Alaska became the 49th state to join the United States in 1959. Far removed from the contiguous US, Alaska remains the "last frontier" in many ways - including in the kitchen.
Alaska frontier food has always blended practicality and indigenous tradition, combining influences from Inuit populations, Russian fur trappers, Yukon gold prospectors, and other groups who have occupied - and cooked in - the area. The culinary contributions of each make for some unique pairings, surprisingly simple flavors, and ingenious recipes - all of which constitute some version of native Alaskan food.
What did they eat on the Alaskan frontier? Some surprising kinds of foods that, even today, remain part of the Alaskan culinary landscape.
Dependent on large game like moose and caribou for survival, the Inuit made sure to use all parts of the animal. Modern meals made out of moose meat, which resemble the types of foods eaten on the frontier, include moosesteak pie and simple moose pie.
Both recipes use flesh from a moose with filler such as potato and onion. Moosesteak pie is breaded on the bottom and top, while simple moose pie is more of a casserole with ground moose meat on top.
Moose mincemeat can also be made by blending moose flesh with an array of spices, molasses, brandy, wine, and other seasonings to taste. This can all be baked into a sweetened pie or eaten on its own.
Another moose-based delicacy is jellied moose nose. The jaw of a moose is boiled and then placed in cold water so that all the hair can be removed. Fresh water is then placed in a pot along with onion, garlic, spices, and the moose nose. After soaking, the bone and cartilage are removed and the thinly-sliced meat is allowed to set in its own juices.
Walrus stew began as a mixture of meat and broth in a pot; however, with the introduction of barley, buckwheat, and potato cultivation by Russian fur traders, it soon expanded to include those items.
Traditional walrus stew, often served at Thanksgiving, may also feature rice, along with some diced seaweed and walrus fat added for flavor. It's served with walrus coak - the cooked skin of the animal with a layer of blubber attached.
Called tepa by the Inuit, stinkhead consists of fermented whitefish (or salmon) heads.Traditionally, stinkhead is made by wrapping and burying the heads of fish for weeks at a time. By the time the heads are retrieved, the good bacteria has, presumably, eaten away the bad.
Unfortunately, both stinkhead and "stinky eggs" are foods that contribute to high rates of botulism in Alaska each year.
As a staple on the Alaskan frontier, bannock was a simple bread made out of flour, salt, baking powder, and water. Some recipes featured milk, eggs, and dried fruit, all of which varied according to what was on hand. Inuit women who made bannock may have included seal oil because it kept the bread from freezing.
Traditional bannock got its name from the Scots, who introduced wheat flour to the area. However, indigenous groups may have made a variant of bannock using the edible bulbs of the carnas plant, as well.
In either form, bannock or bannock-like bread could be fried in a pan or wrapped on a stick and baked over an open flame. Large bannock rounds made in frying pans would be cut into segments and served with stew or covered in squaw honey.