Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dutch Oven Roasted Porcupine Recipe

When camping, many Alaskans prefer to gather and catch their dinner.  The gathering part is clearly the vegetarian portion of the feast. Fiddlehead ferns, fireweed shoots, berries, spruce tips, rose hips and mushrooms (chosen with great care).

The Eskimo half, however; is usually composed of some kind of small game. Fish is the obvious choice, but, in case you are tired of fish, there are other options available to you. 

Birds, there are several species you can enjoy, the problem is you have to catch them. This process is complicated by their flying and such. Less air-borne options include rabbit or squirrel. Let’s face it though, the first is too cute and the second is EWWW!

Turns out there is an additional option which is just ugly enough to bear killing for dinner; the lowly porcupine. These beasts are slow, easy to hunt, and have enough meat on them to feed a small crew of campers.

Clearly, I’m not speaking from experience. This recipe was gleaned from our good friends, Dustin and Alasha Brito. Truth is neither of them is Eskimo or vegetarian, but they are Alaskan through and through! Additional truth, my Eskimo husband has never eaten a porcupine. But it’s worth noting he would never tire of fish so it wouldn’t be necessary.

Hence, if you plan to camp in rural Alaska but don’t feel like fish for dinner, go with Dustin and Alasha! Or try your hand at the recipe they’ve provided.

Dutch Oven Roasted Porcupine

1 porcupine (no-known vegetarian substitution)
2 - 3 potatoes
3 - 4 carrots
1 - 2 onions
olive oil
salt and pepper

Locate a porcupine. Once located, no need to waste a bullet, porcupines are slow. Just find a large stick and treat it like a fish; whack it on the head till it stops twitching.

Use said stick weapon to transport your kill back to camp so as not to quill yourself. Build a fire. Drop your catch in and roll it around with earlier-employed stick to singe the quills. They’ll shrivel up like hair. There are other methods of ridding the beast of its quills, but they are not nearly as interesting so I’ve left them out.

Clean it, quarter it; don’t ask me how. Just find someone who can do it, or take a field dressing guide with you and go for it!

Back to your fire, build it up big and let it burn down to coals while you prepare your meat.

Cut root vegetables into large chunks and place in the dutch oven.

Rub the quarters of porcupine with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and garlic. Place meat into the middle of the dutch oven with vegetables surrounding it. Drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle salt, pepper and garlic on vegetables to taste.

Place the dutch oven deep into the coals of the fire. Shovel coals onto the top of it. Keep the fire going and move additional hot coals as needed to keep dutch oven hot.

Check for doneness after 45 minutes. Cut into a thick piece of meat to see if it’s browned through. It will likely take 60 - 90 minutes to cook.

Pull dutch oven out of the fire. Serve and (ah-men) enjoy.

Next camping trip: Porcu-bacon!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Eskimo-Spoused, Vegetarian Moms of Canadian Origin Support Group

There should really be a support group for Eskimo-spoused, vegetarian moms of Canadian origin whose 12-year-old sons are taking their hunters education test! I realize this is a narrow demographic, but today I’d make good use of it!

At 8:20 this morning I sheepishly signed a document which basically stated - I’m paraphrasing here - the two florescent-orange clad men you see before you, whom you have never met, are here-by allowed to spend the day teaching your son how to handle and fire a gun.

Really?! Kripes!!!

I signed it.

The email I received two weeks ago was supposed to be reassuring. Don’t worry, it stated,  there’s no need to bring your own gun, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has 22 rifles your child can use. And fear not, there will be a very thorough permission slip for you to sign releasing us of all liability from injury to said child. 

Oh yeah, feeling much better now!

This might just be me, but I’d really like the instructors to bear some responsibility for the welfare of my child! And, by the way, when they say they have 22 rifles for them to use, are they referring to quantity or type? Because I only saw two instructors, so I’m thinking there should really only be two rifles!

This is a culture-melding experience that is particularly difficult for me. Growing up, while I came from an incredibly outdoorsy family, I don’t recall ever seeing a gun. I knew some were around, but I never had to look at one, much less fire one. Now that I find myself living in a place where bears show up across the street. Suddenly a gun seems like a decent addition to the household.

Then there’s the cultural factor. My husband’s family has been hunting for survival as long as time itself. Getting a moose each fall may not be necessary for survival anymore, but it’s definitely a very important way to support the community. Hunting and fishing in the Yupik culture isn’t done for just your own family. The able bodied hunt for those who can’t. That is still the practice today.  

How could I not further a cultural value of supporting others? Hence, when my 12-year-old son (who, by the way, is also a vegetarian) tells me he wants to learn how to hunt so he can go with Dad and Uppa, I say yes. I’m not going to lie; while my eyes filled with tears of joyful pride, my heart rate increased and I began employing the same breathing technique I learned in childbirth class. But I still said yes.

