Pioneer Potluck: Sauna stories and cold Alaska winters

Living in the cabin, 1985-86-87


We moved into a small cabin with a kitchen-living room combined and a small bedroom and even smaller bathroom, in 1985. The property also had a sauna cabin with a washer and dryer in the front part.

Saunas are for the young, old, daring and the bored in the middle of the winter. It feels so good to get warm in zero and below temperatures, with 10 to 12 feet of snow and more slowly falling out of the sky, it’s time to fire up the sauna. In our case in our younger years — 30 years ago — the sauna cabin had to be fired up (Bob’s job) about two hours before we could shed all our clothes and enter into the steaming good smelling cedar room. There was a small one man Jacuzzi tub in the corner.

Lots of cold winter days were passed with the thought of the nice warm sauna at the end of a very boring day. There were times when a big jug of wine was shared and there was a time the jug of wine ran out before our bones got warm. So it was once again Bob’s job to go get more wine out of the refrigerator in the cabin. Bob in his entire nothing, headed out the sauna door, to run to our little cabin, to get more wine. He bailed out the door, ran bare-footed across the yard full of snow, in a big cloud of steam.

All of the sudden he stopped, backed up and took off running around the other side of the cabin. A none-to-happy momma moose stopped in her tracks, not giving in on her territory, or as Bob said, “I think she was as shocked to see me as I was her!”

He ran up the steps to the cabin, grabbed the big jug of cheap wine and retraced his steps around the back side of the cabin, across the yard and into the sauna, all of which took about 3 minutes. I am sure the momma moose was wondering what that big steam cloud was, with feet. It took Bob a long time to warm up, the wine helped!

About two week later, sitting so comfortable in the warm steam of the sauna, Bob said, “Oh man! We are running out of wood!”

We were just getting the bones warmed and telling each other, “I could just stay in here all night – this feels so good.” Again the outside temperature had not moved above the zero mark.

Bob always built great fires in the old log eating wood stove in the corner of the sauna. It took lots of wood to heat, get warm and stay warm. A slight miss-calculation and you could cut yourself short of the very thing you built the fire for. We loved to sit in the sauna for a long time and get the winter blues and blahs and sore spots soaked out.

My statement “I could sit in here all night” was taken seriously by Bob. Besides, we had some wine left! Things were not ending evenly matched (like too much gravy and not enough biscuits). Suddenly Bob disappeared out the sauna door in his nothing. Not paying to much attention I sat totally relaxed, thinking any time the fire would die down and we have to leave this little warm hacienda in the middle of the woods.

I was shaken to reality when I heard a big thud, then a little shake, then another big thud, and another little shake of the sauna. I jumped up and before I could get through the sauna door and grab a big towel, there was the third thud and a shutter. I opened the main door of the sauna cabin and there was Bob in his entire nothing, with an axe in hand, chopping up the steps to the sauna!

It took some convincing that the steps were not firewood, besides, I was ready to go to the cabin, “so put the axe down please.” We went back into the cooling sauna, dried off and headed for our little cabin before the fire completely died out.

Maybe wine had something to do with the miscalculation of the firewood and the chopping of the sauna steps, I am sure! Those steps bore the big hash-chop marks for many years. I always smiled as I was going up those steps to get my bones warm or do the laundry.

That summer we had a visitor, Bob’s son, Mugs. What one didn’t think of the other did! We had fun and laughed all summer long, around the big bonfires down at the lake built by Bob and Mugs and trips up the beach. For some reason building fires occupied their minds most of the summer. The fire in the sauna woodstove was almost continuous. The warmth of the sauna steam soaking our bones was delightful.

This sauna cabin had a dual purpose. In the front part we did the laundry and in the corner was a woodstove to heat the sauna, located through a door into the cedar lined room with a one man Jacuzzi at the far end. It had big powerful jets. The swirling warm water was very relaxing and was used all the time. The first one in the sauna got the Jacuzzi first. This time Mugs was first.

After several in and outs to feed the woodstove in the outside room, Bob came back in with a big cup in his hand. He walked over and dumped the contents into the Jacuzzi containing his son. The big jets were going full blast. Suddenly billowing suds came up out of the tub, flowed over the edge and continued across the floor, like creeping lava. It reached the other end of the room where I was sitting and started building and building until the whole room was filled with soap bubbles. I still hear the laughter of both of them chasing bubbles and making soap suds mustaches and piling big cones of suds on their heads. I did not escape the suds being piled high on my head either. Then we began parting the suds to see each other. The whole room was filled to the very top with Amway clothes soap bubbles.

