About reminiscing about Bob’s bonfires, cabins and friends

1985 TO 2018 North Nikiski, Alaska


A visit this Sunday from our friend John Turnbull triggered some memories about the cabins, bonfires and old friends who no longer live on earth but in our hearts.

When John comes to visit it seems to always end with memories and stories of the good times we have had and good times to come! John lived beside us at the cabins.

Bob started the tradition in our family many years ago,1985, the year we moved into the cabins, by clearing brush trash and garbage that persons before us threw down the hill. He had big grand fires about 15 feet from the lake. When neighbors saw the smoke and the glow, they would stop to say Hi. They ended up sitting around the fire for the night, because of the wonderful bonfire and the great fun getting to know new neighbors. We also would ask old friends to come by for a pot luck and an evening of relaxing by the fire.

In 1986 as soon as the ice and mounds of snow melted Bob was rebuilding the fire pit and expanding the area to sit. John came out of his cabin next door one day and I told him I could not stand the two sewer pipes sticking up in our front yard. John in his always ingenuity, took hollowed-out logs and placed them over the pipes. Next came a long piece of lumber that served as a bench. He placed that on top of the hollowed logs. This was our pondering bench! We drank many a cup of coffee sitting on the bench.

Next Bob built steps to the fire pit that was located over the bank from the cabins. Digging and scrounging up pieces of flat boards, he concocted a pretty nice set of steps. It sure made it easier for me to tote down the food I had prepared for the “orphan guys” who stopped after work to have a good chat with the rest of the neighbors. “Orphans” were young guys who were up from the Lower 48 without their families working in the oil field. Most were bachelors who appreciated a slab of homemade sourdough bread and a hunk of moose for a supper meal. Oh, yes — I always baked cookies and had them on hand. I loved cooking for the bonfire crowd, as it was so appreciated.

On the weekends the bonfires lasted into the wee hours during the summer and fall and sometimes winter. We would sit around in our various chairs, stumps and rocks singing to the sun just going behind the trees in the west and the moon coming up in the east. We also serenaded moose and once in a while and we had a hooty owl join in. Bob is the only one I know who can talk to owls and birds and they will talk back. It is fascinating!

Moose wandered close by on their way to the lake for a drink of cold water. They kept their distance but I am sure they enjoyed our musical talents! Sometimes guitars were in the orchestra for the night as the choir sang along in various tones, singing made up words from a long forgotten song.

One of the biggest problems I had was watching Bob taking things to the fire pit. In his cleanup mode he grabbed a chair off John’s porch that had one last leg to stand on and carting it off to the fire. I saved John’s inside chairs several times! Bob protested telling me that John needed new ones! The garden hose did not fare so well — it sure made lots of smoke.

The smoke from that fire brought all kinds of people from the neighborhood, down to see what was going on. A party ensued through the night and into the morning light. I went to bed late and Bob came to bed a little later.

Getting up to make cups of coffee – I looked out and there was John (JT) sitting on his stool by the last glowing embers of the bonfire. It was 7 a.m. Saturday morning! Bob took him a cup of coffee and threw some more old dead wood on the red embers and the bonfire party started all over again! Friday night melted into all day Saturday and that night and all day Sunday. By Sunday evening everyone slowly vanished into the woods to go home and rest up for the week of oil field welding or platform work. This happened very often on the weekends!

We made wonderful lasting friends. Our reminiscing included those who are no longer here, who have left this earth. It also included the funny things like John’s burnt pizza frisbee. He tossed a pizza in the oven and waiting for it to cook and laid down on the couch to nap. Much later, he woke up to smoke and the charred pizza in the oven. He opened up the door of his cabin just in time for me to be looking out of ours and all I saw was a black smoking object like a frisbee fly across the yard, landing in a smoking heap on the edge of the grass, then the distinct sound of a door slamming!

I so enjoyed cooking, making bread and cookies for the vagabond troop of bonfire worshippers. The various contributions of meat were neverending. I worked at M & M and filled in the detail of a simple meal. Moose and salmon was the most common, but once in a while son David would come up from Homer, where he fished on a boat for Brad Dickey. He brought us a huge amount of crab, shrimp, halibut and salmon. We ate that over a big fire in our front yard with boiling tub of water setting on top of some hot rocks, to cook the crab and shrimp. We shared with visitors who stopped by.

Those days are gone – some of the people are gone – but what we do have is wonderful memories of the things that made us most happy at the time.

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. 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 anninalaska@gci.net.

Upside-down peach gingerbread

For campfire or wood stove.

In a cast iron skillet, over low heat, melt:

¼ cup butter

½ cup brown sugar

Arrange 1 large can of sliced peaches over top – (Pineapple rings or crushed and rhubarb is equally good)

Place skillet back on stove to keep warm.

Either buy a gingerbread mix or stir up the following:

In a medium bowl:

2 cups flour

1 tsp soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

½ tsp cloves and salt

¼ teas nutmeg

In the mixer bowl, cream:

½ cup butter

½ cup molasses

½ cup sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 egg

Gradually add the dry ingredients to mixer and pour in ¾ cup hot coffee

Pour the batter over the hot peaches. Seal with foil or a lid and put directly on the medium hot wood stove or a campfire with hot rocks pushed to side, invert a larger pan over top. You will have to move the skillet around about every 10 minutes until done. This will take about an hour. OR on top of the wood stove for one hour with a larger pan inverted over top to form an oven. Serve right from the skillet.

OR bake in 375 degree oven for 45 minutes to hour, covered. Watch carefully on the woodstove or fire.

Three hole cake

In my younger days I wondered about “threeholecake” (all one word). Never figured it out until I watched it being made. Oh! Three Hole Cake!

In a bowl mix the following:

3 cups flour

2 cups sugar

6 tblsp cocoa

2 tsp[ soda

1 tsp salt

Mix with fork to blend.

Butter a foil 9 x 13 pan

Place the dry ingredients in the pan.

Make three holes in the flour.

In the first hole, put 2 tbsp vinegar

In the second hole, 1 cup vegetable oil.

In the third hole, 1 tsp vanilla

Add 2 cups warm water – slowly. (Not hot – warm)

Mix together with the fork, very slowly until blended.

Bake in 350 oven for 30 to 45 minutes.

Take out to cool.


3 cups sugar

½ cup cocoa

1 ¼ cup canned milk

½ stick butter

Place in saucepan and boil to soft ball stage

Take off stove and stir in 1 tsp vanilla

Place in a pan of cool water and start beating until thick. Spread on cake , but do not let the frosting get cold!

This is an old, old recipe before canned frosting and cake mixes. I use Fudge frosting from a can on mine.

Moose roast or beef on the campfire

Heat 2 tbsp oil in Dutch Oven.

Brown hunks of moose on all sides. From two to four pounds.


3 onions in chunks

2 cloves of garlic sliced

1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 bay leaf

1 tsp oregano

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

3 cups of hot beef broth or hot water or hot coffee

Cover and simmer over your campfire all day.

Two hours before you eat add:

6-7 potatoes scrubbed unpeeled and quartered

6-7 carrots cut in chunks

Let simmer until vegetables are done. Remove the meat and vegetables to platter and keep warm.

Heat the liquid adding 1 cup of water.

In a cup add two tblsp flour to ½ cup water, Stir to blend and add to boiling liquid. Cook until thick and no lumps.

Serve with the meat and vegetables. Add hot biscuits and you have a wonderful campfire meal.