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Category Archives: Sourdough Sunday

Weekly post about sourdoughs

It was a short week, 6 days ago, that I tapped our Birch tree. I probably could have tapped it a few days earlier if not for just being too busy. But better some sap than none!

With the speed of the melting snow the Birch sap has slowed it’s flow.

Checking my Sap Bucket.

Our first gallon I poured into individual collapsible water bottles for drinking later. I found these new at the thrift store, a great find! They came with mini carabineers to clip onto your pack or belt while hiking this summer. Into the freezers they went.

Hiking refreshers.

Next, I used 3.5 gallons to try our version of Birch Beer, similar to root beer, and made about 3/4 of a gallon of flavored concentrate. I slow-simmered the sap in my turkey roaster until about half with a few Birch twigs. Once done I turned off the heat, added a vanilla bean and cinnamon stick and 1/2 cup xylitol to sweeten it a bit more. To serve, pour concentrate into a glass, half full, add a squeeze of fresh lime, a little more sweetener (to individual taste) and top off with seltzer. It’s got an earthy taste, faintly reminiscent of a root beer but not as herbal. I like mine less sweet, the kids like it more sweet. But they like it, that’s good.

It’s nice to have a natural soda alternative that’s not 44 grams of sugar per serving or full of who knows what.

I also put about half a gallon into some reusable popsicles for a cold summer treat. I made 20 of these, Alaskan style Otter Pops, all natural, no artificial dyes, flavors or sweeteners.

Birch pops.

I did learn that we have another native tree here that can also be tapped: Alder. I experimented and tapped a couple larger trunks (they aren’t very big here, 3-5 inches in diameter). I wasn’t set-up properly for collecting the sap so missed a lot. I did get enough to taste it. It’s similar to the Birch water, less flavor tho. Overall good to know in an emergency but not likely to try it annually.

What remains of our harvest is apx 3.5 gallons, which I’ll turn into ice cubes and jugs of sap to freeze and use later. I’m going to try brining my salmon in Birch sap and salt this summer.

Overall we harvested about 9 gallons from a single Birch tree in 6 days, 1.5 gallons a day on average. This is important to know if we want to harvest enough for a larger batch of syrup or beverages. Since Birch water doesn’t keep for more than a couple days without spoiling, it has to be used or frozen quickly. So if we needed 5 gallons to process into wine we would need to tap 4-5 trees for a larger daily quantity.

I pulled the spile early Saturday morning. And another foraging season has come & gone.

Next up for wildcrafting is cottonwood buds, fiddleheads, fireweed shoots, spruce tips and morels. Oh boy, I can’t wait!! So much to do, so little time!


Last year Thing 1 wanted to try her hand at tapping Birch trees. We found that we all quite enjoyed the flavor of the fresh Birch sap/water so we’re at it again.

I actually found some time to tap one tree today and hopefully will tap a couple more over the next few days

I picked this nice Birch near our house.

You want a good sized healthy tree. We try for a 8-10 inch in diameter tree or larger. We also only tap an individual tree once then let it rest for a number of years before ever tapping again.

I drill a slightly upward angle with a drill bit close to the size of the small end of the tap. Going into the tree about an inch and a half or so. There’s plenty of instructions online of all the technical steps if you want those.

Once the hole is drilled you just hammer the tap into the tree until it’s secure. Hang your bucket and let it drip.

Bucket in place

We check the progress frequently to see how fast the sap is flowing. Also, anxious-to-drink-the-sap kids go out and fill little glasses to sample. That’s the trouble with having a tapped tree so close to home!

After about 7 hours we had a good 3/4 of a gallon. We poured off two quarts and filled some freezable bottles for a cool summer treat. Tomorrow we’ll see how much more we get.

Drip, drip, drip.

Birch water is a great source of minerals and other good stuffs. Check it out! I’m not really a fan of the syrup yet, but I’d like to try Birch beer (non-alcoholic) and Birch ale this year, if we get enough sap. And of course filling up several freezer bottles and popsicles for summer!

