Everybody has their comfort food and Athabascans have some pretty unusual ones. Fresh caribou marrow, for instance; you might hesitate at that one. But if you ever try Athabascan fry bread, it will be love forevermore.Southerners use baking powder as a rising agent for their fry bread, but Athabascans use yeast and add dry milk and traditionally a touch of sugar, although I hear there are many variations (Paganini would have approved). The ingredients are worked by hand and it seemed to me as I watched the girls that the dough was very tender. Above, Fry Bread for Four Hands performed by two of our elementary students.
Here is Mary preparing the fry bread in our home economics room. She made the dough with the help of her two young friends. Mary is an expert cook and she teaches our Gwitch’in language classes, too. If you are ever hungry, Mary’s room is a good place to visit. You might find her making biscuits or dry meat or just about anything that tastes great.
Last spring I walked into her classroom and found a caribou haunch lying on newspaper across some of the children’s desks. There was a crowd of youngsters gathered and watching Franklin and some other teenage boys slice meat off the bone. The boys sliced, Mary marinated and the girls hung the meat on one of those old fashioned, accordion-like, wooden clothes racks that date back to the 50’s, or maybe even earlier. In another 48 hours, dry meat, chewy and delicious.
Franklin offered me a spoonful of the marrow dug right out of the bone. It is one of his own favorite foods, he told me, and I sensed this was an important moment. Franklin and I hit it off from the moment I arrived in Fort Yukon, and he knew how much I wished to embrace his culture. The other boys didn’t know me so well, but you should have seen the expressions on their faces! They were silent and breathless, watching me intently, furtively out of the corners of their eyes to see if this cheechako was daring enough to eat the marrow. This moment was my rite of passage.
And yes, the marrow is quite the comfort food, indescribably smooth and buttery and not at all salty, which surprised me.
Oh, back go the bread…
Well, here they are, slightly sweet and melt in your mouth good! Mary sells them for $2.00 each and the funds go to the senior class or some other student fund. My class is right across the hall and when I smell the bread I’m the first in line; I get them right out of the fry pan. I usually eat only two even though I really, really want more. So would you…
Here’s one recipe:
(this is not Mary’s recipe; I borrowed it from another website, cited below. But the author claims it is a traditional Athabascan recipe. As soon as I can get Mary’s, I’ll update this post again and replace this recipe with hers)
1 cup of milk lukewarm made with 1/4 cup instant dry milk and lukewarm water (or fresh milk; we use powdered milk because a gallon of fresh costs $16 in the bush; powdered is cheaper and stores well)
2 tsp active dry yeast (1 pkg)
2 T sugar
1/2 t salt
3-4 cups flour
- Sprinkle yeast in the milk, let it set for a couple minutes to make sure the yeast is alive.
- Stir sugar and salt into the milk, then add 2 cups of flour and stir it in.
- Slowly add the rest of the flour, when you can’t stir, knead it in. You might need a handful more or less of flour.
- Set in a greased bowl, cover and let rise for one hour.
- After it rises, punch it down, and split the dough in half, then each of those pieces in half, then each of those pieces in half. 8 balls total. Roll the pieces into a ball shape and pat and pull them flat. Cut 3 or 4 lines through the dough and stretch it out slightly (I didn’t see Mary cut hers).
- Set the pieces aside and heat up some Crisco (Mary uses Canola oil and used a medium).
- Fry a couple pieces of dough at a time until golden, turning once.
Drain on paper towels. Eat hot! I haven’t tried this, but I think they would be extra-terrestrial with butter and syrup on them.
Recipe borrowed from: