Ann Berg of Nikiski, or "Grannie Annie" as she is known to her readers, is keeping her creative juices flowing, her free time occupied and her family and friends fed with her home-style cookbooks.
Berg has written "Grannie Annie's Cookin' on the Wood Stove" and "Grannie Annie's Cookin' at the Homestead." In June she will release her third book, "Grannie Annie's Cookin' Fish from Cold Alaskan Waters."
Cooking has been a favorite pastime of Berg's since she was a little girl growing up on her family's farm in Colorado. Her grandmother and mother both cooked, which left Berg with many fond memories of the homemade biscuits, milk gravy, "the best Angel food cakes with real egg whites from the real chickens we had in the chicken yard," and other treats her mother used to whip up on the "big monster cooking stove" in the corner of the family's kitchen, she said.
Being the oldest of five children, Berg was recruited at a young age to help with kitchen duties.
"My mother was a wonderful self-taught cook and her love of cooking just sort of rubbed off on to me," Berg said.
"Cooking is a fun art for me and a nice way to entertain people and get to know people and have a lot of fun."
Her interest in cooking was solidified when she was 10 and she took a 4-H cooking class. Since then she's been saving family recipes, collecting new recipes and inventing her own.
"I like the challenge of new recipes and the challenge of old recipes," she said. "And I read cookbooks like novels."
One of Berg's favorite things about cooking is sharing recipes with others, she said, although this hobby had the unfortunate side effect of producing reams of recipe papers that accumulated in her house.
"I have boxes and boxes of loose recipes that I no longer could hang on to without stumbling over and I thought if I put them in book form I could throw the papers away and share my recipes I've gathered through the years with friends and relatives."
Ann Berg standing next to the appetizers she made for a book-signing event at Fireweed Herb Garden and Gifts in Kenai in 2001.
Two years ago Berg began organizing her recipes into book form. To do so she first had to learn how to use a computer, which didn't cause her too much trouble, since she felt "you're never too old to learn how to use a computer," she said.
The second challenge to producing her cookbooks was finding a publisher for them. In each of her books, Berg included stories and anecdotes about her childhood, her family and friends and life in Alaska.
Many of the stories were memories of her father, John McClure, and were written in the style he used to tell his stories, including unusual spellings and phrases.
It took Berg a while to find a publisher that would print both her recipes and stories, without changing the grammar and spelling. She started writing her first book in November 2000 and found a publisher, Printed By Cookbook Publishers, Inc., for it in 2001.
The first book, "Grannie Annie's Cookin' on the Wood Stove," is a collection of older recipes Berg wanted to preserve, like Beer Stew on the Wood Stove and One-Pot Dinner.
"They're all old recipes that have been used to cook on cook stoves and wood-heating stoves," Berg said. "I just didn't want to have them disappear from history, so I wrote them down. Some are mine, some are my mom's and some are my grandmother's, and some are from my friends in Alaska."
The "Grannie Annie's Cookin' at the Homestead" book is a more general cookbook, including recipes for everything from main dishes to desserts. Again, several recipes have come from years of Berg swapping with friends.
All the recipes in the cookbooks call for basic everyday ingredients -- "nothing fancy" as she says. Berg has lived far away from the convenience of a grocery store for many years of her life, so she became a master at making meals with what you've got on hand, like fish, moose, ptarmigan and berries.
"When you live so far away from town and you have basic ingredients, you better be pretty diverse in what you're feeding your family or they'll get tired of it," she said.
Berg moved with her three children, Gail, David and Susan, three suitcases and $100 to Alaska in 1967. She moved around a bit, spending time in Eagle River and Wasilla before settling permanently in Nikiski with her husband, Bob.
Ann Berg's first cookbook, published in 2001.
She has worked a variety of jobs, including running restaurants in Wasilla and Eagle River. Currently she is concentrating on promoting her two cookbooks, which are available at Fireweed Herb Garden and Gifts in Kenai and from Berg.
She plans to write two more cookbooks in the future, another one on fish and one of random recipes she wants to preserve but that didn't fit in her other books. First, though, Berg plans to pursue some sewing and other projects before she finishes her writing.
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