Summer and fall have come and gone and we are fully in the grasps of Old Man Winter. Hopefully I’ll have the time to regularly share my Sourdough ramblings now that we’ve slowed down a bit.

Sourdoughs of old times had plenty of things to do to while away the long winters. I’ve touched on a few of them here. But perhaps my favorite is reading. But it seems that a Sourdough might also write a book. I’ve met or interacted with several such Sourdoughs in my little circle (like these folks) with multiple titles published and I’m in awe of their accomplishments.

Besides entertainment there are many reasons to read a book: to learn, to explore, to feel close to someone who is no longer here, to get an understanding. I’m sure there are others but you get the idea. And the drive to share, to leave a legacy, to inform others are no doubt behind some of these words put to paper.

This week I read a new book, written by a gentleman I was privileged to meet a while back. Now I didn’t get to know Larry well but what I did know of him is that he was pleasant, kind, determined (or was that stubbornness? sometimes it’s hard to tell) and quite tall. And as it turns out, a Sourdough from way back.

I met he and his wife Joy while building their lake cabin (we broke ground Jan 6 ,2021). I get to meet the nicest folks doing what I love! And if I’m really lucky, we go on to remain friends!

Larry passed from this life into his rest May 2, 2022. May his memory be a blessing.

Joy was kind enough to share some of Larry’s work with me and I finished the first book this past week. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to the next one.

When Copper Was Gold in Alaska is a work of historical fiction based around the Copper River mining area. Being raised in Cordova & Chitina in the late 1940s, Larry was intrigued with the history of copper mining; it’s effects on the land, the indigenous people of the region, and the future.

This is an area of Alaskan geography and history that I’m interested in exploring! Larry’s book was a perfect introduction for me. Maybe next summer we can visit the Kennecott Mine? In the meantime, I’ll be reading more Alaskan books!

It’s moose season and each year while we’re hunting in search of a legal moose we find projects around the cabin that need to be done. Today we hauled the wood stove out into the deck to sand it down and put a new coat of stove black on it.

The “new to us” stove when we installed it this February.

Since we keep two large water pots on the stove there has been quite a significant exposure to moisture on the stove top. We had a lot of rust to remove. Dean and Lil Mister set out to get as much of it off as possible without a sandblaster.

Sand men

Once we had the majority of the rust removed we wiped it down and allowed it to dry completely before coating with stove polish. Once the polish dried I buffed it in and we wrestled the stove back into place.

Looks like a new stove!

It looks amazing! I’m thinking I’ll not keep the water pots stored on top anymore I’ll just set them on when we need hot water.

I’m glad to have this chore completed before winter!

Two weeks ago Today we kicked off our new school year with a ride on the Chugach Express service to Grandview. This ride is always exciting and awe inspiring. This year is extra special as we get to share the experience with some special people. My nephews got to come along with us and Mo brought along her parents (Nana & Papa, honorary grandparents to my kiddos) as well as Mark & Laquita, our special friends! It was their first Alaska train ride experience too!
Sharing Alaska’s beauty with those you love never gets old!!

In the marsh area before Spencer Whistle Stop we saw a swan family. The babies are almost fully grown. We also saw a perched bald eagle a couple trees down from a nest. The train travels through the remnants of
Chugach nat’l Forest, an area 5.5 mil acres with only 90 Miles of road. Most being inaccessible by car. Then we move into the Kenai mountains.

At Spencer Glacier whistle stop, the glacier used to come down to the valley where the railroad camp was. This whole valley forest floor is only been exposed about 100 years old. The cottonwoods are apx 30-40 feet tall next to the train. The glacier has retreated about 2.5 miles but still about 6 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. *P

Copy of a 1914 photograph when the railroad was under construction. The glacier looked large over the camp.

