Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Today, I learned how little I know.

Our neighbor, Linda, and her friend Koleen were teaching a class this morning on how to can fresh salmon, and Linda invited me along. I'm interested in plugging myself into the social groups in the area, and I decided to go. Let me say that these women, even the ones there who were half my age, know more about living off the land than I expect I will ever know. Toto, we are SO not in Kansas anymore.

There were seven students in the class today, counting myself but not counting Linda and Koleen. So nine women total. Once they found out I've lived here for a whopping three weeks (as of today!), one of them good-naturedly called me a cheechako. It's a combination of a couple words that basically means "just now arrived." It's as opposite from a sourdough as you can possibly get. One of the other women just as good-naturedly offered to bring me some sourdough starter to rub on myself so I wouldn't seem so new. I don't need to tell you there were some giggles at my expense, but I didn't mind. :^)

Linda and Koleen gave a talk on the differences between the pressure canners they each use, about the different jars, and where the good places were to buy them. Then it was down to the business at hand - preserving some of the fresh red salmon.

Now, just to make sure you understand the situation - I do not like fish. Me no likey. Nope. I do not want to see it, catch it, smell it, handle it, or eat it. But I'm learning to do all those things, with the exception of the actual catching part. Which makes the following video all the more remarkable and explains why my family watched it gape-jawed when I got home:

Yes, that's me, filleting a salmon. And not passing out.

Once the fish were all filleted, we packed them into the prepared jars and canned 21 jars of fish.

Here are the teachers: Linda on the left, and Koleen in the middle.

We were shown how to use Linda's rocker canner as well as Koleen's pressure gauge canner. Seems like canning your fish outdoors is definitely the right way, because it keeps the fishy smell outside where it belongs.

It was while we were waiting for the canning to run its course, though, that I realized how much there is to learn about living here and living the whole Alaskan mindset. The other ladies began discussing the previous classes they'd had, and the classes coming up. They began to share the tales they had of their own canning experiences, their own herb- and berry-gathering stories, and what they liked to do with their canned, dried, and frozen fruits of their labors. They reminded each other which herbs were ready for picking, which berries might not have a good harvest because of the dry summer, and where to get good crocks for making sauerkraut. They also discussed what to make their soap out of (seems like moose suet is good) and what to put on swellings or to put in your tea if you're not feeling well. Brief discussion on the depletion of the kelp beds nearby delaying a class on making kelp pickles, and whether or not there would be time to teach how to make sauerkraut during the same class as the jelly making lesson. An upcoming tea making class would involve all the students bringing the herbs they dried earlier in the summer so that there would be an assortment of tea.

After a while, I'm sure my eyes glazed over as the information overload started to feel like a foreign language bombarding the backs of my eyeballs. I'm going to have to read a few more books on living off the land if I'm going to speak even remotely knowledgeably about anything. Jim's Wild Ride is turning into Deanna's Wild Adventure, too.


  1. We all knew it was going to be wild, just not THIS wild :).

  2. Deanna, I've got dad's set of Foxfire books if you want them! They might come in handy!! I'm so proud of you, you did so well in your class!
    love you all tons, Carla

  3. When is the tea making class? Shall I send up more lavendar? Or more Lemon Verbena?

  4. jim (of the wild ride variety)July 31, 2009 at 1:04:00 PM CDT

    Deanna, princess of the wild frontier. :)

  5. Hmm,there's a song in there somewhere Jim......

  6. I was thinking of, and missing you guys today. This blog helps me feel like I can visit and experience Alaska vicariously until I can experience it "actually" ;) -Lyle

  7. wow fish filleting - the mark of true love - i am ever so impressed and hungry for some real salmon too!

    love to all and blessings galore,