Elders and hunters at First Hunt Culture Camp. Photos by Ashley Bower-Bramadat. From FirstWeEat.ca, the Food Security North of 60 website supporting First We Eat, a documentary by Yukon filmmaker Suzanne Crocker about eating only locally-grown foods in in Dawson City, Yukon, in Canada's North, for one year.
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation introduce youth to caribou hunting under the guidance of experienced Elders and hunters at First Hunt Culture Camp. Photos by Ashley Bower-Bramadat. From FirstWeEat.ca, the Food Security North of 60 website supporting First We Eat, a documentary by Yukon filmmaker Suzanne Crocker about eating only locally-grown foods in in Dawson City, Yukon, in Canada's North, for one year.
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation introduce youth to caribou hunting under the guidance of experienced Elders and hunters at First Hunt Culture Camp. Photos by Ashley Bower-Bramadat. From FirstWeEat.ca, the Food Security North of 60 website supporting First We Eat, a documentary by Yukon filmmaker Suzanne Crocker about eating only locally-grown foods in in Dawson City, Yukon, in Canada's North, for one year.
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation introduce youth to caribou hunting under the guidance of experienced Elders and hunters at First Hunt Culture Camp. Photos by Ashley Bower-Bramadat. From FirstWeEat.ca, the Food Security North of 60 website supporting First We Eat, a documentary by Yukon filmmaker Suzanne Crocker about eating only locally-grown foods in in Dawson City, Yukon, in Canada's North, for one year.
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!

Seal Hunt is Foundation of Traditional Lifestyle

Angry Inuk by Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril  documents the economic, social, and cultural devastation caused by decades of anti-sealing activism.
For the Inuit communities of Nunavut, seal meat has been a staple in their local diets for millennia. The meat is a vital source of fat, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and iron. Seal pelts are also prized for their warmth, and since first contact with Europeans, trade in seal products has played an important role in the regional economy.

This revenue is especially crucial in remote areas where many foodstuffs need to be imported, and transportation costs are high. A commercial seal hunt in Southern Canada, most notably the annual spring hunt in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, has generated controversy in recent decades, led by high-profile animal-rights activists, and resulting in a 2006 call by the European Union for a ban on all harp seal and hooded seal products.

The traditional Inuit seal hunt has been swept up in an animal rights activism fervor, adversely affecting an age-old way of life. But now indigenous groups are standing up for their heritage and defending their traditional lifestyles.

Inuit filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril has released Angry Inuk, a feature-length documentary that defends the Inuit seal hunt. In Toronto, Indigenous chef Joseph Shawana is keeping seal meat on the menu at his Ku-Kum Kitchen restaurant, despite a petition calling for its removal, and is galvanizing a groundswell of public support of his own.

Partially shot in the filmmaker’s home community of Iqaluit, as well as Kimmirut and Pangnirtung, where seal hunting is seen as essential for survival, Angry Inuk also follows an Inuit delegation to Europe in an effort to have the EU Ban on Seal Products overturned.

The film criticizes NGOs such as Greenpeace and the International Fund for Animal Welfare for championing animal rights while ignoring the needs of vulnerable northern communities who depend on the hunt for their livelihoods.

Chef Shawana, whose restaurant specializes in indigenous-themed dishes, says he researched the Northern hunt before opting to serve seal meat. He points out the Inuit seal harvest is very sustainable and humane, and contrasts it with the roughly two million cows, 20 million pigs, and 550 million chickens killed each year in Canada alone during large-scale food production. But at the root of the issue, says Shawana, is the need to acknowledge and support Canada’s aboriginal cultures.

Seal tartare is just one of many indigenous-themed dishes served at Ku-Kum Kitchen by owner/chef Joseph Shawana.

Short Fall Ends With Snowfall

There is a local saying about the weather in Dawson City: “Nine months of winter and three months of tough sledding.” It’s only a slight exaggeration. One thing for sure is that the shoulder seasons — Spring and Fall — are extremely short in the far north.

This is yet one more challenging aspect of  growing in the North. We posted previously about the efforts by Otto at Kokopellie Farm to harvest his crop of locally-grown rye and barley so Suzanne could have some grain in her 100%-local diet. Otto did finally manage to harvest his rye and wheat on Oct 23rd. Turns out it was just in time. This is what Dawson looked like, one week later!

Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Gerard’s Blog: Digesting Individualism

Just in case you are wondering, this project is about more than eating local.  Much more.  This is a ferret into social behavior and individualism, tolerance and will.  And of course, it is about hunger and stupidity.

All our lives we have heard the mantra: humans are a social animal.  But what does that mean practically?  It means we hunt and gather in groups, we live in groups, and we eat together.  We work and play together.  We help one another. We share.  We concern ourselves with the less fortunate. We set standards and rules which are acceptable to the group, preferring group safety over whimsical notions of individualism.

So what happens when individuals become non-conformists, breakers of tradition?  When does the novelty of individual exploration and challenge wear off?  When does it become an annoying expression of self-indulgence to the friends?  What is the tolerance within a society? And of course, a huge part of social structure is communal eating and drinking.  And now even more, since social smoking is all but banished. 

So, what happens to the dynamic when people do not share the same food?  When does it become uncomfortable, or even intolerable, to demonstrate one’s dietary defiance? Who would have thought that “the diet” would have opened a pathway to a more profound understanding of one of the forces behind cultural segregation and assimilation?

Cold Storage Solutions: Tuktoyaktuk Ice House

By Miche Genest

The underground icehouse at Tuktoyaktuk takes advantage of permafrost for year-round storage.
Underground, above ground, inside, outside — northerners have developed numerous ways of creating cold storage areas. Perhaps one of the simplest is the outdoor freezer: as soon as it’s cold enough, and barring a thaw, many northerners simply keep foods frozen by storing them outdoors.

In the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, there is a different solution. Katrina Cockney, Manager of Administration and Community Services, explains that as late as the 1980s individual families dug ice houses for their own use. But as the community grew in size and more houses were being built, that became less practical. In the late 1960s, with the help of government funding, the community built a freezer deep in the permafrost, 30 feet below the surface.

There are three main corridors down there, opening into 19 rooms. Access is via a steep ladder through a trap door in a small, locked shed. The contents of the freezer change according to the season — in summer there might be dry fish and muktuk, geese in the fall, and caribou and dog feed in the winter.

The freezer used to be accessible to tourists, but is no longer due to safety concerns. The hamlet is considering building a walk-in icehouse in order to show tourists the local technology.

In more modern times, many households have one or more chest freezers for traditional foods. When the temperature is below freezing, they often move one freezer outside. But Katrina Cockney estimates there are still about six families who use the community freezer year-round.

There is another part to the story. Not only is the freezer practical, “It’s beautiful,” says Cockney. “It’s hard to explain, but it’s like a wall full of crystals.” Cold storage can be beautiful in more ways than one.    

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