• Weird History

11 Surprising Foods People Ate On The Alaskan Frontier

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.

  • Aqutak, Or ‘Inuit Ice Cream’

    Aqutak, also spelled aqudak or akutaq, is a traditional food served to commemorate special occasions like weddings and successful hunts.

    As a frontier food, aqutak was prepared by taking the fat from any number of animals - seal, whale, bear, or moose - and whipping it until it was a paste. Some tribes, like the Athabaskan group, used marrow from caribou, as well. Once the fat was sufficiently whipped, snow and wild berries were added. 

    Modern versions of aqutak might use Crisco or some fat substitute instead, and include sugar - something Inuit groups didn't have. It's still served as both a snack and a dessert. 

  • Pemmican

    Pemmican begins with jerky, which is ground up and pulverized before being mixed with animal fat. Traditionally, the jerky - made from the meat of moose, deer, elk, or any number of animals - could be powdered with a mallet or mortar and pestle.

    Once the mashed-up jerky and melted fat were blended together, dried fruit and spices were slowly mixed in. Blueberries, currants, and cherries were the most common types of fruit, but cranberries could also be used. Once the mixture cooled, it was placed in rawhide or cloth bags. It could then be stored for months at a time, serving as a vital and portable source of protein and fat. 

    Pemmican was commonly consumed by fur traders, and the food itself could be used as currency

  • ‘Squaw’ Honey

    Because there are no bees in Alaska, men and women on the frontier had no access to honey. As a result, they made sweeteners from natural herbs.

    "Squaw" honey was made by boiling clover with fireweed or flowers. White sweetclover is common in Alaska, although not native to the area, and fireweed is an easily identifiable wildflower.

    Once the plants were boiled, the sweet syrup could be spread over bread, flapjacks, or biscuits

  • Kelp Relish

    Kelp relish was used as a substitute for salsas and other condiments made from vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers. Most commonly made out of bull kelp native to Southeast Alaska, kelp relish was pickled and eaten with seafood like halibut, clams, and shrimp.  

    In order to pickle the kelp, it was soaked in brine, rinsed, and chopped into small pieces. Sometimes, spices like mustard seed, onion, and lemon were added for extra flavor.

    In lieu of dicing the kelp, whole portions could be eaten like pickles instead.