Pioneer Potluck: About being afraid of big bodies of water and boats

Year 1969 North Kenai, Alaska, now Nikiski, Alaska


Growing up in Northern Colorado and coming to Alaska in my 29th year, with 3 kids, 3 suitcases and $100 in my pocket, I was educated in a hurry about the life around water, boats, fishing, swimming and how at ease everyone in Alaska was around water. I was just the opposite, totally petrified of water — I STLL AM.

I was married in May of 1969 after two years of hard Alaskan work and getting to know the wonderful people of North Kenai. I loved the sand and the beaches and was especially mesmerized at the hard work fishermen and women did on the fishing beach site, known as set netting. Their nomad way of living appealed to me. Living on the beach in fishing shacks, setting nets at the crack of dawn, tramping up and down the beach with big heavy boots, shaking the fish out of the nets, getting them set again, pulling the nets, usually by hand, before the 7 o’clock deadline at night, that the Fish and Game Guidelines required. We counted the fish, hauling them off to the fish processors, getting back to the beach just to see the sun skip across the top of the mountains. Friends and fellow fisherman would set around a camp fire watching the sun’s reflection in beautiful Cook Inlet. It appealed to my gypsy nomad soul and I wanted to buy some fishing sites that were for sale at Arness dock. My husband of three months did not!

Not to be deterred, I called my dad in Colorado, and asked him if he wanted to buy the property I had in Poudre Canyon in Colorado, so we could buy a fishing site in Alaska — besides the property in Poudre Canyon was a better deal than the $14,000 I needed for the 7 sites. We could trade straight across I said. Dad loved bargains and he always tried to make you think he was not interested. I heard his voice perk up, but he still said “I will have to think about it.” My heart sank — maybe he had changed and he did not like bargains anymore! Not so! He continued “I’ve thought about it — OK, I’ll do it.” He wired me the money and I had fishing sites and Dad had a bargain in the mountains of Colorado.

I later learned that he sold it for a lot more money than I borrowed, but that is not the story that he always told me. When I asked him if he had sold the property, not yet, he would say, it’s not worth much. He had a bargain and he used it to his advantage, with a smile of course. He loved to “horse trade” and laughed, smiled and told stories and jokes and charmed himself right into whatever he wanted. 

After we bought the fishing site, next to Gene and Betty’s sites, we built an A-frame on the beach and we moved my 3 kids and my husbands 3 kids, to the cabin. It was a temporary beach home away from home and I loved it. I could see the vast span of Cook Inlet without getting in the water. I could see the beautiful mountains across the inlet and the wonderful sunsets. I could look for agates on the beach with the kids. And listen to the waves at night lull us to sleep. On fish days, we fished from shore. I would never have to get in a boat or get wet. It was wonderful. 

I cooked over an open campfire with large cast iron cooking pots, hanging from a tripod. We ate chicken soup with homemade noodles. We had fish chowders and moose stews. Moose chili was the very best. Then on special occasions — which was about every Saturday night, we had deep fried beer battered salmon and Betty’s Coleslaw. What could be better? 

It was a bunch of physical work and each night we all were exhausted and fell into our sleeping bag beds and slept to the sound of the waves hitting the shore. This old farm gal was in heaven. Every morning the 6 kids would crawl down the ladder from the second story loft, full of feather, from their World War II surplus, down filled, sleeping bags, mostly full of holes. The second floor looked like a chicken farm.
Time for the fishing nets to be set was at 7 in the morning. We rousted everyone out of the chicken farm to help put the nets in the water or stretch the nets out on the beach and wait for the tide to bring in the fish. Gene and Betty were our fishing partners and taught us land lubbers how to “set nets.” 

Their cabin was right next to ours, and usually the two men got in the boats and set nets from the buoys that they had placed in the water earlier in the season. I offered to look after the 8 kids  — Betty and Gene had two, saying I did not like boats or water that much and I could not swim. I would busy myself mending nets and “building coffee” over a campfire, and fixing breakfast and planning supper for the whole crew.

