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Stirring up memories


More Goosequack Sauce, please!
February 12, 2003

Once upon a time, over one hundred years ago in Michigan, a young man named Pete grew restless with his life and decided to head to Alaska to seek his fortune.  His grandmother hated to see him go, but remembering her adventures in the backwoods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, she gave him a big bear hug and a precious gift.  She gave him a little crock of yeast starter.  She put it in a bag he could wear around his neck. 

            Pete spent the rest of his life in Alaska, panning for gold, fighting polar bears, stalking moose, and he never went hungry.  As long as he could find a little flour, he could pull out Grannie’s starter and whip up some sourdough flapjacks.  Pete was a good man and true Alaskan; when he encountered a cold and hungry stranger crouched by a campfire, he’d share his hot cakes and, more, he’d give his new friend a little bit of Grannie’s sourdough starter.  Far and wide, folks knew Pete and treasured their starter. When they shared with another stranger, they always told the story of “Sourdough Pete.”

            Now, Alaskans, particularly those who live far out in the wilds and lead a rough life, are proud to be known as Sourdoughs and are happy to share their precious starter.

            This is an Alaskan tall tale.  There are lots, and many of them center on the all-important sourdough.  The starter was the last item packed and the first unpacked as a prospector moved between Artic camps.  On really cold nights (every night is really cold) the starter was likely to share his sleeping bag.  It would not do to let it get chilled.

            I’m reading up on Alaskan food as we move toward the first weekend in March and Artsfest.  It’s a fun task, thanks to Pam Searcy who brought her copy of Alaska “Sourdough” Cookin’ by the Post-Searchlight office to share with me.  It’s a delightful book.  Not only does it have tall and taller tales, but also I get a real insight into Alaskan life as I read the recipes.

            City living in Alaska is probably much like life in the lower forty-eight, but for folks who live out in the wild, life is still rugged, and folks depend on the land and the sea for their provender.  Seems like they live on fish, wild game, berries, sourdough—and laughter. 

            There are serious game recipes (I’ll share some in a couple of weeks)—things like “Reindeer Pot Roast” and “Gold Rush Caribou Sausage.”  My favorite, but I’m never going to try it, is “Frontier Jellied Moose Nose.” Well, there’s also “Land of the Midnight Sun Muskrat.”  Yes, they are serious, but fun too.

            Sheer fun is the recipe for “Capt. Mel Anderson’s Alaskan Whale Stew.”  It calls for 1 (105-ton) whale, 8,000 pounds of potatoes, about 10,000 gallons of ketchup and 50 gallons of Tabasco hot sauce.  After cooking for about 40 hours, it will serve 347,161 folks. 

Hey, we could serve it at Artsfest and have leftovers!

            Here’s another tall tale recipe.  The kids will like this one.

Barbequed Alaska Polar Bear Grunts

(From Alaska “Sourdough” Cookin’)

6 large Alaskan polar bear grunts

1 quart wild goosequack sauce

            Grunts must be genuine Alaskan polar bear grunts.  Do not mistake a growl for a grunt.  That could be fatal.  Grunts should be taken only by an experienced grunt hunter who can tell a grunt form a growl.  The best grunts are produced by papa bears.  Mamma bear grunts are good, but never use a baby bear grunt.  They are no better than a squeal, which will not do at all.       

            After you have built up your fire with reindeer chips, place your grunts on grill and baste with wild goosequack sauce every five minutes.  Cook to a nice invisible brown.  Serves any number of guests with imagination.

            I suppose with those long dark winters, it’s important to keep a sense of humor.

            Summers bring happiness, endless days, and lots and lots of berries. Kinds of berries I’ve never heard of—cloudberries, snowberries, nagoonberries—and others familiar right here in South Georgia.  These recipes can be used with a variety of berries to enhance a sunny summer day in Alaska—or Georgia.

Raspberry Crunch

(Muriel Wight of Anchorage, Alaska sent this recipe to her cousin, Lynda Todaro)

Place two cups of fresh raspberries in a 9 by 13 inch cake pan.  Cover with 1/2 to 1 cup sugar.  Top with crumb topping.


1 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon salt

1/2  cup Crisco

Combine the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt; cut in the Crisco as if making a piecrust.  Add one egg, blend and crumble over the filling.  Bake at 350° for thirty minutes. 

Strawberry Butter

(Adapted from Cooking Alaskan)

1 pound unsalted butter3/4 cup finely chopped fresh strawberries

3 to 5 tablespoons powdered sugar

            You must use butter, do not substitute margarine, but you could use other berries in season. 

            Soften and whip the butter, then combine with the strawberries, add the powered sugar to taste.  Whip until light or put into a food processor.  Keep in the refrigerator.  Soften (you can microwave for a few seconds) and stir before serving.  This would be good on sourdough flapjacks.

            Naturally, the obvious recipe for celebrating Alaska has to be—

Baked Berry Alaska

            Preheat the oven as high as it will go on the bake setting, probably 450°.

Fill a baked pie shell with a layer of vanilla ice cream.  Return to freezer until very hard. 

            Prepare a meringue of 4 egg whites beaten stiff with 6 tablespoons of sugar.  Remove the pie shell from the freezer, top ice cream with a layer of sweetened berries (your choice). Top with the meringue carefully spreading the meringue to the edges to seal in the fruit and ice cream.  Place in a very hot oven and brown until the topping is golden.  This should take less than a minute.  Turn the oven light on and watch through the window.  Move fast.

I’m not offering any sourdough recipes—yet.  I’m struggling to start a starter.  When I bought the three packets of yeast (that’s how they come), I thought two would go to waste.  Wrong.  I can’t quite get the hang of keeping two cups of flour, two cups of water and a package of yeast warm overnight.  I admit I forgot one batch, and after three days, you don’t want to know.

            I think here is some sourdough starter around town.  If you have some and will share your recipes, please call or e-mail me.  If you have any Alaskan recipes—or tall tales—I’d love to have those as well. And many thanks, again, to Pam Searcy for sharing her Alaska fun.


Remember, I’m looking for good cooks with long memories who will share their kitchen secrets with me.   

Postscript:  Gloria Coppinger reminds me to plant nasturtium seeds on Valentine’s Day for a spring full of blooms.

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network