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Gearing up for the Alaska Food Challenge

May 2, 2011

February 2011

We met with other food challenge participants in the formative stages of the challenge. As we started thinking of the reality of eating solely Alaskan foods for one year, we started analyzing what we ate, and figuring out how we would continue to have it, or an equivalent, in our diet. At each meal we would ask, which of these things are from Alaska? Which could have been (i.e., it is available locally, even if we had not bought it locally)? What can we do to make this local? Can we grow this ourselves?

Meats, poultry, eggs, seafood and many dairy products are readily available in the nearby Matanuska-Susitna valley, a prime farming area of the state. Additionally, we tend to bring home at least 50 pounds of salmon fillets from our fishing each year, as well as a freezer-full of caribou or moose when we get lucky on the hunting front. We are not particularly worried about our protein and dairy sources during this coming year.

March 2011 – Bread and Pasta

One of our first challenges was bread and, by extension, pasta. We already made our own bread, but purchased the whole wheat flour in a local bulk food section, we knew it was not Alaskan. So we picked up a small bag of barley from one of our food challenge compatriots, and set about learning how to make barley bread. The results, while tasty, were rather rock-like in consistency. Although coupled with whole wheat flour, we could get a nice loaf. We had been told that there was no Alaskan wheat available, but on a trip to Fairbanks, I discovered that was not accurate. I purchased a pound of local wheat and ground it at the shop where I purchased it. It made a fine loaf of bread. Randy then started calling around, and the agricultural extension agent in Delta Junction helped him locate a farmer with wheat to sell. We teamed up with other AFC members to get a good price, split the cost of shipping, and now have 150 pounds of wheat to last through the fall. The only thing in the bread that is not local is the sugar and yeast, which we still purchase from the grocery store.

Next challenge was crackers or chips. We tend to have happy hour snacks comprised of salmon dip and chips or cheese and crackers, and wanted a good substitute. We discovered the Fanny Farmer Baking Book held a small selection of cracker recipes, as did Mary Randolph’s 1825 cookbook, The Virginia Housewife. We found that the water crackers turned out well, and also found a recipe from Steve Reinhart of the LA Times that worked quite well.

April 2011 – Dips, Fruits and Veges

Now that we’ve figured out the crackers, let’s move on to the dips – we usually use cream cheese, but neither that nor sour cream are locally produced. We are now experimenting with yogurt, which we produce ourselves from local milk, as a substitute in these dishes. Another common dip ingredient is mayonnaise, made with egg and oil, we realized oil is also not produced in Alaska. (One farmer in Delta Junction does plant and harvest rapeseed, and presses it into oil, but uses it for animal feed, not for human consumption.) Whereas butter or applesauce work as oil substitutes in many recipes, neither is adequate for making mayonnaise. Hmmm – does oil have to be an exception?

Vegetables are abundant in Alaska, especially through the summer season. With a large garden and a root cellar, we are able to grow almost enough of our root crops to last through the year, and those same crops are available for purchase from Mat-Su growers in the event we have a bad year. Greens and non-root vegetables can be blanched and frozen, cabbage can be made into sauerkraut. All these are things we’ve been doing for years, so we’re comfortable in our preservation techniques. WE’re optimistic that we can grow and preserve vegetables for the year.

Fruits, however, we have a tendency to purchase, apples, bananas, oranges, for example, make up a large part of our winter shopping list. So we sat down to figure out how much fruit we eat, and what we would need to do to replace what we normally buy. Apples actually are available in Alaska, although they are pretty hard to get. Our idea: buy apples and make applesauce, pie filling that can be frozen, and place some apples in the root cellar, where they might keep for at least a few months. As we counted the number of portions needed in a day from October through the following June, we estimated that 32 gallons need to be collected and somehow stored. We grow, or can buy locally, strawberries, raspberries, currants and rhubarb. We know we will be able to buy or harvest apples. To fill in the rest, we plan to forage for blueberries, currants, and low-bush cranberries (lingonberries). All these should be freezable, and some can be stocked as jams, jellies or chutneys. One challenge, though, is how to make the jams and jellies without sugar. Although honey is readily available, sugar is not grown locally. We also plan to try dehydrating some of the fruits, which can be reconstituted into a jam, if necessary.

April 25, 2011 – Pasta Making

First try at pasta-making with fresh-ground whole wheat flour. The recipe we tried was just egg and wheat. We’d been given a pasta maker, but no instructions or recipes, but the pasta turned out bland yet pasta-like. We’ll get better with practice, I’m sure. It was just fine with spaghetti sauce.

April 27 – Pizza

Made a 100% whole wheat pizza crust and covered it with almost all-Alaskan ingredients, chicken, spinach, mushrooms, goat cheese from the MatSu valley and a pesto sauce (oil not from Alaska – there are those pesky oils again!

The crust worked beautifully and had a good flavor. We did add ¼ cup gluten to the 2 cups of freshly-ground whole wheat flour.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2011 11:53 pm

    Fascinating!

  2. June 24, 2011 10:50 am

    get a sourdough started with Alaskan natural yeasts and you won’t need any commercial yeast. Give me a minute to thinnk about the sugar you need to feed the yeast. I’ll come up with some thing.

    Oh, ok, birch syrup, a perfect food, frutose so it is quick to be consumed by the yeast – and all Alaska.

  3. October 16, 2011 2:49 pm

    I loved finding this blog! My cousin raised bees for the first time this year, and will attempt to winter them over. I know you can get local honey from a lot of people, so that might solve the sugar issue. Oil is truly more difficult, though. Butter or lard work in baking, but the mayonnaise would be tricky.
    I have a huge garden and an orchard, plus my son raised hogs and a steer this year for meat. We have also had chickens for meat and eggs for years. I find extreme satisfaction in setting a table with an entire meal of food I’ve grown or caught / hunted ourselves.
    I look forward to reading more of your documentation.

  4. October 24, 2011 8:31 pm

    Tam,
    Thank you for your comments, I enjoyed reading your website, and love your green woman icon. You are right – oil is challenging, and we are still buying some, using butter whenever possible, and oil when necessary.
    Randy and I are thinking about buying chickens for eggs and meat, as the main chicken-grower in Alaska stopped producing this summer. Do you have any good advice on plucking the chickens? Not knowing how to do that is the main thing keeping us from trying it!

  5. Kathryn permalink
    June 25, 2012 6:28 am

    OIL is really easy! Grow sunflowers and get a piteba oil press. The best part is sunflower oil is light soo very good for salads and is a water soluable oil so very good for you and to top it off it is a high heat oil as well 🙂

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