After rinsing off the best I could I went into the cabin for a shower to get the rest of the soap off. Bob and Mugs escaped the soap bubble room and crashed in their beds to sleep a perfect relaxed sleep, but not without one or two more giggling comments about how fun the soap bubbles were.

The next day I went to wash clothes and took a peek in the sauna for any left over towels. I was met with big stalactite soap bubbles hanging from the ceiling. Three days later, those hanging soap suds were still there! Future sauna soaking was watched closely by me to see what Bob had in his hands as he entered the door!

Does this tell you how we filled the long summer days of July and August and the long winter days-nights? What fun and good memories.

And that is how we spend long winter days and nights in the land of the midnight sun. Sauna tubs help!

The Pioneer Potluck series is written by 50-year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. Grannie Annie can be reached at, or look for her on Facebook at Grannie Annies COOK BOOKS, where you can find details and ordering information for her cook books.


1 lb of beef round roast or similar

1 lb of pork chop center cut or other

Cube and put in Ziploc with:

1/2 cup cornmeal — shake to coat.

In a large skillet brown in small batches. Take out with slotted spoon, set aside.

In a large bowl add:

1 large chopped onion

1 can diced tomatoes

3 small 4 oz cans diced green chilies

1 small 10 oz can green Enchilada sauce

2 cans beef broth

1 tblsp ground cumin

1 tblsp garlic — minced

2 teas dry oregano

2 teas dry cilantro

Place meat in bottom of Instant Pot. Pour rest of ingredients over top. Stir.

Put lid on pot and make sure the steam vent is in right position

Process as for meat-stew — press manual and add 25 minutes. Let pressure go down before opening; this takes about 20 minutes.

Open with lid away for you and mix in:

1 cup yellow hominy*. Serve in large bowls with a warm tortilla slathered with butter.

Yum, good — makes enough for 8 or more.

Note: Add corn in place of hominy, cooked cubed potatoes if you want.


This is my recipe found in my “Fish from Cold Alaskan Waters,” also printed in the “Best of the Best of Alaska” cookbook.

3 cup seashell pasta-cooked, drained and cooled

1 pint jar of salmon, drained-remove dark pieces

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup each of chopped dill pickle and sliced black olives

2 tblsp parsley

Place ingredients in large bowl, make the dressing.

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup buttermilk or milk

1/2 teas garlic salt

1 teas lemon juice

1/4 teas cayenne

Mix well and pour over salad ingredients. Fold until everything is coated. Chill at least four hours. May need more mayonnaise after chilling. Enjoy!


This is my recipe that first appeared in my cookbook “Cookin’ on the Wood Stove” and now in the “Best of the “Best of Alaska” cookbook.

In a large mixing bowl:

1 cup butter softened

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 cup of evaporated milk

Mix until blended.


1 20 oz can pineapple chunks, drained and *reserve juice for sauce (this depends on how much pineapple you want — I use the whole can but half a can is sufficient also)

1 20 oz can crushed pineapple plus juice

8 or 9 slices of dry homemade bread slices, torn in pieces

Pour over dry bread crumbs and let liquid absorb. Pour in buttered cast iron skillet, cover (or a buttered pan, cover with foil.) Put in oven at 325 degrees 2 hours. Take off lid and bake 30 minutes. Test with knife.

P.S. You can “cook” this on top of wood stove, in the skillet with lid on — but it requires a constant wood heat and takes about 2 hours to cook through. Test with fork.

For the sauce:

In a sauce pan

1 can 8oz can crushed pineapple

The *reserved juice

1 teas lemon juice

Pinch of salt

1 teas cornstarch

2 tbsp water

Bring to boil and turn off heat

Ladle over pudding in serving dish and top with whipped cream.


Cook this in the morning on the wood stove before you go to church and it will done and ready to serve when you get home or can put this in crock-pot with lid. In a cast iron skillet if you put it on the top of your woodstove, set it on jar lids and go to church.

Heat 2 tblsp vege oil in skillet and brown chicken that you have dredged in flour.

Pour over top after chicken pieces have browned:

1/2 cup chopped onion

3/4 cup ketchup

1/3 cup vinegar

2 tblsp brown sugar

1/2 cup water, or a little more-you be the judge

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/4 tsp each salt and pepper

Fold and stir into the chicken, put lid on and place on top of jar lids if you are using the wood stove.

Or turn crock pot on high for two-three hours. This will cook faster if all ingredients are warm before you put in crock pot. Everything is done when you get back from church or chopping wood or visiting your neighbors. Serve with canned corn with small amount of chopped onion and green pepper and butter.