Wednesday, April 15, 2009
By Hank Pennington
(Published by permission. Thanks, Hank!)
Here’s an interesting question for you. What proportion of your family’s food originates on Kodiak Island?
Sure anglers and hunters can make significant contributions to the family larder, but in all honesty, how much meat do you buy in addition to that which you bring in from the field.
Of course, when we’re talking about food, there’s more on our table than fish, fowl and red meat. Do you garden? Do you harvest wild plants and berries?
With the high cost of food these days, any contributions you can make along those lines is going to have a direct impact on your family’s food budget.
I’ll be the first to admit that hunting and fishing is expensive. But I also have to admit that if I stopped buying fishing tackle and hunting gear tomorrow, I could probably continue putting meat on the table for another ten years or more. That’s right. An awful lot of what I buy is a matter of interest, curiosity and impulse rather than necessity.
But let’s return to my original question and see how our household compares to yours.
I’m absolutely certain that we don’t spend as much as $50 a month on any meat products. That which we buy is more of a supplement to our wild meats than necessity.
Our own list includes bacon or sausage, a little chicken, and on rare occasions other forms of pork ranging from roasts to chops to steaks.
The remainder of our meat supplies comes from Kodiak.
By actual count we have fourteen species of local fish and shellfish in our freezer right now, and some years the total runs higher. Year after year our larder includes some mix of all five species of salmon, Dolly Varden, rainbow trout, halibut, cod, Pollack, two species of rockfish, ling cod, greenling, two species of flounder or sole, scallops, Dungeness crab, king crab and tanner crab.
Wait a minute! There are twenty-one species on the list! And there are lots more possibilities not on the list. But we have fewer species in the freezer right now because I didn’t crab much last year, and we ran out quickly. I just didn’t get around to catching some of the others either.
Move into the field for the meat sources, and our freezer also holds venison, rabbit, ptarmigan, and three species of ducks. Come to think of it, there are also a few packages of elk, mountain goat, moose and caribou that friends shared with us.
And there’s even more. Through exchanges with distant friends and relatives we also have fish and meats from distant places.
Consider all the product forms possible and all the recipes we can make from that long list, and there’s very little need for us to buy meat in any form, much less any reasonable excuse for us to become bored with Kodiak’s riches.
Drop the rod and gun and pick up a shovel, and another large portion of our food comes from Kodiak. As time allows we’re active gardeners. And while some garden goodies are perishable, others keep well for enjoyment year around.
It doesn’t take much space or the faintest tinge of green to your thumb to grow potatoes on Kodiak. And protected from light, cold and moisture, they keep wonderfully. Most years our enjoyment of planting potatoes exceeds our ability to eat all the yield, so we have an excess.
In fact, most root crops grow well on Kodiak and keep well, too. In addition to potatoes we produce our own carrots, rutabagas, parsnips, turnips and beets. Some years we grow our own onions and garlic, but production is highly variable from year to year depending upon the weather.
Other crops do well on Kodiak, though not all keep well. For a few months a year at least, you can enjoy your own home-grown lettuce, collards, spinach, kale, cabbage, parsley, leeks, peas, radishes, strawberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, rhubarb and more.
That’s a really short list of all the possibilities Kodiak soils can produce. I’m by no means a master gardener, but you should take heart from that. If I can do it, anyone can produce their own too! Kodiak has a host of really talents gardeners, and they’re only too willing to pass along their hard-earned experience.
Then there’s the question of all the other wild plants available on Kodiak. I don’t need to point out that most years Kodiak is awash in succulent salmonberries. Talk about an opportunity to sweeten up your table!
But if you’re willing to climb search for them or climb for them, there are other options for your sweet tooth. These include high bush cranberries, low bush cranberries, as well as high bush and low bush blueberries. Then there are nagoon berries and moss berries. And I wish I could tell you more about the possibilities for greens. We’re comfortable harvesting and eating delicacies like beach greens, fiddleheads, half a dozen species of edible mushrooms, goose tongue and a few more that escape my mind at the moment.
But that’s a very short sampling from a long list of possibilities. With a little study and an open mind towards delicacies from other cultures, Kodiak is a treasure house of edible plants.
As you consider all the possibilities from Kodiak waters and fields, a couple of simple facts should become apparent.
Number one, harvesting, collecting or growing all that food takes time. If your time is short you need to plan ahead and make an extra effort to be in the right place at the right time, as well as set aside a little of each day for watering and weeding a garden.
Number two, you will almost certainly need advice as you work to expand your food horizons. You are simply going to have to invest the time to find out who knows how to grow, harvest and cook all the new varieties.
And number three, you have to figure out where to keep and how to preserve the new products. They don’t come neatly packaged like the foods from the supermarket, so you’re going to have to do that yourself. And you’re going to have to do it in such a way that the quality is preserved.
Where to start? My first stop would be the public library. Kodiak’s library has a wonderful selection of information, but equally important experienced people are working there. They can help you find the information you need from their varied sources, plus they can probably provide the names of local experts willing to help.
Another great source of information is the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service. They have a wealth of information about preserving foods safely to retain quality. And among the employees I know, there are some exceptional cooks. With very little prodding, they are more than willing to share outstanding recipes.
If your budget is a little tight this year, Kodiak’s wild and domestic food sources offer real opportunities to put food on your table at minimal expense.
Concerned about the health of the planet? You can greatly reduce the “carbon footprint” of the foods on your table by relying on local sources.
A little bored with the routine in your life? Hunting and fishing for new species, as well as gardening and learning about wild food plants should liven your life up nicely.
Take it from me. The more you learn to gather and utilize the wealth of foods available on Kodiak, the more you will enjoy and appreciate life on our remarkable island.