The annual Canoe Journey in the Pacific Northwest is a feast for the senses: Graceful canoes, many of them featuring Northwest Coast Native artistic elements. Beautiful regalia, songs, and dances. A lot of loving, caring and sharing.
Frank Brown said the Heiltsuk First Nation will serve herring roe on kelp, halibut, black cod, and salmon to its guests during the 2014 Canoe Journey, held July 13 to 19 in Bella Bella, British Columbia. He writes, “If you go to biodiversitybc.org, we have good write-up on herring in the book Staying the Course, Staying Alive: Coastal First Nations Fundamental Truths.”
The Canoe Journey is all about tradition, and when it comes to traditional foods, few events can top the journey. Here are 10 foods you are likely to enjoy on the Canoe Journey. Follow along for a healthy feast you won’t forget. (This list hits the highlights and is by no means all-inclusive.)
Elk or venison stew. With meat so tender it will slip off your fork, you’ll want a spoon to catch every drop of broth. The stew can include carrots, onions and potatoes; if you’re lucky, someone gathered wild nodding onions, wild carrots, wapato or maybe camas. It will all depend on where you are geographically and where the journey takes you.
Save some room if … Geoduck chowder (pronounced “gooey duck”) is also being served. Someone dove about 25 feet to harvest this behemoth for you, valued for its size and rich flavor. Whichever clam it’s made from, chowder is tough to pass up.
Clams and oysters. Whether steamer or cockle, a clambake (with native Olympia oysters) makes mouths water as soon as the steam is smelled, often while canoe skippers are still on the beach asking for permission to come ashore. In fact, at Little Boston during the 2011 Canoe Journey, a canoe skipper asked for permission to come ashore, saying he was looking forward to enjoying songs, dances—and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s clams.
Berries. What you’ll enjoy depends on where you are and what is ripe—black, red or yellow salmonberries have the status of being first of the berry family to ripen. Wild strawberries pack a wallop of flavor in a small package. Wild blackberries twining along the ground will lead you to a bush full of delicious treasure.
Crab. The further north you go, the bigger the crab, from succulent Dungeness (one to four pounds) to Alaskan king (which can measure up to 10 feet from claw to claw). Crab meat is high in protein and high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Good food for pullers—with a flavor that’s craved.
Salmon. Salmon cooks take pride in their work, and each nation’s salmon—whether cooked or smoked—has a distinct flavor. Quinault salmon is different than Suquamish salmon, which is different than Swinomish salmon, which is different than Lummi salmon. But no matter where you are on the Canoe Journey, you’ll remember every taste of this most honored of traditional foods.
Ooligan. Dip your food into the nutrient-rich oil, or enjoy the smelt it comes from—whether boiled, baked or grilled, dried, salted or smoked. Ooligan has long been highly valued by Northwest Coast peoples; it’s high in vitamins A, K and E. Some call it candlefish, some call it eulachon or oolachan. You’ll call this culturally significant food—prominent at feasts and potlatches—a memorable culinary experience.
Frybread. Whether you like it with butter or the quintessential huckleberry jam, no one with taste buds can resist this golden-brown bread fried to a delectable taste. This is a victory food: The grandmothers were unfamiliar with the white flour they were given to feed their families, by a government that hoped they would go away. Undeterred, the grandmothers created a culinary classic enjoyed today by their great-grandchildren, a food that proclaims “We are still here.” Savor each bite. (Tip: Don’t bother asking the frybread cook for the recipe; it’s an old family recipe, passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation.)
Indian tacos. A variation of frybread. My favorite is with the works—ground meat, beans, cheese, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, sour cream and salsa.
Snow cones. OK, so snow cones aren’t traditional. But the snow-cone guy has been at just about every Canoe Journey stop we’ve been on. So pick your flavor and enjoy. (I don’t know if he’ll get as far as Bella Bella, but if he does, take your photo with him and send it to me at email@example.com. I’ll publish or post it with a future article.)