Where all the Raspberries are as Big as Your Thumb

“Pick me! Pick me!”

Anyone who knows Jack knows that he is a fisherman through and through. Moving to a village where the salmon are running so thick we can see them finning up the river and into the lake is beyond Jack’s wildest expectations. This is not his dream. This is our reality. He’s spent time every day walking the shore, sometimes with fishing rod in hand, other times just watching and listening to the music of river current and salmon jumping, splashing, sloshing their way upstream.

And so it’s understandable that it was left to me to spot the patch of raspberries Jack had walked right past on his way to the river. And such raspberries! The patch isn’t large, but this has been an exceptional year for berries and the vines are heavy with tart, sweet, jem-like fruit.

raspberries in bowl chignik n

And with green berries still growing in more shaded parts of the patch, we should be able to pick all we need. Jam, pies, syrups, fresh with morning cereal… How about a raspberry-chipotle sauce to go with fresh-caught salmon?

“Bigger than store-bought,” as Jack says. Tastier, too. I don’t know about them being as big as your thumb, but they’re the biggest we’ve ever seen. Can you believe he was so intent on the salmon that he walked right past the whole patch without even noticing?!

Cloudberry Country

In northern latitudes where they grow, cloudberries (Rubus chamaemorus) are prized as a delicacy. 

Sept 1, Point Hope, Alaska: It has rained for at least part of each day ever since we came back to Point Hope on August 11 – twenty-two consecutive days. Yesterday, the sun finally broke free, and after an energizing breakfast of French toast, smoked salmon, honeydew mellon, orange juice and coffee, we borrowed one of the school’s vehicles and four of us drove out Seven-mile road (which is actually only five miles) to pick some of the last of this year’s aqpik – the Inupiat word for cloudberries.

Cloudberries like wet tundra, but can also be found in meadows. The boggy fields near Point Hope necessitate Muck Boots or similar footwear. 

We’re glad we don’t have to choose a favorite fruit, but a good way to think of fruit is in terms of where they are best served. If I could have a freshly-picked, perfectly juicy, slightly tart ruby red grapefruit every morning for breakfast, I’d seldom want any other fruit with my morning meal. Peaches shine when grilled to caramelize some of their sugar and served with mascarpone cheese or goat cheese. And I occasionally have dreams about the elderberry pies my grandmother used to bake for me made from the dark purple fruit I picked near my boyhood home in Pennsylvania.

Snowy owls, ground squirrels, foxes, caribou and occasionally brown bears are visitors and residents of the tundra where, in addition to cloudberries, stunted willows grows. 

Soft, juicy, and slightly creamy, cloudberries make a sorbet that is sublime, and they are excellent in ice cream as well. They are delicious as freezer jam, and this year we made syrup from the juice of some of the berries. Recently Barbra made a delicious cloudberry bread which was perfect with our peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Cloudberry liqueur is popular, and apparently there is a Canadian-brewed beer that features them.

The last of the cloudberries signal the end of summer here in Point Hope. The salmon and char are nearing the ends of their runs, and we’ve already had a little sleet. 

Click on the links below for additional cloudberry recipes, and stay tuned for recipes on cloudberry syrup and spicy cloudberry chipotle sauce for poultry, pork and fish.

Cloudberry Freezer Jam                                                               Cloudberry Sorbet

Cloudberry Upside-Down Cake                                                  Cloudberry Syrup

Laying in a Year’s Worth of Supplies Part II: The Well-Stocked Kitchen

Penzeys spices have earned a prominent place in our well-stocked kitchen. We recently received an order of items we wanted to make sure we have on hand when we return to Point Hope at the end of the summer. From left to right in the foreground: arbol peppers, star anise and chipotle peppers. 

As I write this, I’m surrounded by several stacks of Rubbermaid totes. Each stack has four to seven nested totes duck taped together, ready to be mailed to Anchorage where they’ll be filled with dry goods and mailed back up here for the next school year. We’re down to the tail end of most of our groceries, which is the way it should be with only 10 days remaining before we fly down to south-central Alaska for the summer.

Planning out a well-stocked kitchen, experimenting with new dishes and baked goods, and writing this blog make the extra effort and expense of laying in everything we need for our kitchen worth it. In addition to mail-ordering spices to supplement what we already have on hand, we’ve prepared a five-page Excel spreadsheet shopping list we’ll take care of in Anchorage. And, of course, there are the ice chests we mailed down earlier, waiting to be filled with some of the world’s best seafood – the salmon, halibut and rockfish we catch and package ourselves. Come late summer when we return to the village, our kitchen will be ready!

Various types of salt, cooking oils and a full compliment of herbs and spices inspire an eclectic approach to cooking and baking, and allow us to create many of our own rubs and grilling sauces.

