Saturday, January 24, 2009

Brr...Arctic Recipes

Brrr...On January 24, 1922, the United States Patent Office granted a patent for the frozen novelty presently known as the Eskimo Pie. Patent number 1,404,539 was granted to Christian K. Nelson, the inventor of the "I-Scream Bar," (later to be renamed Eskimo Pie:) Since I posted about the invention of the Eskimo Pie on more than one occasion, I thought it was high time I explored a few more Arctic Recipes.

Arctic Food

Once known as Eskimos, (The name they call themselves is Inuit) the Alaskan Inuit inhabit the west, southwest and far northern region of Alaska. Far within the Arctic Circle, their use and array of tools, spoken language, and physical type have changed little. For centuries, food in the Arctic has been the symbol of life and struggle. Polar Bear steaks, walrus tongue, seal liver, and whale hamburger are just a few of the dishes that have graced the table of the Alaskan Inuit. In the January 1934 issue of American Cookery Magazine, Elizabeth Chabot Forrest gives a vivid account of the years she spent working for the U.S. Bureau of Education among the Eskimos in northern Alaska. A chronicle of her 13 years spent in the Alaskan frontier was published in 1937 under the title of Daylight Moon, which is long out of print.

"The sameness of our diet there was at peace with the monotony of our surroundings...Level tundra, snow covered for at least nine months of the year, stretched to the north, to the east, and to the south of the government school building which was my home, while to the west lay the frozen Arctic Sea. Day after day I climbed to the "warm-storage" room above the kitchen and stood facing rows and rows of too familiar cans; kegs of pickled meat and butter; hams and bacons in their "Alaska seal" coating dangling from the ceiling."

In a land where even a small climatic change can affect an entire animal population, the diet and preservation techniques of the Inuit were imperative to their well being. The methods used by the Inuit were the source of inspiration adopted by Clarence Birdseye in the 1930s with the birth of the frozen food industry. While Birdseye was trapping Caribou in the Arctic, he adapted the techniques used by the Eskimos, who preserved their capture naturally in the fast freezing temperatures of the Arctic by burying it in the ice.

While stationed in Alaska, Elizabeth Forrest was just over 1,000 nautical miles from the North Pole in the northernmost point of the United States known as Point Barrow. The water surrounding Point Barrow is normally ice-free for only two or three months out of the year. It is close to the scene of the airplane crash that killed aviator Wiley Post and his passenger, the entertainer Will Rogers.

"Along the windswept coast of the Chukchi Sea, about 13 miles south of Barrow, America's beloved humorist, Will Rogers, along with pilot Wiley Post, died when their small aircraft crashed On August 15, 1935. The adventurous duo were seeking a better route to Siberia via Alaska." source

From the American Cookery:

"Our year's supply of food was brought to us by freight boat each August and it must last until the following August. To make sure of this, on its arrival I carefully portioned out each thing--one can of crab per week, one of asparagus tips, two tins of butter. But somehow, towards spring, all of the choicer edibles had disappeared, gone to celebrate special occasions or to brighten days when spirits and appetite were at lowest ebb. Nothing remained but bare essentials. It was then that I returned oftenest to the native foods to supplement our menus."

The story continues in detail with regard to the Inuit preparation of reindeer. I find it quite interesting but you may not. I don't need much of an excuse to scan so, if you are interested in that portion of the article, click the image.

Arctic Recipes

We learned about the filming of Nanook of the North, the groundbreaking Alaskan documentary last year on Eskimo Pie Day. That was when I discovered the Inuit are traditionally hunters and fishers whose native diet consists primarily of seal and walrus. It just so happens that I have a booklet of Arctic recipes. Undated, it was published by the Department of Northern Affairs & National Resources in Ottawa, Canada.

"To the ranks of the Eskimo housewife has been added the housewife who has gone to live in the Arctic. Her basic food supplies probably come up once a year by sea or river, air freight is high. Though for the most part she uses foods from her own storeroom for there are strict regulations governing the taking of game on which Eskimo life may depend, her husband from time to time receives a present of game from an Eskimo. Or, for some reason, the family must rely temporarily on country foods. When this happens these recipes show she can adapt to an Arctic situation as readily as the Eskimo women..."

According to Ms. Forrest, "Seal is the Pièce de résistance on the iglu table." Scanned below you will find recipes for Seal Casserole, Seal Liver, Mutuk (whale skin) and Arctic Salad which, by the way, is enhanced with caribou moss. I have also scanned recipes for Fricasee Of Arctic Hare, Bearburgers (Polar Bear Steaks) an Arctic Mixed Grill and Saddle of Caribou or Reindeer.

