Friday, October 13, 2017

It's Harvest Time in Hoonah

  I'm not sure what's happening in the rest of the country, but here in Hoonah a harvest of some of the fruits of the land have been taking place lately. Actually, all year long is harvest time here if you consider the different seasons each offers. In the spring, fishing for King Salmon and halibut are on a lot of people's minds. I believe that's when folks go out to get their seaweed from select spots as well. During a large ebb tide, when the water falls below the mean low water mark, or minus tide, certain rocks provide an anchor for a particular kind of seaweed that the natives have harvested for years. I understand that it's high in Iodine which I believe prevents goiters. "Look Ma, no goiters! I've been eating my seaweed." They dry it out and put it in freezer bags and put it in the freezer. I think they like to cook with it in soups and it's popular to have with herring eggs, another spring time favorite. The herring spawn on kelp and rocks and it's a tradition to put spruce branches in the water for the fish to spawn on. One of the local boats makes a trip to Sitka every year to lay branches in the water and harvest the eggs. When he comes back to town, the word spreads and cars line up all over downtown to meet the boat at the city dock. People walk down with garbage bags and plastic totes and whatever else they can find to fill with the eggs. As spring turns to summer, dog salmon and sockeyes start to run. Dog salmon have the biggest eggs of all the salmon and for some folks they are a delicacy. I've tried them cooked in scrambled eggs once out at the farm. We managed to ruin a whole case of eggs  doing that. The fellow whose brilliant idea it was, loved to experiment. He thought that it would provide us with extra protein. That only works if you can eat it. Anyway, water under the bridge. The sockeyes are coveted for their oily flesh, which makes for some excellent smoked fish. A number of people go out and cut down Alder trees to put in their smoke houses.Alder provides a lovely smoke that flavors the salmon with the most delightful taste. I've got a partial case of smoked sockeye in the pantry right now that will be tapped sparingly throughout the winter to try and make it last. Coho salmon run from mid-June until September, and a number of people, especially those without boats, wait until the fish start to run up the rivers where they can catch them from the banks. With the beginning of September, it's the official start of the "R" months, when it's supposed to be safe to eat the clams and cockles that are prolific on the beaches around here. Shellfish are filter feeders and sift out what they need to survive from the water. If the water has something like red tide, the folks that eat the shellfish can contact Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. I guess there's less chance of that happening during the months that have R in them, because the water is colder and the algae is less able to survive.Of course,year round, folks that have boats and pots harvest Dungeness crabs and shrimp, if they can find them. The crabs are fairly easy to catch, the shrimp require a little more skill or luck. Unfortunately, what happens on occasion is that a fellow goes out to check his crab pot and someone else has already been there before him. That always starts off a round of suspicion about various folks who have a reputation of showing up with an uncommon number of crabs. King crabs live in the bay as well, but to the best of my knowledge they aren't allowed to be harvested. I've caught them on a number of occasions when I was halibut fishing, but I'm not allowed to keep them. Sitka Blacktail deer are abundant on the island, and the season opens for bucks only on August 1. Personally I've never hunted them then. They are almost always on top of the mountains during that time and I'm neither young enough, strong enough or ambitious enough to pursue them then. Actually that describes me now as well. Hunting is a lot of work, and I've found that I can go to Costco and get the meat I need for less than the cost of bullets, gasoline, and wear and tear on my body. Of course it's not near as much fun walking through the isles at Costco as it is rambling through the woods, but so far I haven't had to worry about bears when I was shopping. When most folks think of harvest time, they think about pumpkins or Indian corn. We don't grow either here. There is not enough darkness in the summer to grow corn, but if it grew in the winter, we would have bumper crops. I'm not sure why we don't grow pumpkins, I suspect it's too cold and not enough sun. We do grow cherries, apples, plums and lots of berries. Blueberries, salmon berries, raspberries, huckleberries and nagoon berries. The neighbor behind me has a plum tree that produced so many plums the branches were threatening to break from the weight. I've never seen so much fruit on one tree in my life. The cherries didn't fair too well this year, but I think I have some from last year in the freezer still, and a few weeks ago I made a delightful apple crisp out of some apples I picked from Jen's trees a year ago. This year I don't know if there will be enough to make even a pie. Jen and I went up to the church last week and harvested a couple grocery bags full of crab apples from the tree out front. We're going to try to make some crab apple jelly. Of course by the time we figure in the pectin, the sugar, the jars and the work that goes in to harvesting them, each pint will probably be worth about ten dollars, but it's awfully hard to put a price on something you harvest yourself. Bon Appetite!

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