Although the theme of our summer posts will shift to fishing, hiking, boating and sailing, we’ll continue to write about the cooking we do for ourselves and our guests. And during the summer, we’ll finally be able to enjoy wine and beer with our meals!

Click here to see A Year’s Worth of Food: Provisioning for the Alaska Bush, Part I

Summer Blueberry Picking on the Arctic Tundra

Friends from Shishmaref after an afternoon of blueberry picking. Gathering a cupful or two of these small, tart berries growing in scattered clumps across the tundra was work… the fun kind. The following morning, we celebrated with a stack of blueberry waffles.

Accustomed to the six and seven-foot tall blueberry bushes of Oregon where Barbra and I had picked berries by the bucketful when I lived in Astoria, we were surprised to learn that blueberries were growing right under our feet on our walks through the tundra near Shishmaref. “There’s lots,” one of my students told us. “We’re going to go tomorrow. You guys can follow.”

“Follow” is the village English way of saying “come along.” And sure enough, once we learned to key in on the unmistakable Autumn-red of the bushes (if ground-hugging plants that top out at six-inches can properly be called bushes), we began finding an abundance of small, perfectly ripe, deliciously tart berries. The comparatively thick, woody stems of some of these bushes suggested that they had weathered quite a few seasons near the Arctic Circle. Growing among the blueberries were crowberries (locally called blackberries) and low bush cranberries. Elsewhere in the far north, including in Europe, there are cloudberries, perhaps the most delicious berry on earth.

We walked along in the late summer sun, finding patches of berries here and there, crouching and kneeling to pick, and then moving on to find another patch of tell-tale red. Birds were out sharing the bounty – or maybe the insects associated wtih the fruit: lapland longspurs, white-crowned sparrows, savanah sparrows, and other small birds.

The pause that refreshes. A berry-picker gazes across the open tundra on Sarichef Island where Shishmaref is located, snacking on a bag of berries that probably aren’t going to make it all the way home. The red leaves near her feet? Yep. Blueberries!

Beaver Fur Hats: Real Warm

Inupiat craftsman Isaac Atungana of Point Hope specializes in these luxuriously warm and comfortable beaver fur hats.

After months of admiring the ruffs on the parkas of our students and friends in Shishmaref, I got a beautiful wolf ruff for Barbra.  Our friend Nancy sewed on it. Aside from its beauty, the ruff around her hood serves a very practical purpose: protection from the elements. Whether made of polar bear fur, wolf fur, or, perhaps best of all, wolverine fur, a good ruff traps a pocket of warm air around the wearer’s face, keeps the wind off bare skin, and cuts down on the sun’s glare. Barbra loves hers. “You should get one,” she’s been urging this past winter.

Partly out of tightfistedness, partly out of skepticism, I’ve been resisting. First, good ruffs are fairly expensive. Second, I just couldn’t see how a little fur, fur that isn’t even lying next to one’s skin, could make that much difference. So I’ve soldiered on with my performance fleece face mask and my Mountain Hardware Polartec watch cap. Quality gear, and with my head and face thus ensconced and tucked beneath the down hood of my Mountain Hardware parka, I reasoned that I should be plenty warm.

And down to about zero degrees Fahrenheit, I am. Below that, if I have to be out long, especially if there’s wind, I get cold pretty fast.

“Face hurts,” I say to Barbra.

“You should let me get you a ruff,” she replies. “A real good one. Wolverine.”

“Maybe,” I answer back like a record with a needle stuck.

The other day, Isaac Atungana, who makes superbly warm beaver fur hats, showed me his latest creation. Unlike his other hats, this one was completely lined with thick, soft, warm beaver fur.

I try it on. It’s a little big. “I can take it in right along this seam,” he says pointing.

The first time I wore the hat, it was negative 17 outside with a windchill pushing the temperature down to negative 50. It was a revelation. My face didn’t hurt at all. In fact, I felt downright… cozy! And that was with the hat on backwards! (I’ve since been instructed as to the proper positioning of the hat on one’s head.)

The beaver fur extends past my face and traps a pocket of air the same way a ruff does. And the hat, which weighs nearly a pound, is thick and well-insulated, comfortable and warm. Man, if I had had this hat when deer hunting and ice fishing back in Pennsylvania…

Rustic Moose Pot Pie

Lean wild game, roasted to perfection, sliced into bite-sized cubes and baked in a pie topped with a hearty whole wheat crust is the kind of meal that can fend off consecutive days of negative 20 degree cold.

When a friend recently presented us with a two-pound moose roast, we were thrilled. But we were also a bit perplexed. Looking over the meat, I couldn’t find even a trace of fat. Add that to the fact that neither one of us cooks roasts, and I was at something of a loss as to what to do. “Stew,” was the suggestion I most frequently came across. “Stew or stir fry,” was a friend’s suggestion.

