In California we thought we where homesteaders – making our jams, pickling, canning, dehydrating and growing our garden, but Alaskans win in this category. Food is expensive in Alaska, and Alaskans are true homesteaders doing it out of necessity, while in California we do it because enjoy trying to make the most out of our garden. The local food scene here isn’t a scene, it’s away of life, away to survive. With the short summer season things come fast and go quick, to survive the winter everyone freezes cans and stores what they fish, hunt, forage, and garden. Our friends Tim and Amy have a large freezer stocked full of salmon, halibut, caribou, berries and veggies from the garden, it’s a true survival lifestyle. You eat what you kill to survive the cold winters. In Homer the Alaskan gardens and farmers markets have berries, lettuces, kale, broccolini, rhubarb, some squash and green tomatoes (it’s hard to get red ones without a light and green house to extend your season). Berries grow everywhere, both wild and cultivated. Red raspberries, yellow raspberries, blueberries, black currants, strawberries, gooseberries, and low bush cranberries can all be foraged or grown in abundance. Alaskan strawberries are smaller and lighter in color, but the flavor sweet is amazing. While blueberries can be quite small and tart, almost like a huckleberry, are great for pickling and jams. While there are plenty of good restaurants and eateries scattered across the state you will find the best dishes at home. Alaskans take pride in their cooking. Potlucks and friends houses are the best place to eat, while at Tim and Amy’s house they treated us to; smoke fish, jams and jellies, fresh halibut and salmon, caribou, fresh kale, lettuces, squash and broccolini, also a kings portion of king crab that he traded for. These foods that are all coveted in the lower forty eight and you will pay a pretty penny for. In Alaska salmon, halibut, and game meat are in abundance. Locals are always trying to find new and inventive ways to cook with them, like salmon curry or caribou tacos.
Before we arrived at Tim and Amy’s home we met them on the Russian River for a night of camping and two days of fishing. The reds, sockeye, where running so that means busy fishing on the river, or what the locals call combat fishing. It’s a bit like you might picture, a bunch of people all lined up on the riverside about ten feet apart fishing to get their limit. It was amazing to watch and incredible to behold the fish people were catching. As Californians, and I have only seen pictures of big fish caught in Alaska. In person it is amazing, so many fish, they were jumping and biting all over the place. We pan seared the tails fresh in a cast iron skillet. I also ate some crudo with soy, salt, olive oil, aged balsamic, or just plain. What we couldn’t eat we brined and smoked or vacuum sealed for the freezer. We have been eating a lot of smoked salmon since Washington, so to have it be from our own catch is so amazing, and much less expensive. Alaska feels like the last wild place, the last place in the United States you can truly have a lifestyle where you actually kill, catch, and forage most of what you eat. Makes me understand why they call it the last frontier.
Stacy’s dad came to meet us for a visit for 10 days to spend the 4th of July, and her birthday. We stayed in Homer on the water for the first few days, because the water is so clean and pristine up here everything just taste even better, especially the local oysters. Brian and Chuck went out on a six pack ocean fishing day trip. Even though they didn’t get the bug barn door of a halibut they where hopping for they brought back enough halibut and rock fish to feed the family for a year. It was a magical day with a humpback whale circling the boat and feeding in the same waters they fished in. Two days later, Tim’s friend Aaron, a professional guide on the Kenai, took them out on his boat, on his day off, to catch reds, Sockeye salmon, and kings. Chuck got his limit of reds, but no luck on the kings. While on the boat Aaron shared stories of some of the celebs he has taken out. One a senator who’s name or state I won’t mention, kept falling asleep during a king fishing derby, and Aaron had to yell, “Senator” every time his pole was bent to the water with a strike to wake him up, “Senator”. The best thing about the Kenai is that is one of the most accessible fisheries in Alaska, it is also the down side. It can be crowded and kings can be hard to catch. If you have the ablilty or the money, the best fishing in Alaska is done in the bush by plain or boat, where it’s just you and the bears competing for fish.
Back up to the Russian River, a truly beautiful spot, is where we took Chuck next. The fishing wasn’t happening anymore, we where to late for the first run red’s and to early for the second, so we hiked up to a waterfalls to watch the salmon climb up and try to spawn in a lake above. It was like a national geographic show, – amazing! The salmon have to go through so much to spawn. Like sperm most of the don’t even make it to the spawning grounds. First there are the commercial fisherman who take about a million fish, then are the sport and subsistence fisherman who take another million through fixed netting, dip netting, flipping, flossing, snagging fly fishing and fish wheels. Then we have the bears, gulls and ravens who pick them off as the turn redder and redder while traveling up stream. After the Russian we spent one night in the small town of Hope, a fun little spot with a wild weekend bar and music scene. The whole town of Hope had to be moved back after sinking and flooding in the big earth quake of 64. So on the weekends the locals from around the area come to camp and party on the marsh. Drinking and listening to music at the only bar in town, the Seaview. People were fishing for silvers on the river here and the pie in this town was to die for. Tito’s, a great place for lunch and breakfast, or just a beer, the banana cream pie and strawberry rhubarb pie that was out of this world. The lady has been making the pies there for over 20 years.
We stayed at Alyeska lodge for Stacy’s birthday. It was incredible, we swam in the pool, she had a massage, and we went to a great dinner – best dinner out so far at a place called Jack Sprat. After dinner rode a gondola up to the top of the mountain for dessert and a cocktail at Seven Glaciers. Then we took a small hike to see the view, and then slept like rock stars in a king sized bed, it’s nice to take a break from the Airstream. A vacation from our vacation.
To wrap my Chucks stay we went to Seward and took the boat out to see the Kenia Peninsula National Park. It was amazing and our first glacier that fell directly into the sea. We also saw killer whales, hump back whales, salmon, sea lions, birds, the Chisel Islands, incredible coast lines and pristine blue water. For my dad’s final day, they went fishing and gave the snagging technique a try, and caught 4 large salmon. We sent my dad home with about 20 pounds of salmon on the plane (plus the 20 pounds of Halibut and Cod they caught on the boat that he shipped back – not bad). Now we have to restock the freezer before we head back to lower 48 – we sent it all back with him. Luckily a salmon run is running up the river.
We dropped Chuck off in Anchorage and decided to go and visit a old friend of Brian’s who has a food truck and hot sauce business called Bear Mace and a food truck called Bear Mace Bites. The food truck’s signature dish was an awesome Spicy Chicken Sandwich. We also picked up a bunch of the hot sauce which has a super fun label. We are looping back to Homer to visit our friend’s there one last time, and then we will be starting our decent back into the Lower 48.