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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sore fingers....Happy food.....

Yesterday I made a Inupiaq feast.

Ben asked his brother and his family, and one of his sisters to come and eat at our home. He knows I love cooking. Cooking is another form Art in my opinion. The senses react to smell and taste just like the eyes react to color and form.

But this time I made an Inupiaq feast. Which is not really about cooking, but is all about timing. I did make a large pot of my famous caribou soup, rich with subtle flavors and old timey secrets. I also added larger chunks of meat to cook in the soup and absorb the flavors. Once the meat cooled it made for good dipping in seal oil.

An Inupiaq feast is more than food. It's a time to chat. To laugh. To catch up on things. To admire the food. Our food can take a very long time to get to the table. For example the "kiniqtaq", or dried seal meat soaked in seal oil, starts in the spring. The seals are hunted, giant bearded seals, sleek and quick amongst the floating seal ice. We would stay up for days sometimes, only returning home because we ran out of gas. They are alot of work. Their meat is cut then hung to dry and here care is taken to keep scavengers at bay, to keep it from getting wet when it rains, and to protect it from dust so that you don't get an unwelcome "crunch." When it's just dry enough it's soaked in the oil that is rendered from the fat of the seal in 5 gallon buckets or wooden barrels. And from there it's split into smaller buckets and gifted or traded. We are lucky enough to know a woman who mixes tundra greens with her kiniqtaq, which adds a sweetness and a freshness to the mix. It stays frozen for weeks, sometimes months....
Boiled caribou meat, frozen whale muktuk, and kiniqtaq

Whale muktuk (which is the skin and blubber of the bowhead whale) another time consuming and wonderful food. Practically the center of our culture.

Our nephew. Me and Ben got our weekly baby fix.

Today I worked on wolf skins. It has taken the last week and a half to tan three of the hides. Add another few days to scrape and work them into buttery soft and clean pelts. Today we went and visited an elder who taught us how to cut the skins into parka ruffs. I had seen it done before so I knew what to expect, but Ben was lost half way through and was muttering about "too many pieces" for a couple of hours afterwards.

I enjoyed visiting with her immensely. She giggled like a little girl as she gestured and measured and cut the skin. I was also tickled that even though she spoke half in Inupiaq and half in English I understood her perfectly. I think my ear is getting better at understanding the dialect here. She told us stories as she worked. Told us about places that she traveled, about how to make a fancy "sunshine" ruffs that made a woman look beautiful, and about what she thought of those whose ruffs were too wide.

I finished two ruffs today, and I hope to finish a couple more tomorrow. We will sell a few and gift the rest.

I should not have worn a black fleece vest. As it is now covered in wolf fluff.

The back of the ruff showing the many pieces that are involved.

The front.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you.

  2. WOW, real curious as to who the elder was. I miss AKP, it is sooooooo beautiful. The hightest peak you see there, told Amos Morry one time that I name it Mt. Kivvaq, LOL Enjoyed the time I spent with Amos and Elijah/May Kakinya. Beautiful people. This was the time me and Bart Ahsogeak did some work for Planning when your mom was the Deputy Director w/Herb Bartell. Centuries ago LOL. Good afternoon, hello to my nephew B3

  3. I honestly would love to try some of that food. It sounds like an experience.

  4. The food sounds like it is savored in much the same manor of our old world greek or armenian nights. Though that meal was alway from a more immediate need. Whatever vegetables are in season, whenever goats are milked, etc. I love hearing your stories.

    And the parka ruffs are just beautiful. Sounds like it was a lovely time