Pioneer Potluck: About thanksgiving in Alaska

1967 TO 2011


My Alaska family’s traditions have changed through the years.  The first three or four years, our family consisted of friends who our husbands worked with.  Workers who were here without their families, or small families who were from the southern states,  who were trying to get used to the Alaska conditions and way of life and were so homesick for their families at the holidays.   So I “coined” the phrases a long time ago calling Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter as “Orphan Holidays.” After all I was an “orphan” too, with all my Colorado family gathered together for the first time at my Mom and Dads without my little family. 

All the worker’s wives got together and whoever had the biggest house, trailer, cabin invited all who were “orphans” to the holiday gatherings.  Everyone pitched in for some dish that was a tradition in their family and if we could not find a turkey the first two or three years we just put the biggest moose roast in the oven, with the rest of the holiday trimmings and desserts.

There were a whole “slew” of kids; little, in between and teen, who dressed in warm snowsuits and had more fun outdoors than indoors with the “old folk.”  (We were in our late 20-30 and 40’s, I was 29.)  The kids had sleds, ski’s, garbage bags, cardboard, plastic sheets, the seat of the snowsuits, to slide down the snow covered hills.  They would pop in from time to time for a cookie or something hot to drink, warm up there hands, butts and feet, dry the mittens and socks and out the door they would go again. I soon learned to have dozens of mittens, hats and socks in a box by the door, so they could grab dry ones, and head out the door.  AND it did not matter if they matched!!   Not one kid ever wore matching mittens or socks in my family!! 

Dessert was rhubarb and blueberry pies, cookies and cakes.  The orphan family traditional food was on a large improvised table usually made of plywood, and covered with tablecloths and if not big enough, a white sheet. It was served buffet style, so you could grab a plate and fill it up anytime you wanted.  Usually these orphan gatherings started early in the morning and lasted into the dark of night.  Exhausted and tummies full, we all would pile into the Ford 4-wheel pickup (at this time we had 6 kids, the dad and me, the mom) stuffed inside the  pickup and slowly drive to our own home, fall into bed, happy and not so homesick for our own families “down below.”

This is how I have, through the years, continued the “Orphan Holiday.”  Usually turkey and the trimmings and dessert on the table for who ever would like to drop in.  Christmas would be ham and some kind of fish – usually salmon. 

Now that my little family has grown up and have children of their own to carry on their own traditions for the holidays, we are invited to the nearest neighbors.  I still cook a turkey or order it from the big chain store already cooked.  That is a treat and we enjoy it very much. 

For about 10 years we ordered the turkey already cooked and spent the day at our neighbors watching the football games and getting in on the football pools.  That too has changed. 

When daughter Susan and Porter moved from North Pole to Kenai, to open their gift shop, we traveled in to eat the wonderful turkey that Porter fixed.  It was always picture perfect and his dressing was the best. Susan, always putting her special touch to the rest.  Their sons have gone in different directions, and just like the Grandma and Grandpa’s, Moms and Dads, have formed there own traditions, with the boys calling Porter to ask him how much sage in the dressing or how long to cook the turkey.  How do you make gravy?

My daughter Gail, a good cook also, cooks for her family and adds her own traditions. 

Son, David, starting a new life in Homer, will, I am sure, be up to his elbows roasting a turkey with all the trimmings.  He says he roasts his turkey “upside down” – (breast down) after he brines it.  He is a good cooker too.  We all come from a long line of good “cookers.”

My own mother cooked for days ahead of time, when my Grandma did not have room at her little basement house for Mom and Dads growing family of 5 kids.   Our old farm house was remodeled to have a dinning room off the kitchen and was used just for the Holidays.  Mom like her MOM would have my sisters and I, get out the china dishes and Rogers Brothers, “Eternally Yours” Silverware from the china cupboard, wash and dry by hand, with the embroidered tea towels, set them on the snowy white brocade Irish linen table clothes, with specific instructions on what side of the plate went the napkins and sliver ware and where the water glasses went. The most tradition of all, put the porcelain salt and pepper shakers, shaped like turkeys, in front of Dads plate at the “head” of the table and the other set at the other end, usually where Grandpa sat.  The butter plate and butter knife, two of them, were put in the same general direction of Dad and Grandpa’s plate. 

Mom baked rolls, lots of pies, cookies and all the rest of the holiday food in a big kitchen with running water, in her new prized gleaming white, General Electric stove.

After all the dishes were washed and put away, Mom would get out her candy making pans, just like her Mom and we would make fudge and her very favorite, Divinity.  It was supposed to be stored till Christmas, but NOT at our house, with my Dad’s sweet tooth and all 5 kids watching him take the first bite, knowing he would share the “goodies.” 

Bob and I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.   Throw in a little tradition in your holidays or invite an “orphan.”  Let us be Thankful! 


Retractions and Corrections:  The year of the traditional Thanksgiving in Northern Colorado, at my Grandma and Grandpa’s was 1946, because that was the year that our farming community got electricity. 