The series is written by a 44 year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends.  She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years.  Some are her own creation.  Her love of recipes and food came from her Mother, a self taught wonderful cook.

She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day.

Grannie Annie can be reached at

Salmon or Halibut Fajitas

Sautee in a large skillet with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil:  I use a cast iron skillet

1 and 1/2 onion sliced Peel onion, slice in half, turned cut half down on slicing board, slice carefully
1 cup each of green, red and yellow bell pepper cut in strips
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms. 

Sauté until transparent.  Remove from skillet and keep warm.  

Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil to skillet and sauté:
1 pound small bite sized pieces of salmon or halibut –
Or left over cooked fish, about 2 to 3 cups.

Stir fry until just cooked, do not over cook.  Add the onions, pepper mixture back to skillet with fish.  Add 1 can diced tomatoes or 1 to 2 cups of mild thick chucky salsa. 

2 tablespoons diced canned jalapeno – optional.

Fold mixture carefully into the fish in pan and simmer 3 minutes, until just heated through.  Heat 8 inch flour tortillas in oven or microwave.

Spread over warmed tortilla:
1 tblsp guacamole (op)
1/2 cup of the fajita warm fish mix from skillet
2 tblsp sour cream or try Ranch Dressing
2 tblsp shredded cheese of choice

Fold over and serve to those doubting Thomas’s not so sure of “Fish Fajitas.”  One bite and they will ask for another.  Chicken and beef work with this recipe also.

Grilled Marinated Salmon or Halibut - South of the Border

This is a do-ahead recipe.

The Salsa:
1 small cucumber, peeled and seeded, chopped fine
1/2 onion chopped fine 
1/2 bell pepper, red or green chopped fine
1 cup fresh tomato chopped fine – or 1 cup diced canned tomatoes
1/2  tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp fresh parsley or cilantro (One half Tbsp dried)
1 tsp dill weed
2 tsp lemon or lime juice  (Lime juice preferred)
3 tsp olive oil

Mix to blend and put in fridge.

Make Marinade of:
3 tbsp lemon or lime juice   (Lime juice preferred)
1/4  tsp red pepper flakes  
1/4 tsp course black pepper
1/4 tsp dill weed       
1/4 cup olive oil   
1/4 tsp lemon pepper (op) 

Lay 2 pounds of skinned fillets in a Ziploc bag and pour marinade over.  Marinate 30 minutes.  No longer.

Heat Grill on high or oven to 400 degrees.   Drain fish on a rack for 20 minutes.  Lay fillets on hot grill and do not over cook.  3 to 5 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the fish.  Should be seared and deep brown.  Serve on individual dinner plates, laying the fillet on top of the mixed cucumber, top with 2 tablespoon of cucumber mix, and a dollop of sour cream.  Hot buttered tortilla’s or garlic bread makes this a summer nights dream.

Salmon or Halibut and Broccoli Chowder

Good for you chowder on a rainy Alaskan night.  Takes about 30 minutes to prepare if you have everything chopped and prepared earlier in the day.

Clean and chop in large pieces, 2 cups of fresh broccoli.  Place in 3 cups of chicken broth. Heat while you are cooking bacon and onions.

In skillet cook:
4 slices of bacon diced. When almost done add:
1 cup chopped onion 
Cook until transparent

Remove from skillet with slotted spoon and place in broccoli broth.

2 cans of canned milk
1- 3 to 4 oz pkg cream cheese

Stir until cheese melts

1 pound – about 2 to 3 cups of diced cooked bite-sized salmon or halibut

Cover and simmer on very low heat, about 4 minutes.

2 tblsp cornstarch in 1/4 cup milk and stir into hot soup.

Simmer and stir until thick –about one minute.  Ladle into soup bowls and dot with butter, cracked pepper, crumbled bacon and paprika.  Serve with cornmeal muffins.