We love good stew. In fact, we have enough caribou stew in the freezer to see us through the end of the school year. So that was out. Stir fry, too, is a regular dinner item. I wanted to do something traditional but new for us.

In the end, I did roast the moose. Inspired by a recipe for lamb from the cookbook Nobu West by Nobu Matsuhisa, I marinated the roast in miso seasoned with garlic and ginger before putting it in the oven. Despite my best efforts it came out a bit drier than I had hoped, although the miso marinade helped to caramelize the roast when I pan-seared it prior to roasting. I served the finished roast sliced thin with a tosa-zu dipping sauce along with carrots and parsnips cut into long, thin strips and sautéed in a combination of olive oil, butter, garlic and soy sauce.

Dinner that night started with scallop, shrimp and smoked quail egg chawan mushi, segued to roasted beats with pan-crisped pine nuts, was followed by cedar planked shrimp on mushrooms and culminated with the moose roast. For dessert, Barbra brought out individual baked apples capped with pastry. Inside each apple was apple pie filling. The dessert was delicious – and fun, and the whole-wheat pie crust topping the apple gave us the idea of making a large pot pie stuffed with leftover moose, vegetables and gravy.

Regarding the recipe below, a note about bouillon: We’ve become fans of Better Than Bouillon products. In our opinion, the flavor is superior to other soup bases we’ve tried.

Rustic Moose Pot Pie

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons “Better Than Bouillon Beef Base” (or other bouillon, or use beef broth)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 2/3 cups potatoes, cut into 1/2″ cubes, skin on
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 pound roasted moose meat, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1/2 cup sweet corn
  • 1/3 cup celery, diced coarse
  • 1/2 cup carrots, sliced into discs or chopped coarse
  • 1/3 cup broccoli florets, cut coarse
  • (Optional) 1/3 cup mushrooms, chopped coarse
  • 1/2 rounded teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • several generous grinds freshly cracked black pepper
  • salt, to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 °F. **Baking time and temperature may vary depending on type of crust used.**
  2. Place the water in a pot and heat over medium-high heat. Stir in enough beef bouillon for a strongly flavored base. Add bay leaf and rosemary. Bring to a simmer.
  3. Add potatoes. You will simmer potatoes till just tender, but do not overcook. When potatoes still have about 5 minutes of cooking to go, add the carrots. When there is about 1 minute, add all the remaining vegetables. Continue simmering until potatoes are just tender and remove from heat. (They will continue cooking in the pie.)
  4. Use a strainer to separate potatoes and vegetables from the beef stock. Remove bay leaf and place potatoes and vegetables in a large bowl. Return beef stock to original pot.
  5. Place approximately 4 tablespoons olive oil in small frying pan and heat over low to medium-low heat. When oil is heated, slowly stir in flour. Continue stirring until mixture thickens. Remove from heat.
  6. Heating beef broth over medium heat, stir in oil and flour mixture. Combine thoroughly. This will result in a thick gravy.
  7. To the bowl that already has the potatoes and vegetables, add the meat, gravy and the remaining seasonings and mix together.
  8. Pour meat and vegetable mixture directly into a deep pie dish. Cover with a crust. Be sure to make holes in the crust to allow steam to escape. Brushing on a beaten egg will help create a golden brown crust.
  9. Place on baking sheet and bake at 375 °F for 25 – 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Serve piping hot with big glasses of Old Vine Zinfandel.

Spicy Chicken Farfalle Soup

A hot bowl of spicy chicken and bow tie soup is just the thing on a cold January day.

We’re both fans of Southwestern style rubs. Penzey Spices makes a good one, as does Dean & Deluca. I’m sure there are others. I whipped up this wonderfully spicy chicken noodle soup using leftover chicken thighs I’d rubbed and broiled for last night’s dinner. Vary your ingredients according to how much chicken you have on hand and what’s in your pantry. By the way, if you haven’t tried Better Than Bouillon brand, it really is–better than bouillon. Much better. In addition to plain chicken and beef, they make 42 other styles of soup base including a lobster base that is absolutely delicious.

Ingredients:

  • skinless, boneless chicken thighs rubbed with Southwestern-style seasoning and broiled
  • sweet onions, chopped coarse
  • carrots, chopped coarse
  • celery, chopped coarse
  • sweet corn
  • garlic, chopped coarse
  • Kalamata olives, chopped coarse
  • sun-dried tomatoes, chopped coarse
  • mushrooms, chopped coarse
  • fresh bow tie (or other) pasta
  • Cholula sauce
  • Better Than Bouillon, chicken flavor
  • olive oil
  • Italian herbs (fresh or dried)
  • smoked sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • (If I had fresh, hot red peppers, I would have used them)

1. Cut chicken into small pieces and set aside.

2. Place enough water in a pot to cover the ingredients. Add bouillon and bring to a boil.

3. Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add chopped vegetables, starting with the carrots and onions as they require more cooking time. Add Italian herbs and stir in well. After two or three minutes, add celery, olives, garlic and mushrooms. Cook until onions are just turning translucent and carrots and celery are just barely crunchy.

