Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cookbook Corner - Cooking Alaska

When I first arrived here in Anchorage, Mr EA (who had moved up here a few weeks before me) greeted me at the airport with this book. This may not sound like a thoughtful gift, but it was. He did this because I collect cookbooks, so he figured it would be a nice way to welcome me to our new home. Also, we had been hearing tales of whale blubber and woe from some of our East Coast loved ones, and this was a subtle way of telling me "See, there's real food to eat here - although, yes, some of it is moose-based!"
Cooking Alaskan (By Alaskans) is a wonderful book, which I cannot recommend strongly enough for the curious. Put together from a wide variety of sources, it is probably the most complete snapshot of how Alaskans of all stripes cook and eat. There are native recipes for hunted and gathered subsistence fare, recipes featuring packaged food used alone or in combination with native foods, recipes left over from Russia's tenure as landlord, and recipes attempting to cuisine-up native foods. A fair amount of this cookbook is written for people who have just come into possession of a moose ( a whole moose) or a boatload of fish. Because they or their spouse just went out and got it. It starts at that assumption and tells you what to do from there. However, there are also recipes for folks who went to Fred Myer's and bought a frozen fish filet. In short, there's something for everyone!
Along with recipes, there are tips and stories, all in the original voice of the authors - many of which are well worth the price of admission by themselves. As I read this, I find myself thinking of a coworker who was born and raised here, the daughter of two government employees, who grew up in Homer and has lived all over the state. She was here during the '64 quake - was downtown shopping for a prom dress, as a matter of fact. She has a lot of really interesting stories, a fair number of which are about food. She once told me that she had never had beef-steak until she was in her late teens, and she still hates the smell of it, though she has gotten used to the flavor over the years. Although I am not (and probably will never be) an Alaskan to that level, there is a lot in this cookbook even for me. I have used it several times when confronted with unusual ingredients, and I plan to try out more whenever possible.
If you visit Alaska (or live here), you will not have to work hard to find a copy. Despite being roughly the same size and shape as the Anchorage phone book, it is prominently positioned for sale at most of the major tourist shops and the airport as well as in local bookshops and grocery stores. If you are curious about what real Alaskans eat, outside the range of what everyone in America eats, then this book is a good place to start.

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