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The native people living in the Arctic had to prepare for the long winter when food was not as plentiful. Fish and game taken in the summer or fall was preserved for the long winter months by traditional methods. The whalers and the missionaries depended on the Inuvialuit from Herschel Island and Gwitch'in from the interior for indigenous meat, fish, and berries which they acquired through trade or by other means.
Various indigenous animals contributed to the northern "haute cuisine".
The Inuvialuit regarded roasted caribou tongue as a delicacy. Both Isaac and Sadie Stringer are also reported to have found it flavourful.
Caribou heads were usually roasted with the fur still on. When the skin or fur began to crackle it was pulled from the fire. The heads were said to be very tasty and juicy.
After a caribou was killed, the kidneys were removed and eaten while still warm.
The caribou flesh, juicy and palatable, was boiled or roasted.
The marrow from the shin bones was eaten raw and relished as a confection.
The flukes, the end of the nose, and the spout-holes from the bowhead were highly prized as a delectable treat.
The lean meat of a young bowhead whale was considered very tender and good. The whalers cut steaks from the tenderloin. If the whale was older, they ground the meat and mixed it with pork to make it more palatable.
The blubber, cut into long thin strips, was usually eaten raw and tasted similar to olive oil. An Inuvialuit ate the blubber by putting one end of the strip into his mouth and gripping it between his teeth and lips. Grasping the other end, and holding it just above his mouth he would cut mouthfuls of it off close to his lips, and swallow it.
The Inuvialuit also enjoyed the skin or Maktak from the bowhead which was thick and juicy.
The fin of the grumpus whale was said to taste similar to the white of a hardboiled egg.
Isaac Stringer recorded his thoughts regarding this northern treat-
When the Inuvialuit wanted a change in their diet they would eat meat which was "high". Fresh meat, stored where fresh air could get to it but where the sun could not shine on it, underwent a transformation. Rotten walrus meat was said to taste like old, sharp, rich cheese.
Traditionally fish was eaten raw and/or frozen. The Stringers often kept on hand pieces of raw fish to give to their Inuvialuit visitors. It was enjoyed as a treat the way southerners enjoyed ice cream.
The Mackenzie Inuvialuit collected Wild Rhubarb, Polygonum alaskanum, which grew in sunny locations along the rivers. The hollow and fleshy stems were juicy and sour and very refreshing when eaten on warm summer days. The stems were ready to eat in mid-June and were at their peak for 2 weeks. The whalers made huckleberry potpie from the huckleberries that were abundant on Herschel Island. The Inuvialuit added them to boiled caribou meat and fat to make pemmican. Captain Bodfish reported that he found the pemmican quite good but very rich.
Cloudberries, Rubus chamaemorus, were crushed and mixed with seal oil and caribou tallow to make "ice cream". Blueberries and cranberries were also collected and often stored with seal oil in barrels or sealskin pokes for winter use.
Liquorice root, Hedysarum alpinum, was another popular food. The juicy and sweet tasting fleshy roots were picked just after the river ice broke in June or just before freeze up at the end of August. The skin was peeled away and the roots eaten raw or cooked with duck or fish oil.
When the families of whaling captains began to arrive with them to spend the winter on Herschel Island, interesting food combinations were created. In October 1894 Captain Green's wife gave a tea party and served the following:
© Old Log Church Museum 2002