Pioneer Potluck: Growing Up in Alaska

Fishing Time 1967 to 1972
Arness Dock, Nikiski, Alaska


Editor’s note: This week’s piece, written by Grannie Annie’s daughter, Susan Jordan, is excerpted from Grannie Annie’s “Cookin’ Fish from Cold Alaskan Waters.”

I’ve been blessed to have grown up in Alaska. Vermont is known for its Maple Syrup, Texas has its cowboys, Idaho is known for its spuds and California has its citrus, but you can’t beat Alaska with its seafood. What an amazing abundance of seafood we have available to us. Crab, shrimp, clams, cod, halibut and of course the mighty salmon. That is just some of the edibles. We also have trout, grayling, burbot, Dolly Varden and pike. It seems everything is big in Alaska! The mountains, bears, moose, the snowstorms and of course the fish.

Speaking of big fish, I can remember living on the beach in Nikiski and picking fish from the nets. The nets are also huge when seen from a small child’s eyes and we held them in high regard because we had heard all the stories about people getting caught in the nets and the current dragging you out into the Inlet. Mom always reminded us to “stay back; you’ll get caught in the net.” I wonder now if that was just a convenient way to get six kids out of the way in a hurry.

I thought picking fish was like an Easter egg hunt. When the nets were pulled in you never knew what you’d get. Who ever could run the fastest got the biggest fish. The only problem was you could not lift the darn fish. We would stand around it and exclaim how big it was and then one of us would lie down beside it to see how long it really was. I always needed help dragging fish up the beach and we learned early on, to stick our little hands in the gills and grab on. Often one of the grabbers would fall down and the slimy fish would end up on top and the hollering for help would begin.

One year we rescued a little orphaned seal and named him Sammy. Sammy had to be fed with a tube down his throat, and whatever the grownups fed him sure was stinky (Avocet Cream and vitamins). When he was finished feeding we were offered the leftovers with a grin. Sammy had to be burped just like a little baby, over your shoulder. Sammy grew to be strong and was released later that summer. Tears were shed by all.

Can you remember the first time you cleaned a fish? I wasn’t allowed the knife so I didn’t get to do the cool part. Of course the older sibling, with great importance, would carry on about “this is where you stick the knife, this where you slice.” My brother, David, usually did the cutting and my sister Gail was the science teacher, and would often grab the heart and or whatever it was and exclaim how cool it was, especially if the heart was still throbbing.

Halibut fishing was an eye opener. Big barn door sized halibut, that with one flip or flop of a tail could break your leg.

I’ve been blessed, that’s for sure, to be able to be living in Alaska. I’ve had whale surface close enough to the boat I could smell his breath. My brother, Dave, who commercial fished for many years in some wild Alaskan waters, told me “if you can smell his breath, YOU are too close!”

We have been awestruck to see a stream “boiling” with salmon. Spawned out salmon on the banks that are so stinky! Watch where you walk and keep making noise to chase the bears away.

We’ve scampered up mountains and slid down glaciers. Gone on rafting trips down some mighty rough rivers.  We’ve hung from tree tops to watch the stars in the winter and the Northern Lights are our own fireworks. We have explored the coastlines, hunting for agates and have seen octopus, otters, starfish and a variety of underwater sea life. We’ve dug clams in the mud and enjoyed the never ending Midnight sun.

As I’ve grown older I have realized how very fortunate I’ve been to have Alaska’s fresh bounty in place of store bought groceries. We grew up on salmon, beans and moose. And then we would have more salmon fixed a different way. I thought it was normal to have salmon salad sandwich on homemade bread! We never got that store bought tuna and wonder now, why I envied those city kids with their store bought Wonder Bread and tuna sandwiches.

I never knew what “sport fishing” was. Sure we were taught to be good sports, follow the regulations, always eat what you catch and don’t waste a thing! Mom canned and smoked, fried, baked, stewed and broiled more fish then you’ll ever believe. And I still love fish to this day.

Mom truly is a wonderful cook and has fed most of the North Road at one time or the other.

— Susan Jordan

Bob's Sausages on a Stick

In a bowl combine
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2  cup pineapple juice
1/4 tea minced garlic
1/4 tea garlic salt

Stir and pour half into a Ziploc bag.  Set aside the rest for basting;

In the Ziploc:
1 pound of fully cooked sausages – such as Polish, Kielbasa or reindeer cut in 1 1/2 inch slices. 
1 20 oz can of pineapple chunks, drained.

Place the sausage and pineapple into the Ziploc and seal.  Refrigerate up to 4 hours.  Drain and discard the marinade in bag.  Thread sausages, pineapple, green pepper strips and onion chunks on soaked wooden skewers.

Grill about 5 minutes on each side until heated through and sausages are slightly browned, basting with the rest of the marinade.  These go fast, so if you have a crowd you may want to double or triple this recipe. 

For more pizzazz use chunks of cantaloupe.

Campfire Fish on a Stick

Catch, gut, scale and wash small salmon, grayling, pike or trout that you just caught at sunrise.  Stick on a sharpened green stick, making sure it’s secure on the stick, position over red hot coals and turn and turn until done.  This does not take very long.  Serve with Basque potatoes, biscuits and that ever so good, hot camp coffee.

Basque Potatoes

You have to use the cast iron skillet with a lid for this and a large pot of water.  Have the campfire glowing in the morning sun.  Drop 6 sliced potatoes in slightly salted water and boil for 10 minutes. Drain and let set.  While the potatoes were boiling, fry 6 to 8 slices of bacon in the cast iron skillet, until desired doneness.  Pour of all but 4 to 6 tablespoons of bacon fat and fry 1/2 cup of chopped onions until tender.  Add sliced potatoes to the frying pan and gently mix in with the onions.  Smooth and press down potatoes, and fry until the bottom of the potatoes are browned.  Run a knife around edges, and place a large platter or pan over the fry pan and carefully invert potatoes onto plate.  Add 4 tablespoons of fat and carefully slide the potatoes back into the frying pan.  Cook until bottom is slightly browned, about 2 minutes.

Then you add:
4 beaten eggs, a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Pour over the hot potatoes in skillet and crumble the bacon over top.  Place a tight fitting lid over top and cook slowly for 5 to 6 minutes until eggs are set and firm.  Serve right out of the skillet.  This is NOT complicated, and gets easier the more you do it.  It’s fun, and so good around the campfires. 

NOTE – I have skipped the boiling of the potatoes, just takes longer for them to cook through.

Dry Coating for Frying Fish

1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp tsp celery salt
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp lemon pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne

Combine dry ingredients.

Dip prepared fish in one of the following:  Milk: milk-egg: water.

Roll in dry mix. Place on foil lined cookie sheet for one hour in refrigerator for the coating to set.

Fry in one inch of hot oil until golden brown and cooked through.

Buttered Carrots

Another vegetable that grows well in the land of the midnight sun.

¼  cup butter
2 pounds of carrots, quartered and cut in 2 inch lengths
2 tsp lemon juice
Fresh parsley
Salt and pepper

Melt butter in heavy saucepan and add carrots.  Stir frequently to make sure carrots are not burning.  In a few minutes carrots will create their own juice. 

Cover with a lid and cook 10 to 20 minutes.  Stir in lemon juice.

Serve, sprinkled with parsley.  A delicious side dish to moose roast or baked salmon.


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