There is something about the food you grew up on that latches onto your soul. Everyone has their favorite dishes their parents cooked, regional treats, and restaurants. For all of us, food can bring us home, even when we are thousands of miles away. For me, it’s the taste of my home state of Alaska.
Meat. Delicious meat. I haven’t had moose meat in well over a decade and it kills me. There is no steak like a moose steak! Grilled and medium-rare, the only way to eat any steak. Seriously, if you are eating a steak at anything above medium, you are ruining that meat and making it tough. As a former chef who cooked for restaurants in Alaska, I can’t begin to tell you how maddening it is to have to ruin a lovely steak for someone who wants it cooked to death.
Like most Alaskans, I hunted and ate a moose every year. So, I grew up on not just moose steak, but moose burger, moose ribs, reindeer and caribou sausages. It was a meat lovers paradise. Reindeer sausage is especially good in lentil soup. It’s a one of a kind comfort food that I dearly miss.
Seafood. The seafood up there is second to none. It’s so fresh and so large that you’ll think you’re in a housecat’s dream. King crab with bodies as big as your head, salmon almost too large to hold in your arms — Alaskan seafood has it all. Oysters and mussels that are large enough to be unnerving when you crack open their shell. Just a squirt of fresh lemon and slurp those suckers down.
The best way to prepare any fresh Alaskan seafood is to do as little to it as possible. Don’t over season it or you’ll miss out on that fresh taste by drowning it. Smoking salmon happens to be one of my favorite ways to prepare fresh fish. When my Dad used to run the smoker, I knew — eventually — I was in for a real treat!
Jellies. Wild berries abound everywhere. We had wild red currants, blueberries, low and high bush cranberries. Wild rose hips, spruce tips and Fireweed make for killer jams and jellies as well. The great outdoors is truly plentiful for the Alaskan in the know. Berry picking was a tasty activity where at least half the berries would end up in my mouth and not my bucket. Strawberries and rhubarb grow well up there as well and fresh strawberry and rhubarb pie was my tangy and sweet favorite dessert.
The oddities. There are some preserved foods that scream “Alaska” to me. Because of terrain, distance, and weather issues, most households have stores of non-perishable goods stocked up in case they’re unable to get to a store. This happened often and there were many times we went weeks without any power because of the weather.
My neighbor’s garage got taken out twice by an avalanche just to give you an idea of what it can be like. Most households had Pilot bread — a thin, stale tasting bread — and the blue box it came in with a sailor boy on it always brings nostalgia and nightmares. It sure isn’t tasty, but it lasts forever. Powdered milk was another pantry staple. With milk sometimes being as high as $10 a gallon up there, powdered milk makes a lot of sense for many people. This was creamy and often with chunks, but it was sweeter than normal milk and is a taste I grew to love. It makes a killer hot chocolate too.
Kelp Pickles sound weird, but they have a lovely crunch and come from Bull Kelp. I like them marinated and on sandwiches. To round off the odd foods you may find in an Alaskan household, we have canned meats. Most families had SPAM, but I grew up in a canned corned beef household. Corned beef hash or sandwiches smeared with mustard were my preferred ways to consume it.
Luckily, we always had a freezer full of moose meat and whenever the power went out for a long period of time, we put the frozen goods outside because the winter temperatures were cold enough. Canned corned beef — unlike many of my other favorite flavors from home — is very easy to find in any store and is the one I most often run to if I feel homesick.
Almost all of these items can be ordered online, with even moose and seafood being available for a frozen shipment to the lower-48. Now if only the shipping prices weren’t extreme, I’d be one happy woman.
For me, my comfort in dark times is in the things that remind me of where I’m from, and food is most certainly a flavorful way to do so.