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Monday, November 9, 2015

5 Great Alaskan Thanksgiving Traditions

5 Great Alaskan Thanksgiving Traditions

1. Anchorage's Great Alaska Shootout
Credit: DOD News Features

Every Thanksgiving, UAA and Carrs/Safeway host a college basketball tournament in Anchorage called the Great Alaska Shootout. Alaska doesn't have a local college or NFL football team, so the live sport we get to watch is basketball. Staying warm inside an indoor basketball court is definitely preferred if you intend on watching live Alaskan sports in November. Playing games during winter gatherings is a longtime Alaskan tradition to prevent cabin fever and the Great Alaska Shootout has become a great Alaskan Thanksgiving tradition for sports fans. Go Seawolves!

Photo: Accretion Disc
2. Community Feasts

Many villages and towns across Alaska celebrate Thanksgiving by hosting communal feasts or potlucks in which everyone brings something to share. Gathering together as a community is a special tradition across all of Alaska. This age old tradition of communal feasting during winter dates back to time immemorial, for both Native and non-Natives alike. In order to pass the time, many gatherings are held over the winter to play games, tell stories, dance, and share food. Summers in Alaska are short, and most of the time is spent getting outdoors to soak up the sun and many families often disappear for the entire season, camping, fishing, and vacationing. Thanksgiving marks the first major holiday to gather back together as a larger community. Communal feasts offer each person a great variety of dishes, and it the opportunity to discover new recipes.

3. Berry Bragging!
Photo: Muffet

Berry-picking for hours and days while fighting off clouds of mosquitoes is worth it when it's time to brag about your harvest over the long winter. The culinary tradition of cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving can be expertly executed by making your own sauces and jellies out of your own Alaskan cranberries. The rest of us amateurs will continue the plain tradition of buying the canned stuff. All joking aside, homemade, wild, naturally grown, organic berries are a great thing to share with your family and friends. Since Alaska doesn't have fruit trees such as apple or peach, we celebrate by sharing our own wild berries. Blueberries, cranberries, salmonberries, ligonberries, crowberries, and other local wild berries are shared in new and traditional ways, such as in agutaq, a popular dish in many Alaska Native gatherings, and American style pies. You can find Alaskan berry recipes to share this Thanksgiving at the end of this post!

4. Birds Other Than Turkey
Photo: Tim Sackton

Alaska is blessed with a large amount of migrating birds. Ducks and geese are abundant and familiar, even for us urban Anchorage residents. However, there are many other birds species that would be a welcome replacement to turkey, such as puffin, ptarmagin, swan, or crane, with the last two being large enough to fully replace a turkey! (Please check Fish and Game regulations before hunting, as we've heard swan hunting may be frowned upon in certain regions!) Since rural Alaskans pay more for food, cooking local wild game would make better economic sense than cooking a turkey. In fact, the reason turkeys became Thanksgiving's bird of choice was because they were the locally abundant species where the holiday was established. The older English Thanksgiving tradition actually features a cooked goose. Wherever you are and whatever you are harvesting, the central theme is that you are sharing what you have with your family and friends. Around here, that Ugly Duckling may just grow to become a beautiful meal!

5. Harvests from the Sea

Photo: Roland

Alaska's coast is huge.....HUGE! Whether it is a whale, crab, or salmon, the ocean's bounty is definitely something to thankful for. The very essence of this holiday is to share the bounties of the land with each other and, here in Alaska, much of the land is coastal land.

Whalers up on Alaska's northern coast share their harvested whales with the entire village, especially during the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Northern Inupiaq have always held community gatherings to celebrate the whale harvests and to share with each other. Alaskans from other parts of the state also gather foods to share such as: herring eggs, crabs, rockfish, clams, oysters, mussels, bird eggs, seals and walrus. Why not include these great Alaskan foods in our own Thanksgiving traditions like the Inupiaq have done?

Aside from the obvious bird, the most likely Alaskan food to invade the Thanksgiving table would be salmon. Many would agree that the most popular Alaskan food is salmon, due to its abundance and accessibility for all. (We can't all become heroic whalers!) Whether you are able to cast a big long net, hold a single dip net, or just rod and reel, salmon is available for everyone! Preparing an appetizer of salmon dip (or paté, if you're fancy), is becoming an Alaskan tradition for Turkey Day.

This brings us to our Alaskan Thanksgiving recipe collection for 2015. We hope you, your family, and friends enjoy this year's holiday feast and continue embracing positive Alaskan traditions that make our state unique and strong. - Happy Thanksgiving!

A Few Selected Thanksgiving Recipes for 2015 from Around the Internet

(Yes, we're including the gull egg pie! You never know when you'll get the chance to harvest some gull eggs!)

Alaska Tea Recipe


1 quart cranberries
1 cinnamon stick
10 whole cloves
3 quarts of water
1/2 cup of lemon juice
1 can orange juice concentrate
sugar or honey to taste

Simmer cranberries, cinnamon, cloves and water until berries are tender (about 25 minutes), strain or may remove the spices and blend the cranberries and water for a thicker, richer drink (CAUTION do not blend while hot, it may, and by "may" I mean "likely will" blow the top off of your blender, spraying red cranberry goo all over you, your cabinets, counter, stove, and the springer spaniel who is always under foot, and I "may" over a year later, still find spots of it occasionally.  Just sayin).  Add lemon, orange juice concentrate, straight from the can, not mixed with water, and sugar or honey to taste.  Heat until warm and dissolved.  Serve warm.  For gatherings I keep this in my crock pot on warm.

