Once upon a time I was browsing through the “used” section of cookbooks on Amazon.com, and I ran across a gem that I’m so very, very glad I decided to add to my collection. It fits right in to the “eat the whole animal” or “zero-waste” lifestyle, even though if you looked at the title you might not realize it at first (and then you would realize you were a fool for not realizing it).
Cooking Alaskan, by Alaskans is written from the perspective of native Inuits (the recipes are collected from magazine submissions), so of course it is from a perspective of no waste and preserving your foraged and hunted foods. There are also recipes from people who settled Alaska, with Italian, Creole, Russian, and other cultures. Especially Russian, there must be a large Russian population in Alaska. If you like descriptions of colonial life, articles like “Using a Qallutag… and Other Berry Rakes”, or descriptions of how natives preserved and prepared their food, you will definitely not be disappointed.
Vegans, especially foragers of wild foods, bear with me here a minute because there’s goodness in here for you too. First though, I’ll start with the first chapter.
Fishermen, or people like me who think it would be fun to purchase and prepare a whole fish from the supermarket, the first chapter is called “How To Prepare Any Fish”, and it means it. Cleaning the fish, basic fish cookery, and methods of preserving fish are given, along with suggestions for garnishes and sides. The recipes cover all of the fish you might expect to see, and most of the recipes are things you might expect the chance to try. You will definitely figure out how you wish to prepare your salmon, alongside your pike, rockfish, trout, halibut, shark, cod, dogfish, whatever you managed to snag today.
Then we have recipes for octopus, sea urchins, squid, sea cucumber, and anything edible that might fall into your net. There are also plenty of shellfish suggestions, from your general oysters and mussels to your shrimp, crabs and even hermit crabs. Ocean mammals are here too, the sea lion and whale recipes remind us of the culture writing the recipes, and while I would never want to eat a polar bear I highly respect the lifestyle that utilizes every resource nature has to offer to feed your family.
Naturally this extensive use of all resources means the birds and woodland creatures are found here. Duck, grouse, Ptarmigan, and more are given. There are even suggestions for recipes when the birds are poorly shot. In the directions for butchering large game, there are suggestions for using the fat, organ meats, and tough cuts. I even see Jellied Moose Nose and Pickled Heart of Tongue. I also now know how to prepare porcupine so the quills aren’t an issue.
I do not hunt, nor do I fish, but there are times in my life when someone has offered me venison or bear meat. I won’t be turning that down if I have the chance again, because these recipes look like they have been mastered into something far better than the venison chili my hunter friend once served me. It was okay, but this selection looks like something far more refined and tempting. Braising, glazing, roasting, salting, you get the idea.
Now, while I love the way this book stimulates my imagination of a culture I don’t frequently run across here in the Midwest, there are actually recipes in this book I can and do use. I occasionally run across a good foraging spot, and next time I pluck some chickweed I’m so going to try this Creamed Chickweed recipe. I’ve also wanted to try using Birch sap for a long time, but now I also have recipes for the bark and leaves. I’ve tried the Dandelion Fritters, but I do want to try the Dandelion Omelet next spring. I don’t trust my identification of ferns yet, but there’s a nice variety of fiddlehead recipes. I also haven’t learned to identify fireweed (I don’t pick something unless I’m positive I know all the toxic lookalikes) but there’s a recipe in here for Homesteader’s Honey that involves clover blossoms with fireweed. I bet I could leave out the fireweed and come up with something nice. Mushroom foragers will find good treats here too (I’m not joining you, that’s just frightening to me, but that leaves more mushrooms for you to enjoy – you brave and adventurous soul, you).
Regular grocery store items are not neglected, and when I start my sauerkraut journey I’ll likely set some aside for the pan-fried cabbage (wait, does that say “Sauerkraut Surprise Cake”? Oh, bookmarking!) You got your carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, and other regular grocery store staples here. Many of them are still somewhat exotic to me, especially since the “natives” also included settlers from other countries. I’d like to try the Russian eggplant dish Moussaka. And the berry chapter is just delish. Got a crabapple tree? You’ll find suggestions for it with the berries.
My favorite chapter is the sourdough one. Starting a starter is given from several perspectives, and all you need to know to keep it alive or reconstitute a dried backup. This is my go-to source for my pancake recipe, and if I have starter surplus there’s directions for turning it into my own personalized cookies. There are plenty of bread recipes (one day I’ll try them all), for both regular loaves and sweet treats. Donuts, dumplings, cakes, muffins, fruitcake, brownies, pudding, pie crust, Sourdough Baked Alaska (well, but of course), and…. wait for it…. Beewack! Ahem, I quote, “Beewack (sourdough beer) isn’t really dessert but reading about it is definitely a treat”. Heh, apparently it’s not that great to drink. One of these days I’ll be brave enough to try it.
There are also candies and treats, sauces, pantry items, teas and preserves. In short, if you were in Alaska, this cookbook covers anything you will ever possibly need. If you aren’t in Alaska, this book still covers most things you need, though theoretically if you were a hunter or forager, you might run across a few wild items it doesn’t cover. I love this book for the things I’ll never try, but it seems to have tons of those little removable sticky bookmarks all the way through for things I have tried and want to again, or things I will certainly try someday.