On rural Alaska's holiday tables: moose-head soup, muktuk, Jell-O pie

mtheriault@adn.comNovember 27, 2013 

In Kotzebue, Thanksgiving dinner will include frozen sheefish cut with a bandsaw. In Nome, salmonberry pie with a graham cracker crust. In Huslia, moose-head soup and roasted goose.

People who live in rural Alaska say Thanksgiving is a time to share the best of what you have with the community, whether that's muktuk or green-bean casserole.

The residents of Little Diomede Island -- where you actually can see Russia -- will sit down to a communal feast featuring turkey helicoptered in from Nome and perhaps some walrus stew, said Willis Ferenbaugh, the school principal.

Turkey, fruit salad and pumpkin pies ordered by the school district arrived on Monday's passenger service flight from Nome.

Ferenbaugh is hoping some seal ribs or soup also appear at the feast, which he thinks will attract about 50 people.

"I expect all the kids on the island to be here," he said. "And probably one adult per kid."

In the hub town of Nome, people will bring village specialties to the multitude of church potlucks happening Thursday, said Charles Brower, a Methodist pastor.

Folks from the Teller area are likely to bring reindeer soup because a herd roams the area.

St. Lawrence Islanders living in Nome usually bring walrus.

"Most of their food is from the ocean," he said. "But they had a bad year for walrus, so I'm not sure what to expect."

Brower will bring muktuk from his hometown of Barrow.

"The old folks prefer the boiled uunaalik because it's softer and they might not have too good of teeth."

He prefers it raw.

Akpik pie, made with salmonberries, orange Jell-O, a graham cracker crust and whip cream, is another potluck staple.

Just about every one of the town's seven or so churches is hosting a meal.

"You could go from one to another to another," he said.

In Kotzebue, Jimmie Evak was spending the day before Thanksgiving soaking beans and thawing caribou for chili for another church potluck.

Potlucks are also a big deal in the Northwest Arctic town, in particular the one held at Kotzebue Friends Church.

"They get many people who don't usually go to church," he said. "Everyone goes all out."

The menu is expected to include baked, boiled, fried or frozen, raw sheefish.

Also on the menu: salmon casserole, turkey (cost in town, according to Evak: about $45 for a small bird) and pumpkin pie.

A treat of muktuk, sent down from North Slope bowhead-hunting villages, was also expected to be on offer.

"People will be standing there cutting it up into pieces. It takes a long time. You kind of have a crew cutting up the stuff."

An abundant berry harvest on the tundra this fall would mean plenty of kayusaaq, a cranberry sauce.

"You put the cranberries in the pot, add water, sugar and a little flour then you boil all that together. I was thinking of doing that for my own self tomorrow because I picked like 19 quarts of cranberries this fall," Evak said. "That was pretty good for myself but some ladies picked 10 or 20 gallons."

In the Interior Athabascan village of Huslia, Elsie Vent was planning to cook a turkey her niece won as a door prize at a Halloween carnival.

Moose-head soup, which is exactly what it sounds like, and a roasted goose will also be on the table at her dad's house.

"They stuff it. They roast it until it gets tender," Vent said. "Man, it's good."

In the Tlingit village of Angoon, on Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska, Marcie Kookesh figured she'd be spending Thanksgiving making pelmeni.

Angoon residents developed a taste for the hot, butter-drowned meat dumplings on trips to a Juneau pelmeni shop, she said.

Now they can order them homemade by the dozen from Kookesh, who delivers by car.

"I figure I'll sell them during lunch tomorrow because people might be making their Thanksgiving dinners."

Cecilia Martz, who is from the village of Chevak and lives in Bethel, will be eating a version of akutaq made with mashed potatoes, Crisco, olive oil, water and salmonberries or blackberries.

Once a friend in Anchorage offered her a taste of a concoction known as "turducken," which is a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey, all boneless.

That was a little confusing, Martz said, because the best part of Thanksgiving is picking the meat off the turkey bone.

There's a Yup'ik word for that: pukuk.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.


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