4. Add sautéed vegetables to boiling water. Add chicken, Cholula sauce to taste, a few grinds of pepper and the smoked sea salt.

5. Add fresh pasta and continue boiling till just done. (If using store-bought pasta, it is better to add it to the boiling water before adding the other ingredients to cook it to desired tenderness without overcooking the vegetables.)

6. Serve piping hot.

Bowhead Whale Stew

An original caribou antler and walrus ivory carving by Edwin Weyiouanna guards a bowl of bowhead whale stew.

Outside it was -11 degrees Fahrenheit. The steady 25 mile per hour wind brought the chill down to negative 40, making it a good day to stay inside and cook a big pot of comfort food.

I could feel the frigid north wind seeping in around the edges of the window over the kitchen sink as I stared apprehensively at the three, one-pound cubes of thawed whale meat draining in the stainless steel basin. The odor of the dark red meat was decidedly un-beef-like, but it was mild and agreeable nonetheless – not at all gamey or fishy. The texture was a bit like that of fresh halibut – soft and dense. The meat of the bowhead whale, the largest genus of right whale, might be compared to especially tender filet mignon. I had no idea what cooking would do to the texture, or what the meat would taste like. “Good beef,” I hoped as I rinsed the meat and considered my next move.

For the past 27 years, Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Cookbook has been a faithful companion – my go-to reference when I’m not sure what to do next in the kitchen. I turned to Claiborne’s basic recipe for beef stew, made a few modifications to take into account what we have on hand and our own tastes, and proceeded from there. The end product was probably the best meat stew we’ve ever had (allowing for the fact that our creation would have been improved with the addition of three cups of good red wine, which is, of course, unavailable up here.) The meat was wonderfully tender and no more strongly flavored than, say, strip steak, and complimented the seasonings and other textures in the stew beautifully. I served three piping hot bowls of stew with freshly baked cornbread muffins while daughter Maia cued up the film The Triplets of Belleville on our big movie screen – the perfect recipe for staying warm north of the Arctic Circle.

Sunday Brunch

Sunday Brunch

Eggs scrambled with English cheddar, crimini mushrooms, pan roasted tomatoes & shallots, topped with homemade wild Alaskan salmon lox

Oven roasted brussels sprouts

Hearty rustic Italian bread, toasted and topped with butter and cloudberry jam

Satsuma mandarin slices

Orange juice & hand poured French roast coffee

(We recently benefitted from friends cleaning out their refrigerators as they head south for the holidays.)

Pine Nut Encrusted Halibut

A fillet of Resurrection Bay, Alaska halibut in a homemade mayonnaise and sour cream mixture, encrusted with chopped pine nuts and almonds and served on a bed of mixed brown and wild rice. Broccoli is one of the few vegetables we can consistently obtain in good shape in the bush.

I was recently looking around online for the next great place to call home. A top priority for both of us is a place where we can harvest our own fish. With that in mind, as I looked at coastal waters and lakes in other states, it was with a keen eye not only toward some of our preferred fish species (walleye, crappie, perch, striped bass, salmon), but also with an eye toward each state’s fish consumption advisories.

What a shock. In locale after locale, the advice from state departments of natural resources is to limit one’s consumption of local fish. Mercury and PCBs are the chief culprits, but in some places there are other chemicals in the stew. Even DDT remains a problem in some areas. The prospect of living in a place where warnings are to limit one’s consumption of fish to one meal a week–or a couple meals a month–is depressing. (We really hope they keep the Pebble Mine out of Alaska!)

Glad to live in a part of the world where the near-shore fish are still healthful enough to enjoy as often as one cares to. We generally have meals featuring salmon, rockfish or halibut two or three times a week.

There’s nothing to the above halibut dish. In a glass bowl I mixed together equal parts homemade mayonnaise and sour cream. I wanted to add a dash or two of cayenne pepper for a pleasant kick, but having none used a prepared Thai seasoning mix instead along with a couple of grinds of black pepper and a healthy squeeze of lemon juice. I spread this mixture on a halibut fillet, then covered the sauce with chopped pine nuts and almonds, and baked for 15 minutes at 375 degrees in a small, preheated casserole dish in which I had melted butter. Make sure to check while it’s baking to avoid scorching the nuts. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil if the nuts are becoming overly done.

By the way, if you’ve never made mayonnaise, it’s easy–and kind of magical. There are no shortage of instructional videos on the Internet.