Getting recipes from the North
By Veronika Ederer
Special to the Daily
During the months while I was writing the layout for the cookbook, it was obvious to me that most of my recipes came from the Southwest — where my fascination lies. Most of the recipes with corn, squash, pepper or chili are easy to cook, even in Europe. However, I wanted to publish a cookbook that covers a wide range, from the arctic to the desert. Well, covering the desert was no problem, but the north?
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The first problem covering the northern portion of the U.S. was that a big part of the traditional food and the recipes of the arctic area were very unfamiliar to most people in Europe. Most of us are constantly on a diet and avoid fat in all foods we cook. Of course, we don’t need that much fat, living in a warmer environment than the arctic circle with less physical exercise for those living in an urban environment.
So how would I be able to recreate and write down recipes with “muktuk,” which is frozen whale shin with blubber? Then, there was the fat, meat and seal brain, which was usually eaten raw by the Native Americans because of the vitamins in the uncooked meat. Of course, there are almost no carbohydrates and very little fruits and vegetables in Inuit diet. Even if people from across the Atlantic were adventurous enough to try any of it, arctic food like seal, whale or sea lion was almost impossible to obtain. The environment is just too different and a lot of animals are protected for good reasons.
I discovered during my research that there is another huge problem for many natives living in Greenland, Canada or Alaska. Many Inuit and Aleutian tribes are not able to cook according to their traditions anymore. They heavily rely on processed food because of the forced decline of the hunting culture and the change of traditions. Young people grow up in a surrounding of fast food and sugary drinks with a lack of time playing outside due to video games and internet. Families cook with the food of their grocery shops: Pasta, canned vegetables, beef, fruits, dairy products and bread. The result is that an increasing number of young people have diabetes and are considered obese. In some rural communities, many families show a significant level of food insecurity, especially at the end of the month.
The question was, should I use a dish with beef and tomatoes as an Inuit recipe in my book? This came to be a basic question for the entire cookbook: What kind of recipes in general do I use? Those from pre-European times with ingredients like mesquite flower and camas roots — which nobody in Europe could buy? Those from reservation-times including fry bread and coffee? Or the combination of traditional foods like bison, wild rice and corn and healthy ingredients like olive oil and banana? For my book I decided to use all three variations.
So here I was again, on my way finding recipes which could be cooked in Germany and Switzerland, but which would also give a small glimpse into Native American cuisine and especially into Inuit cuisine. In the cookbooks I owned, I only found one recipe, a stew from the Aleutian Islands. I searched websites concerning traditional food and discovered an article about a new Qaqamiiĝux̂ (meaning hunt or fish for food and collect plants or subsistence) head start for traditional foods preschool curriculum.
This document contains lessons focusing on healthy eating and sparking interest in traditional foods. Not only the kids but also their parents were encouraged to take part in the activities. The chapters explain the differences and the benefits of traditional foods like fish, sea mammals, game, birds and berries compared to beef, chicken or processed food. They include coloring pages, names of the plants and animals in Unangam Tunuu (the indigenous name for the Aleut language) and recipes which combine traditional food and modern products. This was a good start for me.
Next I found different websites on Inuit country food recipes with ducks, seafood and fish, which would be no problem to find, but also a winter fruit salad. During one of my research tours in New Mexico, I saw a cookbook from Alaska with traditional and modern recipes, which I ordered when I returned home.
Finally, I was ready to plan my chapter on Arctic recipes. It features said winter fruit salad, a crab cream cheese dip, a clam chowder, fish and potato balls, a campfire trout, a duck recipe, a grilled rabbit, two recipes with wild game — it originally should be for caribou, but works also for deer or elk — a walnut bread, two beverages and — a recipe for Inuit ice cream. No joke, “akutaq” is a traditional delicacy rewarding the first successful hunt of a boy. It is made with typical marine mammal oil, snow and mixed berries, and it is very rich, even if you try the modern recipe with, for example, coconut oil.
You, the reader, may ask what my favorite northern recipe is. That is hard for me to say — maybe the duck breast? Or the dip with cream cheese, crabs and crackers, which I am sharing here.
Hot Crab Dip
7 oz cream cheese
1 Tbsp milk
½ cup crab meat, well drained and cut into small pieces
2 Tbsp finely chopped onions
½ tsp horseradish
Salt and pepper to taste
10 almonds, cut in three to four pieces
Cracker or toasted bread for serving
Mix the cream cheese and milk in a bowl, fold in the crab meat, onions and horseradish.
Season with salt and pepper.
Pour mixture in a small ovenproof casserole and top with the chopped almonds.
Bake at 375° for about 10-15 minutes or until the dip is a little brown on top. Serve warm with crackers or bread.
Ederer received her PhD from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in cultural anthropology. Originally from Germany, she has worked several years in Switzerland in museums such as the North American Native Museum in Zürich and with the gifted program “Universikum” in Zürich. Ederer first visited the Mescalero Apache Reservation, 70 miles southwest of Roswell, in 2013 and has since witnessed Apache coming-of-age ceremonies and even was allowed to participate in a traditional mescal agave plant roast at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, south of Carlsbad. Ederer visited Roswell’s Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives in 2019 for research purposes.