Cloudberry Sorbet – Sublime!


Growing seasons here in the Arctic are short, and the cloudberries are at the end of theirs. Yesterday was our last opportunity to go picking. After a big pancake, egg and bacon breakfast at a friend’s house, our principal offered up the school’s suburban, so six of us drove out to the end of 7-Mile Road where the berries were rumored to be larger than those we’d previously found.

The thermometer read 50, but the chilly wind tugged much of the warmth away, making us happy to be dressed in warm layers. Small songbirds seemed to be everywhere, and a few jaegers patrolled the tundra looking for easy prey. Off in the distance, a majestic snowy owl glided from perch to perch, probably hoping to catch one of the incredibly fat ground squirrels that inhabit the tundra off-guard. Some of the berry patches were completely over, and others were full of fruit past their peak. But here and there we found berries that were just right, liquid amber in color and perfectly sweet. It took Jack and me about an hour to pick 10 cups.

Like everything else that grows on the tundra, cloudberry plants reach only a few inches off the ground. They grow in clusters on low mounds that rise a foot or so above the wet ground. Picking them requires lots of squats and bends making for a good workout. Jack was doing an uncharacteristic amount of berry eating while he was picking and finally came to a conclusion: “These berries would make really good sorbet.” Although I’d never made sorbet, I knew right away that he was onto something.

Back home, I processed the berries. The first step was to wash the berries. This proved to be much easier than my experience with other berries because there are virtually no bugs up here. The next step was de-seeding the berries. After unsuccessfully trying to smash the berries through two different sized strainers, I remembered I had cheesecloth. I loaded batches of pureed berries into the cheesecloth and squeezed the delicious fruit into a bowl until all that remained in the cheesecloth were bright pink seeds.

A couple of years ago, our daughter gave us a Cuisinart ice-cream maker. An electric ice cream maker may seem like an extravagant thing to ship to a home in the Arctic, but it has added a lot of enjoyment to our lives in both making and eating ice cream.

Sorbet is easy. Syrupy sugar water and a little lemon juice go into the freezer bowls along with the seeded, pureed fruit. This mixture is slowly churned for about 30 minutes. We love berries, but I think these are my favorites. The color is a rich salmon orange. The smell is sweet and tropical, with mango, papaya and peach flavors, and there’s a natural creaminess about them. Making one-quart batches, we ended up with a gallon of sorbet. We envision serving this in cookie bowls, with a few pieces of dark chocolate, or along with with homemade vanilla ice cream as a sumptuous 50/50 dessert.

Chili Done Large

The end of summer and early fall are a time to cook big pots of winter food: chowders, soups, stews and chili to be canned or frozen and pulled out as needed over the coming months. We have a four-gallon, heavy-gauge stainless steel pot that is ideal for this kind of cooking. Three-and-a-half gallons equates to 56 cups, enough one-cup servings for 28 meals for the two of us.

No two pots of chili are ever the same. One year I might have three different kinds of beans to start with. Another year I might have only one kind. When we lived in California, I used fiery hot chili peppers we purchased at the Asian farmer’s market to give the chili a real kick. Other years, like this year, I’ve gone with a more mellow, savory blend of spices. There’s nothing like a hot bowl of chili and a hunk of fresh-baked cornbread slathered in butter when it’s negative 40 outside and the wind is howling.

*****Chili Done Large*****

  • 12 cups dry beans (equal parts pinto and black work well)
  • 3 1/2 pounds tri-tip steak cut into pieces that are approximately  1/2″ square and about 1/4″ thick.
  • 1/2 lb thick-cut bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 6 pounds diced tomatoes (with their liquid). Canned or fresh
  • 24 ounces tomato paste
  • 4 cups sweet corn
  • 4 cups water (approximately)
  • 10 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • 4 sweet onions (such as Mayan, Walla Walla or Vidalia) chopped coarse
  • 1 tablespoon cumin (to mix with the tri-tip)
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin (to add to pot while cooking)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (for mixing in with the tri-tip and cumin)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (for pan-frying the tri-tip)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (for sautéing the onions & garlic)
  • 1 tablespoon dry, crushed oregano
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon smoked sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce (find this in the Asian section of most grocery stores)
  • 1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  1. Soak the dry beans in a large pot. A good way to do this is to add about 3 times as much water as beans and bring the beans to a boil for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the beans soak for 6 to 8 hours. There’s nothing wrong with the thick, dark colored water this produces, but I pour it off to get a cleaner chili.
  2. Combine the tri-tip, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon cumin in a large mixing bowl, mix thoroughly
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Add the tri-tip mixture. Stir frequently until meat is cooked through. Pour the mixture back into the mixing bowl and set aside.
  4. Fry the bacon pieces over medium-high heat, just until done. (They should be tender, not crisp.) Remove from heat and drain on paper towel and set aside.
  5. In a glass (non-reactive) bowl, mix together the tomato paste and about 3 cups of water and set aside
  6. In a large, heavy-gauge pot, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onions. Stir frequently until onions just begin to turn translucent and stir in the garlic. Reduce heat to medium-low.
  7. Stir in the diced tomatoes and the tomato paste with the onions and garlic in the large pot.
  8. Stir in the beans and all the spices and seasonings. Bring to a simmer and cook for an hour on low heat.
  9. Stir in the bacon, the tri-tip and the sweet corn. Add a cup of water if the chili is too thick. Bring back to a simmer and give the chili a taste.
  10. Add additional seasonings as desired. Additional tomato paste will thicken the chili.