Seagull Egg Pie

from Alaska Dispatch Thanksgiving food article below

2 seagull eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
Dash salt
Nutmeg to taste
Beat eggs, sugar salt vanilla together. Add milk and beat for 5 minutes.
Place in unbaked pie shell and sprinkle with nutmeg.
Bake for 45 minutes in an oven preheated to 400 degrees. 


from Brookelyn Bellinger article below
1 fresh or frozen 9-inch pie crust (top and bottom)
4 cups frozen Alaskan blueberries
1/3 cup tapioca
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
Mix all ingredients. Let stand a few minutes. Fill pie crust and cover with top crust. Seal edges well and slit top. Brush top crust with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 400 degrees on a cookie sheet for 45-50 minutes or until juices form bubbles that burst slowly.
I cover the edges with aluminum foil for most of the baking to avoid overcooking. I uncover the edge for the last 10 minutes of baking.

Duck for Everyone

from Alaska Outdoor Council recipe page below

3 lg. Duck breasts
4 T bacon drippings or butter or olive oil
1 lg. Onion
4-5 garlic cloves minced
2 med. Carrots, chopped
1 bunch parsley, minced
1 can mushroom stems and pieces with liquid
salt & pepper to taste
2 bay leaves
2 C beef broth
2 C water
½ C flour with ½ C water
8oz. Jar currant jelly
2 C cooked rice

Cut duck into bite-sized pieces
Brown well in a large dutch oven using bacon or butter/oil mixture.
Remove and drain. Add onion,garlic, and carrots, saute till limp.
Add mushrooms, parsley, bay leaves, beef broth and 2 cups water.
Stir and add duck pieces. Simmer 1 to 1 1/2 hours until duck is tender.
Remove duck to serving platter over rice.
Thicken liquids in pot with flour and 1/2 cup water which has been blended to a paste.
Add current jelly and stir well. Salt and pepper to taste.
Pour some over duck and rice, serve rest as gravy in a bowl.

Classic Smoked Salmon Appetizer

from Salmon etc website link below

8 oz. Alaska smoked salmon
Herbed cream cheese*
12 slices cocktail-size rye or pumpernickel bread**
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
3 Tbsp. capers
Lemon slices
Fresh dill sprigs

Arrange smoked salmon, small bowl of Herbed Cream Cheese and bread on medium
-sized serving platter. Garnish with red onion, capers, lemon slices and dill.
Makes 6 servings.
* Herbed cream cheese Beat together until smooth 8 ounces softened cream cheese,
2 tablespoons milk, 1 teaspoon each lemon juice and dill weed, and 4-5 drops bottled
hot pepper sauce.
** Six split mini-sized bagels can be substituted

Alaskan Oyster Stuffing Recipe

from Kasilof Seafoods Recipes

Recipe Ingredients:
  • 1 cup Oysters, chopped
  • 4 cups Seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp. Salt
  • 1/8 tsp. Pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. Sage
  • 4 tbsp. Butter
  • 1 Onion, minced
  • 2 tbsp. Parsley, minced
1/2 cup Celery, minced

Recipe Preparation:
Fry chopped oysters for 5 minutes, drain. In a large bowl combine bread crumbs, salt, pepper, sage and oysters. Saute' onion, parsley and celery in butter. Once tender add to bread crumb mixture. Blend well. Can be used as a stuffing for halibut fillets or use to stuff up to a 4 1/2 lb. bird.

The Interior of Alaskan Life 2: Preparing Thanksgiving Moose Ribs

To see the photos – visit the link below

How to prepare moose or any game ribs:
  1. Cut the ribs up into whatever size you want
  2. Put them in a big pot with enough water to cover and boil them until they are tender (pre-heated water recommended). You can also put smaller quantities of ribs in covered baking dishes in  the oven.  Just put some water in the bottom to steam the meat until its tender.
3. Once the moose ribs are cooked I like to cut them into individual pieces. From here you can either marinade as per a given recipe or they can go straight on the grill.
    4. Cooking- I did a marinade in soy, ginger, garlic, etc and a typical sweet barbeque sauce. Here are the ribs marinading.5.Eat it.  If you would like to see where this moose came from take a look here at this fall's hunt.

So Seawolves Shootout information

UAA Shootout Captain's Program article

Skiing on Thanksgiving blog post with recipes for Alaskan Tea and Cranberry Sauce

Alaska Dispatch's Alaskan Thanksgiving recipes collection

Store Outside Your Door Facebook page

Article on other Alaskan food traditions

Why turkey on Thanksgiving?

Northern Thanksgiving Whaling Tradition article

Brookelyn Bellinger's article with berry pie recipe

Alaska Outdoor Journal's Bird recipes

Salmon Etc recipes

Kasilof Seafoods recipes page

Thanksgiving Moose Ribs blog post

© 2015 Dan Benton
Dan Benton - Realtor with Real Estate Brokers of Alaska
1577 C Street, Suite 101A., Anchorage, AK 99501
Phone: (907) 727-5279

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