Tag Archives: Alaska cuisine

Winter Food Stores, 2014

Chard

Chard

One of our goals with our garden is to provide as much of our food year-round as possible.  During the Alaska Food Challenge in 2011-2, we had no idea how much food to put away.  I put away way too much kale and shredded zucchini.  We now have a better idea of how much food to put away, although each year the exact composition depends on what did well in the garden that year.  Last year we had a ridiculous overabundance of winter squash (I still have some under the bed), and this year we only got 8.  This year we did really well with tomatoes and tomatillos while the potatoes and peas, two reliable producers, struggled.

This year we froze about 48 pounds of vegetables and 13 gallons of berries.  Most vegetables are frozen in 1/2 pound packages which I have found to be a good portion for us and the recipes we use.  The major player here are: romanesco (6#), broccoli (8#), beans (3.5#), kale (5.5#), zucchini (6#), celery (8#), leeks (6#).  Berries are frozen whole on sheet pans and then put in gallon ziplocks.

Parsnips

Parsnips

In our root cellar we have approximately 7 gallons of carrots, 8 gallons of potatoes, 3 gallons of beets, 3 gallons Jerusalem artichokes, 4 gallons parsnips, and 4 gallons of apples. We have 4 cases of sauerkraut, 3 cases of fermented tomatillo salsa, as well as a few jars of pickles. We canned 3 cases of tomatoes and 2 cases of applesauce.

In the house we have 8 winter squash, two gallon ziplocks with dried herbs, and herbs frozen into ice cubes.  We also have 2 gallons of honey from our bees and a (somewhat) steady supply of eggs. All this is from our 9,000 square foot city lot.

Additionally, we put away about 100 pounds of pork products, almost 100 pounds of salmon and salmon products (sausage and smoked), and 70 pounds of caribou.  We canned two cases of crabapple sauce from our neighbor’s tree.  We dried a quart of bolete mushrooms.  And we picked 2 gallons of blueberries.

Every year we get better at getting ready for winter.  I’ve learned to put things away throughout the summer instead of all at the end.  I’m faster at blanching and I have my systems for packaging salmon and caribou down.  It isn’t this big, exhausting unknown thing anymore.  It has become a part of our routine, what we do in our daily lives.  And I have to say, it is a really rewarding way to live!

tomatoes

tomatoes

Kale

Dinosaur Kale

Dinosaur Kale

Everyone kept asking, ” What are you going to do with all that kale?”  I didn’t mean to plant so much… some of it was left from my spring greens mix and everything else had bolted except the kale.  And some of that kale wasn’t really kale, it was sprouting broccoli or broccoli rabe that never sprouted.  So I’m left with eating the leaves which is kind of like kale.  And then there was the extra 2 kale plants I stuck in the corner because I had extras.  Oh, and the black or dinosaur kale I planted under the apple tree.  It is excellent in salads but the leaves are so skinny that there is not much leaf on there and they are more work for freezing.

I have already brought 2 large loads of kale over to the MIssion soup kitchen, but the main patch was still left.  I had a couple friends help me harvest it on Monday and we had a huge bucket full in less than 5 minutes.  I sent them home with some, but the bucket was still overflowing.

IMG_1818Tuesday I got all set up to freeze it.  I have my system down.  I get the water steaming on the stove while I strip the leaves off the stem and throw them in the wash water in the left sink.  As the first batch is steaming I fill the right sink with ice water and get out a large towel for drying.  Three minutes for each batch in the steamer, them I throw it in the ice water, fish it out, and squeeze it dry.  It gets packed into ziplocks in 1/2 pound packages and labeled and into the freezer.

After about 10 batches I had barely put a dent in the bucket.   I started having flashbacks from our Alaska Food Challenge year.  I froze WAY too much kale and we got a little sick of it.  Matt has been a little anti frozen kale since then.  There was no way we were going to use all of this kale this winter.  Besides, I already had beet greens and chard put away.  I texted my friend, “Help!  Too much kale!  Save me!”

Kale and Celery Salad with apples and green onion

  • 1 large bunch dinosaur kale, stemmed and cut into thin strips
  • 4 stalks celery, with tender leaves, chopped
  • 1 tart apple, sliced thin
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine kale with vinegar and salt and mix very well.  Let sit 20 minutes.  Add olive oil and toss again, then add the rest of the ingredients.

 

Rising to the Challenge

Thirteen people gathered in our home to talk about an exciting new project… eating Alaskan, all Alaskan, for a year.  We started by talking about our personal goals with our neighbor, and the energy generated in the conversation could have powered our lights for a year.

Why would people… more than just a few… be excited about all the things they would forgo for a year?  Why would they willingly give up the conveniences of lentils, peanut butter, tortilla chips, or wonder bread?  Isn’t fixing tasty, healthy food challenging enough?

Anna's blueberry fingers

Yeah.  Maybe that’s the point.  We’ve become too complacent with our cupboards full of food from all over the world.  Who grew it, where did it come from, and how did it get here?  It is the same food that is in every kitchen across the country.  What is our regional cuisine?  What makes Alaska special and unique?  And I’m not talking about Eskimo ice cream or buried fish heads.  What can we grow or forage to feed ourselves year-round in the city?  Can we celebrate the earthiness of a beet or a crisp sweet carrot? Fresh goat milk and sweet, delicate, wild blueberries?  Can we develop recipes that use only the bounty that Alaska provides?

There was a resounding optimism that it could be done, contrary to popular belief.  The conversation kept jumping to sources and ideas, as we tried to figure out how we could all work together to make this happen.  Collectively, we had a lot of knowledge already, and we all wanted to learn new things as well.  We could have weekly foraging hikes, potlucks to share recipes and learnings, field trips to Prince William Sound to collect seaweed, saltwater and deer.  We could have specialty items that we can trade among ourselves for other good.  Maybe we could even get sponsors… would anyone like to give our group discounts on Alaskan food products?

This is beginning to sound like an adventure.  And in the process we can prove that it can be done, not just by the wayward hippie homesteader, or Pruis-driving greenie, but by normal everyday people of any age or income.  We may drive open more markets for local produce and products.  We might develop the cuisine that people will rely on when shipping costs rise and imported food becomes prohibitively expensive for most people.  And at the very least, we will have a connection to the food we are eating.  We will know the land that the elk grazed upon, the hand who slaughtered him, and how it came to rest on our plate that we give thanks for.