"Stewing is the commonest form of cookery in the iglu (igloo), not only for seal but walrus, whale, and bear as well, though all of these meats are as readily consumed frozen raw. Stewing, itself, is a very sketchy process. The seal is hacked into pieces convenient to grasp later with the fingers, packed into a kettle filled with snow; and placed upon a tiny coal-oil stove; or blubber-burning stove, (image) fashioned from empty coal-oil tins. As soon as the snow melts and the water begins to steam, the stew is done...One favorite method of preparing meat during the flush hunting season of July, is to strip the skin from a seal, removing the carcass through the mouth and leaving the hide intact, stuff this sack or "pulkrah" with chunks of whale and walrus, fill it with seal oil, and fasten it shut to pickle for some months. Needless to say, I never sampled this native delicacy..."

Once again from American Cookery"

"I could place before you juicy brown hamburger steaks of whale or walrus and defy you to notice any difference from your usual beef...There is one portion of the whale which most white dwellers in the Arctic enjoy, and that is muk-tuk, the thick, black, outer skin of the whale. Narrow strips of it are hard boiled, then pickled in vinegar, bay leaf, and spices, and kept on hand as a relish. Freshly boiled, it had to me the texture and consistency of India rubber and, although its flavor was faintly reminiscent of hazelnuts, I did not enjoy it..."

I have scanned a few more highlights of the article below. (including an encounter with a Polar bear) Although I found it quite fascinating and educational, others may not. It certainly gives a distinct description of the Arctic table during the time Elizabeth Forrest was stationed there. 

When it comes to beverages mentioned in the article, there is only one, tea. It appears, Ms. Forrest is not to fond of what she describes as muk-pow-rah, "a sort of pale, sodden, unsweetened doughnut fried in seal oil." "I could not even bring myself to sample one of the crisp, puffy doughnuts fried in my own kitchen in seal oil by my own cooking class of school girls." "I was still less able to sit down in an iglu to tea and muk-pow-rah, although they were hopefully urged upon me by hospitable hostesses almost daily," she writes. And as for the tea:

"Perhaps the Eskimos borrowed the tea drinking habit from their Russian or Oriental neighbors across the water. Wherever it came from, they are inveterate tea drinkers. One finds them perpetually sitting in a circle on the floor of the snow covered igloo in winter, in an open air gathering place in the center of the village in summer, sipping streaming cups of the black liquid. The supply is practically inexhaustible, for the same tea leaves occupy the big tin teakettle (purchased from some whaling captain) week after week, snow or water being added whenever tea is wanted, and the kettle placed to boil. If times are prosperous, just after the arrival of a whaling vessel or a trader, sugar is added generously to the kettle. If times are lean, salt takes its place."

Enjoy Eskimo Pie Day and don't forget, tomorrow is Irish Coffee Day!


  1. Very interesting post Louise! The booklet of Arctic recipes is surely one of the most unusual I've ever seen, and a nice piece to have in your collection. Not sure I would have fared too well in Alaska myself.

  2. Good morning Kathy,
    The two books just worked out so well together. It really was a fun post and the article in American Cookery offered a few details I thought might be over the top but oh so real on the Alaskan frontier. Honestly, I don't know how she did it.

  3. Very intersting. Don't think I could handle the seal oil fried doughnuts. In answer to question, Venison would be awesome! I just used chicken for that article because thats what I had. Maybe some ligonberry sauce on the side?

  4. They're a lot tougher than me! I'd go crazy!

  5. Love that Arctic Recipes Cookbook!

    Hate the cold, though.

    I came across something the other day about seal brains and penguin breast and the current state of Arctic dining. (Really. I'm not kidding.)

    Here's the link to the story at Reuters: Oddly Enough. Hope it works - if not I guess it's google-able. :)

  6. This is very fascinating! Every day, it's just like you are always delighting us with all these little-known facts about world culture on food!

    I really enjoyed reading this one..I just thought before that eskimos only eat frozen fish and whales thawed in bonfire hahaha..their recipes are so varied it turned out. Now I even learned that their true name is INUIT.

    This inspires me to post something about our curious menus in the Philippines.

  7. The lingonberry sauce is a GREAT idea Courtney. I still have that venison. I'll let you know how it comes out.

    Me too duckie, her stamina is admirable.

    Thanks for that incredible link Karen, I find it all so fascinating although, I'm not inclined to partake:)

    Dennis, you are just too kind. I can hardly wait to see your post about the food of the Philippines. I LOVE surprises when it comes to food! Please let me know when you post it.

  8. Hi Louise,

    I am currently writing a cultural history of the polar bear (for the University of Washington Press) and loved your post! I'd really like to include the cover of Arctic Recipes as an illustration in the book and was wondering if you could send me a high-resolution scan (300 dpi, or better yet, 600)? I'd really appreciate your help with this project.

    You can contact me directly: nedludinmoab@yahoo.com

    (in Nome, Alaska)

  9. Hi Louise,

    I don't know if you saw my previous comment (it doesn't show up here). But I'd like to include the cover of the Arctic Recipes booklet in a polar bear book I'm currently writing. Will you please contact me: nedludinmoab@yahoo.com.



Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise