Holding Down the Fort

Matt was out of town last week so I got the opportunity to see how difficult it is for one person to run a homestead.  I came to appreciate even the little things he does, like taking the dog out to play each night so I can get my peaceful time.  Instead, just when I was ready to collapse with my chamomile tea into the couch, Levi was ready to go out.  Putting the tea water on in the morning, feeding the pets, and grabbing the paper… all simple chores but they are easier when there are two sets of hands.

Tuesday was a beautiful day so I spent the afternoon in the garden harvesting.  A huge armful of kale, a couple bunches of broccoli, a huge bowl of strawberries, some beets, a zucchini, loads of rhubarb, and to top it off, another bowl of chamomile.  My plan was to spend the evening putting the food into the freezer and cleaning the house because Julia O’Malley was coming by in the morning with a photographer from the paper to take pictures for the story.  Oh, yes, Julia…. she wanted to get shots of me doing something unusual in the kitchen, like making pasta.  But the pasta dough has to rest for an hour… how is that going to work?  Better make it tonight!

My kitchen counter was overflowing onto the worm bin, which was overflowing onto the table with all the bounty of my garden.  There were so many things to do, I couldn’t decide where to start.  AND, I need dinner.  AND, I had about 15 hours of work to do in the 5 hours before I collapse into bed.  Normally, this is where Matt would step in.  Or, maybe he would have stepped in just a bit earlier and told me to stop harvesting!  But, he wasn’t there to save me, so I had to find a way to deal with everything.  In the end, I didn’t get much more done than the pasta dough made, dinner in my tummy, dishes done, and dog played with.  Somehow I found room in the fridge for five grocery bags of kale and beet greens.

Last week also happened to be the hottest week of dip-netting on the Kenai all summer.  Normally, fishing is Matt’s thing.  (How deep these traditional roles run.)  But we were getting nervous to be at the end of July with very little fish in our freezer.  What if we missed it?  Salmon is such an important part of our diet… it could be devastating for our Alaska Food Challenge!  So when I had the chance to go with my brother, sister-in-law, and my father, I had to take it.

Four people in a sixteen foot zodiak with two huge, long-handled nets and two big coolers for the fish.  My 74-year-old father drove the boat and couldn’t really hear what we were saying to him, George had the big net up front, while Jen and I switched off with the smaller net and net picking/fish bonking, a job neither of us were particularly good at.  More than one fish flopped around for a while on the bottom of the boat for a while before we could deal the killing blow.  In the thick of the run, I was totally out of breath, and I could not keep up with all the fish!  This was hard work!  Somehow, we managed to land 69 fish!

We had all been up since 4am, and it was now 8pm, so I was really looking forward to a nice nap in the car on the ride home… but there was this small issue of still needing to gut the fish.  I used to be quite squeamish when I was younger, and having three brothers, gutting fish was never something I learned to do.  I was the youngest and the only girl…. I helped my mom in the kitchen, and they did yucky things like gut fish.  But the light was starting to fade and we had 69 fish, so no matter how exhausted I was, or how pregnant, there was no getting out of this one.

My dad schlepped coolers while the three of us gutted in the river.  Tired, wet, and hungry, I concentrated on getting through one fish at a time and not cutting myself. It seemed never-ending, and I was thankful we didn’t have more fish.  To make matters worse, the highway back to Anchorage was closed due to several accidents, so we didn’t know how long we would be stuck there, and we had no place to go.  All I really wanted to do was get home to Matt’s arms and fall asleep for days.  Somehow we got through all the fish, got all the coolers loaded back up, and climbed back into the car.  It was 1am.  We ended up joining the RVs in the Fred Myers parking lot and sleeping until the they opened the road back up at 4am.

Back home the next day, there was still a lot of work to be done.  Filleting, packaging, smoking, making fish stock… it was so much easier because Matt was there to help.  Like a well-oiled machine, we each had our job and knew what to do.  Before I knew it, we had 29 packages, 54 pounds of salmon in the freezer!  And I had to sit back in amazement of what a great partner I have in life and in this food challenge. How lucky am I?


2 thoughts on “Holding Down the Fort

  1. jasmine

    How do you make your fish stock>? I haven’t been making stock out of salmon, cause I’ve been told that they’re too oily and the stock will potentially go rancid if used for long-simmered soups?
    Also, aside from cooking salmon in salmon stock, what do you use it for, as far as flavor melding and such, salmon’s a pretty overwhelming flavor…

    1. alaskasaskia Post author

      Gosh, we use salmon stock for so many things! Tonight we had it in a vegetable stir-fry to add extra flavor, much like Asian fish sauce. I put it in near the end with whatever other seasonings I want to use, and it makes it “saucy!” We also use it for simple miso soup, salmon chowder, poaching or braising salmon, and fish stews. Most of those I don’t simmer too long, but I do boil down my stock to concentrate it before I freeze it and I’ve never had it go rancid.

      To make my fish stock, I start like I make any vegetable broth…. brown some onions in butter or oil, add carrots, celery, thyme, parsley, and a bay leaf, then I add water and the fish frames. When the water boils I add a bit of salt and simmer for 20-30 minutes, then strain. Unlike meat stocks, it does not benefit from long simmering.


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