Thursday, July 24, 2008

It's the time of year when tundra berries are ripening. Harvesting the fruits of our land is one that most families of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta (and probably most regions) partake in. The berries that I'm familiar with growing up in the Kipnuk region include cloudberries (naunrat, not to be mistaken with salmonberries, according to Wikipedia), crowberries (we call them black berries, tan'gerpak), red berries (tumaglit, lowbush cranberries) and blueberries (sur'at).
What I remember most about this season is long boat rides into our camp area deep in the rivers of the YK Delta. My father would first bring all necessary equipment to the site, set up the tent, and all other items needed for a longer than an overnight trip. My mother would prepare food, pack up pots/pans, extra bedding, etc for our extended stay in the tundra (usually 3 or 4 days, some stay much longer.)
First day of cloud berry picking was probably the most productive day of all the days we'd spend out there. With buckets in hand, and a not yet sore back to go along with it, overseeing a vast sea of orange/red on that colorful tundra, our motivation would be brimming.
But...not for long, unfortunately. Mosquitoes would hamper our productivity and just the monotony of picking one berry after another with our buckets not seeming to get any more fuller drained our once overflowing motivation.
Meal time would bring a much needed break from the chore and for that we'd have white fish fresh from the waters. We'd eat our fish boiled and then seal oil poured over it and sprinkled with salt. Food seemed to taste so much better eating outside and mom would joke we should go out to the tundra to have our meals since everybody ate everything off their plates.
There's a fresh water spring to the north of where we'd set up camp, the water naturally cool and so crisp. You could taste a little bit of the tundra in it, and very delicious when prepared for tea.
Our camp was right across the river from Mr and Mrs Luke Amik's camp on the Maklagtuli River (I think, have to verify that with one of my brothers). They'd invite us over for tea or they'd come over to visit. We'd tell each other how much was picked that day and let each other know which areas have been picked already. Sometimes berry picking "rogues" would pick in the areas that were usually picked by whoever has a nearby campsite. There was an unwritten rule/agreement between campers in that area that those areas belonged to those camped nearest and know not to pick there.
Up to 30+ gallons would be picked, enough to last all through the long, cold winters. Berries would be prepared as a dessert mixture of crisco, sugar, and berry juice. Also a different recipe was with milk, sugar and seal oil, known as "makaaq". One recipe that I particularly enjoy is the Nelson Island Recipe (as I call it). Mix a 1/4 cup of crisco with hot water and sugar until the mixture is fluffy. Mix in 2 beaten eggs and then the berries. It tastes kind of yogurty, uses less crisco, and very yummy. (A picture of my latest concotion is shown up there, yum!)

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