Next time you’re feeling hungry, how about a healthy, locally harvested snack?
You could bake some birch bark bread and smother it with boiled caribou brains.
Well, you should be, according to Laila Spik.
Spik is Sami – an Arctic indigenous group who live in the northern regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.
And caribou brains – at least the domesticated reindeer variety – are a delicacy. It tastes like butter.
Another traditional Sami trick is to hunt wild ptarmigan and harvest the bird’s undigested last meal from its crop (a fleshy sack where the bird’s food sits before being digested.)
The mixture of greens and berries make a fantastic salad that would take hours to harvest by hand.
Basically, you eat what the bird eats. And it’s delicious, she said.
Spik has fed these types of dishes and more to all sorts of people, including the king of Sweden.
“But I never tell them what they are eating,” she said. “Not until after.
“They are always very surprised”
Spik will be sharing some of her knowledge of circumpolar wild foods at the Fireweed Community Market on Thursday.
The Sami grandmother is in the territory to visit Aroma Borealis owner Bev Gray.
The two wild-food enthusiasts met in Finnmark, Norway, while attending a circumpolar agriculture conference two years ago.
Last week, Spik attended a gathering of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers in Anchorage.
When the meeting was over, she decided to make her way to the Yukon for a short visit.
Spik feels right at home in the territory, which shares many similarities with her homeland in terms of landscape, plants and animals.
Exploring the Yukon wilds with Gray, Spik was interested to learn of the similar traditional medicinal and culinary uses for these flora and fauna.
But there were also a few differences.
Take lingonberries for example. Most northerners know the uses for the tart berry in making jam, juice or syrup.
But Spik also uses the leaves of the plant to make a delicious tea.
And Gray was able to teach Spik something as well – that pollen from the south sides of aspen trees work as a great natural sunscreen.
This is important for Spik who is very fair skinned.
She’s so blond and fair, in fact, that many people have a hard time believing that she’s indigenous.
“But I say, Why are the indigenous people in Africa black?”
Indigenous people come in all shades, she said.
“My father always told me, ‘You are light like your mother, and the summer night and the white reindeer and the snow.’
“My father is dark, like the winter night, and the dark forest in the east and the dark reindeer.”
Though she’s fair haired, Spik definitely isn’t difficult to pick out from a crowd.
On Tuesday, she was decked out in homemade reindeer hide clothing, stitched together with sinew thread.
Even her elf-like shoes were homemade, hand sewn and mostly made of reindeer.
The Sami have a population of around 80,000 people living throughout northern Scandinavia.
Spik grew up in Sweden and was one of the 3,000 people who still practice the traditional livelihood of semi-nomadic reindeer herding.
She proudly displays a picture of herself as a three-year old, all bundled up and riding on a reindeer’s back.
Her parent’s believed in preserving the traditional ways and this is something that Spik has passed on to her own daughter who, at 27, now has her own herd of reindeer.
But reindeer herding ain’t what it used to be.
The Sami now use snowmobiles, GPS and satellite phones to follow their herds.
And because of global climate change, they sometimes have to load the reindeer into trucks and transport them over vast stretches of wetlands that used to freeze around October, but now remain impassible until December.
Spik used to work in schools as a teacher, but has since begun teaching the teachers, working hard to preserve the Sami language as well as their local culinary habits.
And, ever the nomad, she also travels throughout the circumpolar world, attending conferences and holding workshops.
One thing that she’s noticed in these travels is that many northern people are becoming increasingly unhealthy – living off of junk food and Coke.
She believes a return to traditional foods would mean a far healthier people.
So who’s up for boiled caribou brains?
Spik will be leading a learning walk and workshop on how to identify and use circumpolar wild foods this Thursday, in conjunction with the Fireweed Community Market.
The market, which is open from 3 to 8 p.m. every Thursday, will be organizing similar workshops throughout the summer.
Next week, there will be a talk on how to use reclaimed materials in your backyard greenhouse. And the June 30 workshop will be on homemade biodiesel.
How to cook with smokers, how to care for backyard chickens and how to forage for wild mushrooms are some of the other workshops in the works.
You can register for workshops at the Yukon Made Store.
Contact Chris Oke at firstname.lastname@example.org