Many holiday traditions date back hundreds -- if not thousands -- of years. And many of those traditions date to the "old country," depending on where family lineage goes.
The bakers at Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop in downtown Anchorage take this history seriously. They have many holiday favorites including babka and rugelach, however, their favorite is the German stollen, which is a traditional Christmas fruitcake.
"It's the most labor-intensive loaf we make," says head baker Jerry Lewanski. "I'm obsessed with making everything as flavorful as possible."
And they got started weeks ago.
In mid-November, Lewanski and his team peeled organic limes, lemons and grapefruits and then dipped the citrus rinds three times into alternating baths of boiling and cold water to blanch out the bitterness. The bakers then dipped the rinds into a boiling sugar solution three times before packing them into airtight containers of granulated sugar.
"When you bite into these things you really get an intense fruit flavor," Lewanski says.
Fire Island orders five varieties of dried fruit for the stollen from a wholesaler in Eugene, Ore. The bakers pour one bottle of Courvoisier cognac and two bottles of Bacardi dark rum over 30 pounds of dried plums, currents, cranberries, raisins, and cherries. The fruit soaks up the liquor for 24 hours, giving it a complex flavor.
Lewanski selected organic white flour for the stollen, but he also sprinkles in a tiny amount of flour ground from teff, a grass native to the highlands of Ethiopia. "The teff adds a little depth to the color and the flavor," Lewanski says. "It's slightly nutty, slightly earthy."
The soaked fruit makes the loaves difficult to form, but once that task is complete the stollen needs just 30 minutes in the Fire Island oven and a final brush of organic butter and sugar before the four-week process is complete.
"Quick approaches to baking don't work. I'm totally convinced it takes that amount of time to get a product that really sets a standard for flavor," Lewanski says. "And our German customers love it."
It's a taste of the old country with a current stamp of approval.
Tanner crab, other seafood
The Alaska Marine Conservation Council is offering tanner crab caught around Kodiak Island to Anchorage and Kodiak residents through the Catch of the Season project.
The crab, which should be available shortly after the season opens Jan. 15, will be delivered as cooked, frozen leg clusters. Boxes are available in two sizes: 10 pounds for $150 or 25 pounds for $350. Deliveries are only available in Anchorage and Kodiak.
To subscribe, contact the council at 277-5357. The deadline to subscribe is Jan. 13. Gift certificates are available for the holidays.
The Johnson family will have seafood available in Southcentral through the end of the week. The familiar truck and hand-painted seafood signs will be in the following locations: the Shell station at DeBarr Road and Boniface Parkway in Anchorage today; in Seward and Wasilla on Thursday; at the Lucky Wishbone parking lot in Anchorage and at the Gold Mine Gift Store in Homer on Friday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at each location. Seafood options include Kodiak scallops, Alaska side stripe shrimp and cold-smoked king and sockeye salmon.
From the market
Today's Center Market at the Mall at Sears will have many of the regular vendors as the holidays near.
The Rempel Family Farm will have sugar pumpkins, stripetti squash, jumbo pink banana squash, carrots, parsnips, three varieties of beets, green cabbage and seven varieties of potatoes.
Duane Clark will be at the market with Alaska grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, Alaska seafood, and chicken and duck eggs. Matanuska Creamery will have eggnog, cheese and butter, and Northern Lights Mushrooms will have a variety of mushrooms.
The market is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Steve Edwards lives and writes in Anchorage. If you have a suggestion for a future Market Fresh column, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.