I mentioned two weeks ago that our wood had been split by very helpful guys and my son, from Frontier Mission!  I have been corrected it is FREINDSHIP MISSION.  I smile when I write this, because Skipper will remind me again, the name is FRIENDSHIP MISSION.  If you want to help or need help, or be inspired, stop at the FRIENDSHIP MISSION just west of Kenai on the Spur Road, and talk to Maryann or Skipper.  They are truly amazing people that have helped transform lives into usefulness.  Oh yes! Maybe bring a traditional dish, pie or cookies with you!!

I want to thank all the people that commented on the news paper articles I have written in the Peninsula Clarion, and who came into Fireweed Gifts Open House, to buy my new book, “Eat Dessert First.” I appreciate your comments and stories, it makes me march on. The Open House was a big success, and was heartwarming to meet the people that read my articles and came in to share their interesting stories. It put a big smile on my face.  A special thanks to Susan and Porter for the great support (and space) they give me and my cook books.
Times are hard for a lot of people in this community and we should take the time to bake an extra pie or cookies to share or a small monetary gift if you do not cook or bake.     
Remember!  COOKBOOKS MAKE GREAT CHRISTMAS GIFTS.  Part of the proceeds from all my books, goes to the Alzheimer’s Foundation, in memory of my Mother.

Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

Chocolate and peanut butter – it there anything any better??
In a small bowl:
1 1/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 teas salt
1/2 teas baking powder

Combine with a fork
In another medium bowl beat:
1/4 cup butter softened
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2 large eggs
2 tblsp milk
1 teas vanilla
Combine the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula
Add and fold in:
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup lightly salted peanuts or walnuts chopped
Place on top and press in
6 small peanut butter cups chopped
Spoon into a 9 x 9inch oiled pan.  Bake 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Pineapple Pie with Meringue
Oh! This is one of my very favorites

Prepared 9 inch baked pie shell
Drain 1 24 oz can of crushed pineapple. 
Reserve juice. 
In a saucepan:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Mix with fork and add:
1/2 cup water
1 cup pineapple juice

Gradually stir in and cook, stirring constantly, until thickens and comes to a boil.
Take off stove and with half the hot mixture in a bowl, stir in one at a time:
3 egg yolks. (Reserve the whites)
Blend egg mixture into the hot mixture in saucepan.  Bring to boil, stirring constantly.

Take off heat:

3 tbsp butter
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 1/4 cups well drained crushed pineapple.
Stir well and pour into baked pie shell. 
Beat the 3 egg whites with:
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
6 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract.

Pile meringue on to hot pie and carefully seal the edges of the crust, to prevent shrinking.  Swirl to make decorative top and bake 400 degrees for 10 minutes, until lightly brown on top.
Cool before cutting.

Rhubarb Custard Pie

I have always baked this at Thanksgiving and Christmas, in place of my Grandma’s cherry pie.  It is the first pie I baked in Alaska in 1967.

Beat together:
2 eggs
2 tblsp milk
3 tblsp flour
1 cup sugar
Dash of salt
1 teas vanilla

Pour over 3 to 4 cups of fresh or frozen* rhubarb, placed in an unbaked pie shell. 
Mix and sprinkle on top:
1/4  cup brown sugar
1/4  cup butter
1/2 cup flour
1/4  teas nutmeg
Bake at 400 degrees for 60 minutes.

*Thaw frozen rhubarb in a colander and do not press or squeeze out the rest of the juice.  Pour directly into the pie shell.

Macadamia (or cashew) Cranberry Pretzel Bars

This has a crust, a filling and a topping.
1 1/2 cups finely crushed pretzels
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cups butter, melted
1 egg white

1 cup sweetened dried cranberries (crasins??)
1 cup coarsely chopped roasted macadamia nuts *SEE NOTE
2/3 cups butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips-or white choc chips
1 teaspoon shortening
Heat oven to 325 degrees  Line 13 X 9 pan, with foil, extending foil over edges to life out.
Combine crushed pretzels, brown sugar in bowl.  Stir in 1/2 cup melted butter and mix well.  Stir in beaten egg white.  Press into bottom of prepared pan.  Bake 8 minutes.  Sprinkle cranberries and nuts over hot partially baked crust
Combine 2/3 cups butter and 1/2cup brown sugar in saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil.  Continue to cook stirring constantly 1 minute, Pour evenly over the cranberries and nuts.
Return to oven and continue to bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the caramel layer is bubbly and golden.
Place chocolate chips and shortening in microwave and. and melt on high about 45 seconds.  Stir half way through.  Drizzle over bars.  Cool completely and lift out of pan and cut into bars.
*NOTE:  Use chopped cashews for macadamia nuts. 

Mashed Potatoes with Garlic and Chives

2 1/2 pound of red russets or Yukon Gold potatoes
1 whole garlic bulb
1 tblsp olive oil
1/4 stick butter
1/2 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper
Fresh chives snipped
Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut peeled potatoes in large pieces.  Place in large pot of salted water and bring to boil.  Simmer until cooked through, about 20 minutes.  While potatoes are cooking,  put separated, but not peeled, garlic and olive oil in small bowl. Toss. Wrap in small doubled square of foil, place in oven. Bake for 10 minutes. Drain potatoes.  Mash slightly and squeeze the garlic pulp into the potatoes.  Add sour cream and melted butter. salt and pepper.  Stir in chopped chives.  Transfer to warm serving bowl and top with a big square of butter.

Sprinkle with pepper and chopped chives.