Chili is always better if you let it sit for a few hours or even a day or two before digging in. Ladle into bowls, top with shredded cheddar cheese, and serve with corn bread, sourdough bread, or crackers. Bring on the winter!

Razor Clam Fry

Jack has put the finishing touches on our kitchen in our new home and is already feeding us well. The above razor clams were dusted with seasoned flour, dipped in beaten eggs, and rolled in cracker crumbs in preparation for frying in olive oil. Having been frozen fresh, they tasted like they were just dug. Every bite evoked the wonderful memories of digging those clams just weeks ago.

I’m grateful that our school not only has a pool, but also a weight room this year!

Provisioning for a Year in the Bush

Above, Jack is zip-tying the lid to a Rubbermaid Roughneck tub at our storage unit in Anchorage.

Planning for a year in a remote village may seem like a daunting task. After two bush moves and two annual shopping experiences, I think we’ve nailed it.

In Walden, Thoreau lists everything he took with him to his life on the shores of Walden Pond. Fascinated and inspired by Thoreau’s list, we vigilantly documented all the provisions we sent out to Shishmaref last year and monitored what we used and didn’t use in order to prepare our shopping lists for this coming year.

Here’s what the advice of others and our own experiences have taught us.

1. Rubbermaid Roughneck. They come in a variety of sizes and are easy to stack and store. We label each tub and lid so all the holes we drill for the zip ties which keep them closed match up. The manufacturer says they are “unbreakable.” So far, they have been just that. Caution: most other tubs will break.

2. Cardboard boxes. The best boxes are reliable for only one use, and even then they are more difficult to ship and stack than the plastic tubs. We have gone away from using boxes.

3. Media mail. For books, CD’s, DVDs and other media, the post office gives a discount on their already inexpensive rates. Know that these items will be shipped on the slowest boat, at times will be stacked atop each other in huge piles, and will likely be tossed around. In our first move, just about the only boxes that were wrecked were those that had been sent at the media rate. This time around, we shipped our media in rubber tubs.

4. Dry goods. We think of food items in three categories: dry, refrigerated, and frozen. Our first advice is this: if you don’t have a Costco membership, get one! Costco has excellent prices and they seldom stock anything that isn’t of good quality. Unlike some other stores which, for a fee, will pack and ship your groceries for you, Costco is a “do-it-yourself” proposition. That’s fine with us. Not only do we save money by taking care of something we can do perfectly well ourselves, but in doing so we ensure that our items are properly packaged. And in addition to getting butcher-shop-quality meats and excellent produce, in shopping at Costco we are giving our hard-earned money to a business that is known for treating its employees and its customers fairly and ethically. We won’t name any businesses, but personally we can’t justify giving our money to a corporation that is constantly in the news fending off one law suit after another because they simply do not treat their employees ethically and with respect. Once we have purchased and packed our dry goods, we mail them at the parcel post rate of about 70 cents per pound.

5. Frozen goods. Alaska airlines as well as the the smaller airlines that provide service to the bush allow three checked items (50 pounds each) and one carry on item. We were advised to bring coolers as the checked items, so last year, we brought up three 58-quart coolers stuffed with frozen meat, juice, fruit, and vegetables. All the coolers ended up exceeding the airline’s weight limit by 20 to 25 pounds each, which irritated the employees at the ticket counter end cost as overage fees. This year, we are going to use Rubbermaid tubs instead of coolers. The tubs themselves are lighter than coolers, and by going with 14 gallon (56 quart) coolers and using crumpled newspaper for insulation and to take up some room, we should be able to stay within the weight limit. With items frozen solid (we have a chest freezer at our storage place), everything should hold up fine during travel. We’ll supplement what we buy at Costco with the razor clams, salmon, halibut and rockfish we harvest this summer. By the way, the large bags of frozen vegetables Costco carries are superb.

6. Refrigerated items. Last year, we really wanted cheese, yogurt, eggs, lettuce, apples, and tomatoes, and not knowing whether or not we could readily get these items in Shishmaref, we decided that we would pay the extra cost for “overnight” shipping. We knew that we wouldn’t actually get these things the next day, but we were hoping that our delivery would arrive in two or three days. Unfortunately, it took a full week for our items to arrive. As we unboxed our items, we were mentally preparing for the stench of rotten yogurt, cheese and lettuce. But amazingly, the only items we lost were the few small bags of frozen vegetables we had thrown in as ice bags. The vegetables had thawed and had begun turning to compost.

7. Items we forgot or ran out of. Our experience here is that if you forget something or something gets lost or ruined in transit, don’t worry. If the store in your bush community doesn’t carry something you need, you can pick up your phone and call the Fred Meyer store in Fairbanks. (Don’t bother with their online bush order service; it isn’t really set up to be practical.) Fred Meyer will mail or ship any item they carry in their store. They pack things well, their, customer service is excellent, and their prices are reasonable.

We’ve finished our shopping and packing chores for this year, and now we have the rest of the summer to camp, fish, boat, hike and play!