Noses raised and pocketbooks opened.
The sweet smell of baked goods was enough to stop a crowd passing by in their tracks on Friday in Old Town Kenai and shell out cash for the goodies offered on paper plates covered in cellophane.
Dorothy Gray lures such strangers into Fort Kenay with the scent provided by her fry bread recipe. Then she hooks them with free sample.
“It has been kind of a neat thing,” said the apron-clad Gray said standing in the kitchen while helpers Lydia Pollard and Laura Mullan buzzed about. “People say, ‘What is fry bread?’ and are really curious.”
Fry bread, at first glance, is a simple enough item. Bread, fried and covered in a sweet topping — cinnamon or powdered sugar or perhaps butter, jam, honey or maple syrup. It’s doughier than funnel cake, thicker than a doughnut and heartier than a Danish.
One could guess the basic ingredients — flour, yeast, butter, eggs, sometimes milk and sugar, but the devil in the details, said Pollard, who was eagerly working frying pan.
“Everyone does it different,” Pollard said. “Anyone could basically follow a bread recipe and make fry bread. Some people have what they call a secret recipe, like Dorothy.”
Said Gray, with a laugh, “But we don’t want to give away our real secret recipe because then people will make their own and they won’t come here.”
Gray said she and her helpers sold scores of the baked goods throughout the summer to benefit a landmark a stone’s throw across the street — the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox church.
The goal of the event — called Fry Bread Friday — is to raise enough money to pay for a new fire suppression system at the church to protect its icons: two dozen original Russian paintings depicting various religious figures and scenes, Gray said. So far about $15,000 has been raised through the Friday fry bread sales, items sold at garage sales and from tourist donations collected at the iconic church.
“We are having a fire-misting system that is going to be installed next summer and it is very expensive, like $50,000,” she said. “Our church being a National Historic Landmark doesn’t have water. So there is going to be a new building constructed on the other side of the church between the church and the apartments.”
The fry bread sale idea came from another church and business was fairly good over the summer, Gray said.
“It is easy, we’ve got a mass production thing here and so we started this summer and it was very popular among the tourists because they would walk by here and we would get hundreds of people to see the church,” she said.
Gray said the sale would continue through the winter once a month. Among the other items available for sale on Friday were wheat bread loafs, pecan turtles, fudge, cinnamon rolls and fresh coffee.
“It was really fun, because when visitors come to Kenai, they are always looking for something authentic,” she said. “They want to learn about history, they want to learn about the culture and fry bread is part of the Native American culture not just here in Alaska, but throughout the nation.”
Pollard, who said she is half Aleut, said she has seen fry bread all over the Lower 48 and said the creation is still popular among Native Americans.
“It just amazes me that no matter where I’ve been, there’s fry bread,” she said.
Pollard reached onto a platter, picked up a dollop of dough and laid it into the pan as the sizzle echoed through the kitchen.
“You’ve got to watch the temperature, preferably hot, but not too hot,” she said poking at the soon-to-be-treat. “See how it’s boiling? It is sort of like doing doughnuts, OK? Same principle. They are delicious.”
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.