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In rural Alaska, holiday menu comes from land

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By Michelle Theriault Boots
Anchorage Daily News
Published:
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- In Kotzebue, Thanksgiving dinner will include frozen sheefish cut with a bandsaw. In Nome, salmonberry pie with a graham cracker crust. In Huslia, moose-head soup.
People who live in rural Alaska say Thanksgiving is a time to share the best of what you have with the community, whether that's muktuk, or whale blubber, or green-bean casserole.
The residents of Little Diomede Island -- where you actually can see Russia -- will sit down to a communal feast featuring turkey helicoptered in from Nome and perhaps some walrus stew, said Willis Ferenbaugh, the school principal.
Turkey, fruit salad and pumpkin pies ordered by the school district arrived on Monday's passenger service flight from Nome.
Ferenbaugh is hoping some seal ribs or soup also appear at the feast, which he thinks will attract about 50 people.
In the hub town of Nome, people will bring village specialties to the multitude of church potlucks happening Thursday, said Charles Brower, a Methodist pastor.
Folks from the Teller area are likely to bring reindeer soup because a herd roams the area.
St. Lawrence Islanders living in Nome usually bring walrus. "Most of their food is from the ocean," he said. "But they had a bad year for walrus, so I'm not sure what to expect."
Brower will bring muktuk from his hometown of Barrow. "The old folks prefer the boiled uunaalik because it's softer and they might not have too good of teeth."
He prefers it raw.
Akpik pie, made with salmonberries, orange Jell-O, a graham cracker crust and whipped cream, is another potluck staple.
Just about every one of the town's seven or so churches is hosting a meal.
"You could go from one to another to another," he said.
In Kotzebue, Jimmie Evak was spending the day before Thanksgiving soaking beans and thawing caribou for chili. Potlucks are also a big deal in the Northwest Arctic town, in particular the one held at Kotzebue Friends Church.
"They get many people who don't usually go to church," he said. "Everyone goes all out."
The menu is expected to include baked, boiled, fried or frozen, raw sheefish.
Also on the menu: salmon casserole, turkey (cost in town, according to Evak: about $45 for a small bird) and pumpkin pie.
A treat of muktuk, sent down from North Slope bowhead-whale hunting villages, was also expected to be on offer.
An abundant berry harvest on the tundra this fall would mean plenty of kayusaaq, a cranberry sauce.
"You put the cranberries in the pot, add water, sugar and a little flour then you boil all that together," Evak said.
In the Interior Athabascan village of Huslia, Elsie Vent was planning to cook a turkey her niece won as a door prize at a Halloween carnival.
Moose-head soup, which is exactly what it sounds like, and a roasted goose will also be on the table at her dad's house.
"They stuff it. They roast it until it gets tender," Vent said. "Man, it's good."
Cecilia Martz, who is from the village of Chevak and lives in Bethel, will be eating a version of akutaq made with mashed potatoes, Crisco, olive oil, water and salmonberries or blackberries.
Once a friend in Anchorage offered her a taste of "turducken," which is a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey, all boneless.
That was a little confusing, Martz said, because the best part of Thanksgiving is picking the meat off the turkey bone.
There's a Yup'ik word for that: pukuk.

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