Story last updated at 12/12/2012 - 3:57 pm
I often ponder, what is a real Alaskan Girl? Is she someone who can split logs, work on a fishing boat, trek through the rain forest and forage for food? Or is she someone who can adapt to her surroundings, wears rubber boots with formal dresses on special occasions and plays a banjo? Does she wear makeup or go for the natural look?
I submit that she's all of these and more. However, I was introduced to the true Alaskan Girl while visiting my husband's extended family in Coffman Cove on Prince of Wales Island. Many of you know that I'm not the outdoorsy type. I am often reminded of that fact by my friend Val who refers to me as outdorksy. This is because that although I am hiking in the woods I wear a pastel pink coat and goofy hat with large purple forget-me-nots embroidered on it. Even in the woods, one should have a sense of style.
Packing for my adventure into the wilderness was easy: sweaters, long johns, lots of socks and of course the hat. Our adventure began with a quick plane ride to Ketchikan. Fortunately the weather held out and we were able to take a float plane to Coffman Cove. I can still remember watching the bars on my cell phone disappear one-by-one. Slowly I slipped away from civilization and the "wham!" At about 1,800 feet in the air and a few miles away from Ketchikan, I was officially in the wilderness. After the panic attack waned, I took in the amazing view of the mountains, ocean and waterways. Southeast Alaska always enthralls me with its beauty.
Upon landing we took a quick car ride to the cedar-planked home where we would be staying for the next five days. I was a little anxious. The wilderness was one thing, and not having cell phone service was traumatic in its own way, but the real anxiety stemmed from the fear that I wouldn't be in control of the dinner. There. I said it. I want to control the kitchen. I can't help myself. It's like an addiction. I need to be in charge of the meals. It's how I contribute to the world. I feed people.
This was going to be the first major holiday in nearly 20 years that I wasn't the primary cook. Not only had I become an empty nester, but now my holiday traditions were out the window. Too much change in one year. Taking a deep breath, I entered the kitchen and surveyed the lay of the culinary land. Was that a wood burning cook stove? A real working one? Yes, yes it was. Oh. My. Goodness. I had entered a modern-day Little House on the Prairie. The stove not only shared heating responsibilities with the regular wood burning stove, but Marianna, our hostess, cooked nearly all her meals on it. Fantastic! This would for certain make me a Real Alaskan Girl! I could cook on it. Yes! The question that remained was how. There were no knobs or burners to speak of. The heat was adjusted by actual wood and some sort of weird venting system. Pushing aside this thought for a later time, I eagerly met everyone and then got comfortable by the wood stove. This was going to be so cozy.
As we got closer to the big day, I learned that I wouldn't be doing much, if any of the cooking and that Marianna and my sister-in-law Blythe had their own cooking traditions to share with the family. Secretly hiding my panic, I strapped on my Alaskan Girl attitude and offered my skills as a prep chef and baker. I made sweet potato pies and a coconut cake, and they made virtually everything else. What I didn't know was that the turkey wasn't roasted in the oven. No it was roasted on the oven! If I helped with that, did it make me more of a Real Alaskan Girl?
Marianna, my Alaskan Girl role model, put the turkey in large cast iron Dutch oven, seasoned it with salt and pepper, covered it with aluminum foil and placed it on top of the regular wood burning stove. Our job was to ensure the stove stayed warm and well stocked with wood. This I could do. Not only was it the primary source of heat, but it was the primary source of my dinner. Two things I value the most...food and warmth. I was all over that. I learned how to stoke the fire and add wood at just the right time. I also learned about venting and drafts. While I was earning my Alaskan Girl merit badge, my husband and his little brother Ivan were out hunting for the next meal.
All day the turkey roasted and it filled the house with the most amazing aroma. And I sat by it most of the day. This is what I would call an epicurian nirvana. Food heaven.
When dinner time finally arrived I was eager to see the turkey and whether or not it had browned. Now I have to say this wasn't the Norman Rockwell kind of experience. This is Alaska folks and Alaskan cooking. The turkey was so tender it was literally falling off the bone. This is why there is no picture of the beautiful wood oven roasted turkey. It wasn't beautiful. But it was delicious!
Since that dinner I have determined that the only reason to move from renting to owning a home in Juneau is to have a wood burning stove. I would cook on it daily. It's like having a slow cooker that warms you inside and out.
This week I present to you an authentic Alaskan dish that involves time and slow heat, Wood Stove Roasted Turkey. Although I am still unsure of my qualifications of becoming a Real Alaskan Girl, I did go hunting (pink coat and hat included) and I did cook on a wood burning stove. These most assuredly count toward my goal.
Until next time...
Eat and enjoy,
Wood Oven Roasted Turkey
1 12 - 14 lb turkey
1 - 2 cups water
½ stick butter
Salt and Pepper to taste
Massage turkey with butter, salt and pepper liberally inside and out. Place turkey in cast iron Dutch oven, add water and cover with lid or aluminum foil. Cook slowly 6-7 hours, basting occasionally. Be sure to stoke the fire frequently and add wood as needed. You know its done when it falls apart, or the juices run clear.
For those of us who do not own a wood burning stove, a similar experience can be had. Place turkey in Dutch oven and cook on 325 degrees for 6-8 hours. Baste frequently. Remove lid after juices run clear and turn up heat to 375 degrees. Cook additional 15-20 minutes to brown the turkey.
Kelly Moore, a.k.a. Midgi, writes and cooks from Juneau. Visit her blog, www.mealswithmidgi.com, for additional stories and recipes. She may be reached at midgi@ mealswithmidgi.com.