Pioneer Potluck: About Bob's bonfires

First year living at the cabin on the lake, fall of 1986 North Nikiski, Alaska



This first appeared in Sept of 2011 and I have requests for a rerun. I hope you enjoy it!


We have so much fun around our bonfires. Bob started the tradition in our family many years ago while he was trimming trees and clearing brush so we could see the lake from a cabin that we were renting. We had to watch him closely. Sometimes when he ran out of firewood or energy, he would go for the next best, closest, easiest thing he could put his hands on. I caught him carrying our neighbor John’s kitchen chairs down to the fire. He stated that John. needed new ones anyway. I rescued them! The garden hose did not fare so well. It sure made a lot of smoke.

Bob’s bonfires always brought out our neighbors (who no doubt saw all the smoke!).

We would spend all night in the middle of the summer around the bonfire, singing, telling stories and jokes and watching the sun go down and the moon come up all in the same hour. Sometimes our visitor was a wandering moose, peeking in on us or a “hooty owl” letting us know that we were probably too noisy. And always a variety of food and drink shared by all. We loved the spontaneous bonfires. They lasted for days and we never knew who would be sitting by the fire when we got up in the morning — usually it was John! He lived in the cabin next to us.

One memory is about our friend John. His three-wheeler crawled up on a blade of grass and dumped him over backwards. When he finally landed and got back on his feet, he had a broken right arm. As we all know, if you are right handed, there is not a whole lot you can do until it heals. Setting beside a bonfire was pretty easy to do. He sat on a tall stool on the upside of the fire, with his arm in a crutch that Bob carved out of a forked (or fork-ed) stick. He had a wool poncho on and his favorite fishing hat sat on his head, with his arm in the fork-ed stick. We all were singing songs, and telling the stars and moon and wandering moose, how “things” should be.

Then in slow motion, John tipped forward, slowly plunging head first into the fire. We quickly fished him out and tried to put out the little fires that were erupting on the wool poncho. We sat him back on the stool and put his crutch back under his arm. He never said a word, then he looked around and slowly said “Anyone seen my hat?” The very second he said “hat” it burst into flames in the middle of the fire. The rest of what was left of the evening was spent mourning the loss of John’s fishing hat.

Then there is the memory of Ditcher Dave and his shoes. He was among many guest that seemed to show up when they saw Bob’s bonfire and the smoke it gave off from time to time. (But that is a different story!) Dave had his feet propped up on a rock that formed the ring around the fire. I looked up and yelled “Dave! The soles of you shoes are dripping into the fire!” He slowly moved his feet, stating that his feet were getting a little warm. He stomped around in the grass, gravel and leaves until they cooled off, leaving bits of the grass, gravel and leaves embedded in the soles of his shoes. “Darn! I just bought these yesterday!” The rest of that evening was a big discussion on how “they don’t make shoes like they used to!”

Dave wore those shoes for a while, but if he was on concrete or in his house, they would click and clack, because of all the gravel and rocks embedded in the soles. He gave them up finally with great regret, but bought new ones just like them. He was careful to not prop them up on the hot rocks of a bonfire.

What fun we had! What good memories!

Please be ever so careful of fires right now. Honor what the fire department says and just wait, you will soon be sitting beside a bon fire making memories!


Bernie’s Dad used to make this whenever they were invited to a potluck dinner.

She uses the slow cooker and leaves them cook overnight to mingle the flavors

1/2 pound ground beef or moose

Sat and pepper to taste

1/2 pound bacon, fried and chopped

1/2 cup onion chipped

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup ketchup

1 tbsp vinegar

1 can lima beans, drain off half the liquid

1 can pork and beans

1 can kidney beans

Brown meat: add onion. Season with salt and pepper.  Add remaining ingredients.  Mix well.  Put in crock pot on low overnight and up to 12 hours – stir occasionally.  OR put in 350° oven for two hours. 


6 large potatoes

6 eggs

Boil eggs with potatoes until done

Cool and dice potatoes into large bowl

While potatoes are cooling, fry:

1 pound of diced bacon

1 chopped onion

Drain and set the bacon grease aside.  Add bacon/onions to potatoes

In a small bowl:

1/2 cup mayo

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tblsp vinegar

1/2 cup bacon grease

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

Mix and add to potatoes.  Add the chopped boiled eggs.  Mix all well and place on large meat platter, mounding in the middle.  Rim the platter with shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, shredded cheddar cheese.  Top with a few pieces of fried crumbled bacon. 

Fish – broiling, baking, poaching, pan frying

This applies to all kinds of fish, halibut, salmon, trout, etc.

To pan fry fillets:

 I do this with salmon or halibut but really good with trout.

Prepare fish; roll in flour, combined with salt and pepper.

Use good vegetable oil. Heat to hot.  Fry quickly on one side, about 4 minutes until golden, flip over for another 4 minutes.  PS: add a little corn meal to the flour for crunch-

To broil or bake: 

Use an oiled broiler pan and baste with butter or some kind of basting sauce. Heat oven broiler to 450%.  Broil or bake 2 to 4 inches from the heat.  Fish should not be no more the 1/8 inch thick.  If thicker, bake and little longer on a lower rack.


This is my favorite method to cook salmon or halibut.  Add to kettle of water 2 tblsp sugar, 1 teas garlic salt or regular salt, thin slices of one small lemon and few pepper corns or π tea pepper. Add bay leaf if you prefer.  Bring water to a rolling boil.  Slowly slip fish fillets into the water, bring back to boil, put on lid, turn off burner and let poach on stove for 30 minutes.  I sometimes leave mine on the stove until it cools down, seems to make the fish, especially halibut, moister.   

Grilling fish: 

Everyone has there method of cooking fish on the grill.  I lay my fish on oiled foil; add onions lemon slices, garlic salt, lemon pepper and any kinds of herb you like.  Seal up and put on slow grill heat for 30 minutes.  Turn once.  To make a complete meal, added potatoes sliced thin, celery and onions to make a one pack meal. 

NOTE:  Today there are millions of people in American that suffer from respiratory problems.  It comes from standing at the check-out stand in the supermarket, holding their breath. 


My grandma’s recipe…

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/3 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 tsp finely grated lemon rind

3 egg yolks –save the whites

3 tbsp butter

1/2 tsp lemon extract

1 bake 9” pie shell


Mix in a saucepan the sugar and cornstarch.  Add the water, lemon juice and rind.  Slowly bring to a boil.  Take off heat and stir in 3 egg yolks that have been slightly beaten, into HALF THE HOT MIXTURE,(Pour half into a bowl and stir in egg yolks slowly, stirring constantly with a whisk.)  Put saucepan with half the mixture back on heat and stir in egg mixture.  Stir constantly!  Bring to boil and take off immediately.  Add lemon extract AND BUTTER.  Stir.  Pour mixture into prepared pie shell.  Cover with meringue.


Using the three egg whites, and 1/2 tsp cream of tartar* beat with electric mixer until slightly stiff, Slowly add 6 tblsp sugar and beat until stiff peaks form and sugar is dissolved.  Pile on pie, sealing around the edges, Make decorative swirls, and bake at 400° for 8 to 10 minutes.  Watch carefully.  Cool and have a piece of pie for me!! 

* In place of cream of tartar


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