So here I sit. Drinking my coffee, writing to you, watching the time creep by as I wait for 2 PM - the hour my son will be returned to my care. There will be much rejoicing! 

In the mean time, hee-hee-who-who, hee-hee-who-who, hee-hee-who-who...

Friday, February 17, 2012


Hello. My name is Denise and I am an addict.

I feel so much better getting that off my chest! My addiction runs deep. So deep, in fact, that it has kept me from my blog! Actually I don't even want to be writing this right now. I’d rather be on!

The obsession began innocently enough; a brief conversation with my aunt that started me thinking. Hmm... One thing led to another and the next thing I knew I surfing the Ancestry wave! There I was clicking on those little leaves and getting a rush. I’m not proud but I’m jonesin’ for a little Ancestry just describing it to you.

Trust me when I say I could go on for a very long time telling you about the things I’ve discovered in my family’s background. There are civil and revolutionary war veterans; heroes even, from the North and the South, Loyalists and Patriots. There are ministers of every variety of protestant denomination - a common thread throughout our family - including a profound number of Quakers. There is a band of outlaw brothers who are referenced in nearly every history book that addresses the revolutionary war. I blame them for everything that’s wrong with my family! There’s even a decent quantum of royal blood. That line dead-ended with a man born in 1440 named Sir Lancelot! I’m just sayin’!

Investigation of the “vegetarian” side naturally led to the same for the “Eskimo” side. That was a short-lived effort. I did find reference to my mother-in-law by way of a census when they lived in Washington and... that was about it.

I’m not surprised. There aren’t many early Alaskan records, and that is compounded by the fact that records of Alaskan Native populations were even more sparse than that of the white population. In addition the obvious and already-stated complications, there is the fact that my husband’s grandfather was the first generation to use more than one name.

You see, in the world that was early 1900s rural Alaska, there was no need to have a first name and a surname. People lived in isolated regions with those they’d known for generations.

That all changed, however, when the missionaries arrived - a lot changed then but those are different stories for different times. Call it an egocentric world view, the selfish desire to be able to call people by names familiar to them, or a method of stripping away the identity of an indigenous population - for several reasons “Christian” names were assigned. In turn, in the case of Gary’s grandfather, his Yupik name became his surname. Hence my husband’s grandfather and all his brothers have different last names. In other words, if you find a Chythlook, they aren’t just related to us, they are very closely related.

Imagine my surprise then when I located a WWII draft registration card written for a 54-year-old man named Nikita Chythlook living in Aleknagik, Alaska. This record provokes several questions. First off, neither my father-in-law or my mother-in-law know who this is. Secondly, in 1942 there were only 5 Chythlooks in existence to our knowledge; my husband’s grandfather and his wife, along with my father-in-law’s 3 older siblings, the oldest of which would’ve been about 8. Finally, all these Chythlook’s lived in Togiak - not Aleknagik - at the time.

One clue about the record is who filled it out: a man named Frank Waskey; who my in-laws know. Frank Waskey was a friend of my husband’s grandfather - the first Chythlook.

Commence pointless, yet amusing, speculation:
It is possible there was another man, living in Aleknagik, with the given name Chythlook, which would’ve then become his surname. The name Nikita, having Russian origin, is one that Russian orthodox missionaries may have given. If this is the case, this man, along with any possible descendants died before our Chythlooks moved to Aleknagik just a few years later because they have no memory of them. This possibility is unlikely though, seeing as these two areas were connected through hunting and fishing. The chances of them not knowing of each other is slim.  

A second possibility is that this man was related in some way to my husband’s grandfather but had not been given a “Christian” first name, and thereby would not have a surname. Frank Waskey may have simply assigned him “Chythlook” in order to fill in the “Last Name” box and have some kind of reference about who the person was. 

Thirdly, there is a chance that Frank Waskey didn’t know very many men with a last name and - in honor of his friend - he simply gave this person the last name of Chythlook!

Naturally I asked my in-laws to shed some light on their ancestral tree. Those of you who just laughed out loud know that’s easier asked than understood. The family tree has so many limbs going in each and every direction it’s more like a bush! In fact, I have decided that may not be able to keep up with the “Eskimos” of the Vegetarian-Eskimos!

So where does that leave my ancestral hunt? Well, filling in the details of name and place may be difficult but it doesn’t matter. I know the answer to my original question.

The Chythlooks are Yupik Eskimos from the Bristol Bay region - the place that’s always been - having lived there longer than any record would show. They are a people who have successfully adapted to a harsh and ever-changing environment to thrive for thousands of years. They are leaders in their community; past, present and future. But most importantly,  they knew who they were before I ever thought to ask the question and I am overwhelmed with the honor of being a Chythlook.