November and December, of all the months in the year, are when I am most consumed by food. In the slight lull after Thanksgiving, before the final insane push to Christmas, I normally take time to plan my cooking and baking. Reflecting on what worked or flopped in November, I turn to my recipe resources. Online I can spend hours drowning in the options served up by websites like allrecipes.com, Pinterest, and innumerable food blogs. Maybe I’ll turn to my reliable copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook? Maybe I’ll decide to try something new without losing myself in the vast, unreliable landscape of online recipes?
This fall I received a copy of Cooking Alaskan by Alaskans. It’s been around for 31 years since Alaska Northwest Books compiled and published it in 1983. In all likelihood, you’ve seen this massive brown “brick” on bookshelves in most of your Alaskan friends’ homes. I know I have, but this is the first time I had my own copy and I was ready to turn to it for relief from online recipe burnout.
Compulsively studious, I began with the preface and immediately this book earned a place of honor next to my good old Betty Crocker. Claiming that, “for the most part, the major ingredient of its more than 1,500 recipes is Alaskan grown or bred,” this cookbook addresses one of my constant frustrations with “outside” recipes. The ingredients are so often seasonal and/or expensive and/or hard to find up here. Finding fresh produce can cause Alaskans heartache mid-winter, particularly if you want something organic. Plus, I do try to buy local when possible. So recipes that promise to focus on Alaskan sourced ingredients have my complete attention right from the start.
Soon I am completely sucked into this wood-toned tome. The recipe names alone have me hooked.
There are some that seem to promise warm meals for a cold winter’s evening:
Venison Pepper Steak
Garlic Roast Bear
Beaver Pot Roast
Rabbit Stew with Dumplings
Then there are Alaska Native dishes that expand my Alaskan food horizons:
Whale Oil Sourdough Bread
Pan-Fried Ilgatha (Octopus)
Roasted Seal Meat
Walrus Steaks with Gravy
Stuffed Whale Roast
Sweet Succulent Sourdough! It’s like the editors of this cookbook knew I have a sweet tooth!
Sourdough Honey Biscuits
Super Sourdough Berry Muffins
Sourdough Streusel Coffeecake
Some recipes caught my attention simply for their Wonderfully Weird Names. Not to pick on someone’s prized homemade treat, but I won’t find these in my Betty Crocker cookbook!
Sweet Kelp Pickles
Fried Beaver Tail
Dall Sheep Shortcake
Gumboot Chop Suey
Caribou Liver Pate
Jellied Moose Nose
French-fried Shaggy Manes (a mushroom dish, but could also be a great band name)
And of course there are recipes I simply want to indulge in right now:
Cloudberry Chiffon Pie
Cranberry Baked Ptarmigan
Wild Rose Petal Cupcakes
I also recognized Smoked Salmon Pizza as something my Dad often made for Friday movie nights when I was a teenager. Another recipe, Lowbush Cranberry Ketchup, is a favorite when served warm over my Mom’s meatloaf.
As if I wasn’t already consumed, the many articles, harvesting how-tos, and history notes have me flipping pages as fast as I’d scroll through Pinterest. Did I know how to save and use game fats? No, but now I’m ready for my hubby to go hunting and bring home some meat (and fats). Did I know that there are several ways to prepare sea cucumber? I had never imagined the possibilities. Now I know that “Porcupine is neither hunted nor trapped in Alaska… There’s no need! The animal is so slow moving it can easily be clubbed…” Forget waiting for hubby to catch me something, I’m going to bring home my own “porky” as soon as I can find one!
This cookbook is so awesome I could go on and on listing all the fascinating recipes, homesteader tips, and sourdough tricks I’m discovering, but frankly, writing all this up is keeping me from the kitchen. Bring on the holidays, I have authentic Alaskan food to cook!
Review by Laura Lowdermilk