Holing up for winter

Canned moose (not the stuffed animal gift-store variety) is weighing down the shelves of our pantry, next to jars of pike, trout and some old cans of…

Canned moose (not the stuffed animal gift-store variety) is weighing down the shelves of our pantry, next to jars of pike, trout and some old cans of bear meat.

With our cabin full of supplies to last until mid-June, it feels like living inside a general store — albeit one where nobody is expected to call for the next three months.

The stacks of toilet paper, in particular, look like they could service a small village. Maybe we bought a bit much this year.

There was, after all, the scary moment earlier this summer when on one of my three annual shopping trips to Whitehorse I lost THE LIST.

This induces mild panic in some shoppers. But imagine if your list detailing the number of rice packages, cheese canned milk and dental floss needed for a year. A list where you faithfully noted how many jars of Nutella you were able to find at the store on this shopping expedition so that, on your next trip, you know how many more to buy.

I have now graduated to a computer-generated shopping list spreadsheet — in triplicate (it almost makes me feel like a government worker).

But there is always ample room for human error and, in this case, lots of toilet paper.

At least there’s plenty of groceries, thanks to Sam’s hunting and fishing fortune plus the trusty supermarkets in Whitehorse and our garden.

Canning meat and fish, like most skills, follows a steep learning curve.

Our first meat-canning experiments had turned out somewhat disappointingly with the opened jars giving off the unsettling aroma of canned dog food.

Oldtimers then recommended pre-seasoning the meat and, since following that sage advice, we have mouth-watering jars full of chili moose, roast in wine sauce, smoked trout and other delicacies.

Canning, we find, is best done on gloomy rainy days, when the thick vapour and smell of cooking food is welcome in the cabin.

There is a certain Zen art to getting the timing so seamless that the new batch of food is just getting filled into the jars as the finished load can be removed from the canner.

Because pressure-canning times are fairly long, 60 to 90 minutes for one batch, we can only do a few canning cycles a day.

After a few days of this, you’re ready to join the raw food movement!

The old ways of keeping food — root cellaring, canning, drying, and an icehouse in the summer — work just fine, and make refrigeration superfluous.

Aside from having a greener environmental footprint, these time-honoured methods are also great money savers.

Sure it’s more time-intensive, but overall I’d rather spend my time working on things here than having to generate a cash income by hiring out my time.

I think that, for the summer, keeping food in a watertight barrel in the lake would also work like a charm, but since we haven’t found a good barrel yet, we’ve been unable to put the theory to test.

It is funny how living in the bush turns you into a hoarding creature and the year basically revolves around getting set up and stocked up for the winter.

For some reason the complete isolation of freeze-up, once the land has emptied of migratory birds and the caribou and moose are coming down the mountains again, makes our place feel even more snug and secure.

The tenuous thread of contact with the outer world shrinks again from hectic town trips and the odd visitor to our satellite internet and telephone, and CBC radio. There never fail to be hang-ups, like the desperately needed new winter boots being on backorder until you can’t get out anymore, a tooth filling coming loose as soon as the lake gets too rough or the new wicks for the kerosene lamps turning out to be faulty products.

It is unsettling the moment you notice that there’s a problem that can’t be fixed for a few months, but somehow it’s generally possible to manage anyway.

That’s a great lesson to learn out here, that by making do with what you have and keeping it simple, things have a way of just working out in the end.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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