A series of 5 tunnels cuts through the Kenai mountains. Its pretty cool going through them. Seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunel. Some inspiration for the tough days. The creek is about 100 ft below us.
The weather has turned beautiful today. One of the driest days this historically wet August has offered us.

The tunnels are dark, the light is reflection from inside the train.

The RR crews have been doing maintenance alongside the tracks, cutting back foliage. Fireweed fuzz is floating along in the gentle breeze.

We saw a marmot climb up onto the tracks of a parked bulldozer.

According to our onboard USFS Ranger, here was snow up at Grandview until July 4th weekend this year. Grandview, sitting at just over 1000′ elevation, sure has a, wait for it, grand view (Blame it in Alaska Nellie, she said it first!).  Photos do it no justice.

Grandview Whistle Stop

Alaska Nellie ran the roadhouse at Grandview back in it’s hey day. A true Sourdough in every sense. From walking into what became Grandview to manning the station on her own, Nellie was one tough cookie.

Trail Glacier

The sun is shining so brightly!  What a glorious day! We traveled past Grandview Whistle stop for another breathtaking view, Trail glacier. Below the glacier is the remnants of an abandoned beaver lodge and the resulting lack of vegetation. This area would have been underwater due to the beaver dam on the creek, thus the lack of trees.

Trailside waterfall.

We stop our journey south at Trail Glacier and begin the back-track to Grandview. There we disembarked and had about an hour to explore. I headed out to look for some berries!
I hiked up the trail to the waterfall and just beyond it we found some huckleberries and salmon berries, just enough for a taste. And so many mushrooms for my shroom cam!
The tree trunks are so magical with their twists & crooks and moss covered branches. Around every corner I expect to see a fairy fluttering away or a little troll hoping I didn’t see him.
I wish we had more time to explore. This trip needs to be combined with a two day hiking & camping expedition next time!
Back to the train for our return trip to Portage.
Collect memories/experiences instead of things .

Even Sourdoughs have family it seems. And I’ve got a house and heart full of them right now. My Seester and BIL and their boys are here. Plus this entire weekend has been a non-stop whirlwind of birthday boy Thing 2, Home Free Concert Saturday night and another birthday boy Lil Mister today.

It’s been a couple Sundays since I’ve posted. And for good reason, it’s summer and we’re wasting daylight. We’ve been putting in the hours. Winter is coming!

From house decluttering and moving the boys into their new shared bedroom, to tearing out damaged fencing around the goat barn and replacing it, we’ve been doing the things.

We still have some chicken wire to put up, the new electric fence and charger to install. A covered hay feeder to build. And a house to finish. Grass to mow. General maintenance to perform. Normal every day stuff to do.

Plus, there’s other projects to get done, some side jobs and company is coming! And projects to finish at the cabin.

I need a clone of myself.

Doing all this farm stuff for these guys.

I picked up a bale of “local” Delta hay last Tuesday and it cost just over $30, one 60# bale. And that’s for the rabbits! It should last well into the winter tho. These goats, they can put the hay away. They cleared out the barnyard in like two days. Time to start staking them out around the place.

Gotta watch for bears tho.

Around here (all over Alaska) you’ll hear someone define how Alaskan they are by how long they’ve (or their family) resided here. From there, if more evidence of their Alaskan acumen is needed, they’ll list their experiences especially the near death ones. The more rugged and raw the experience the greater the Alaskan Spirit. There must be an obligatory bear story, it’s a prerequisite.

We can’t help it. It’s like a giant game of one-upmanship. Until we find that Old Soul who embodies the spirit of Alaska. But it’s a celebratory game, we stand in awe of those who’ve survived whatever Alaska had to throw at them.

Most new Alaskans that I run into, like myself, have a relatively short pedigree. And sadly, we differ in that their quest for Alaskan experience is a tad bit lacking (non-exist). Occasionally I run across that special newcomer who wants to try all the Alaskan things, but they are increasingly rare. Maybe I need to meet some different new Alaskans.

But life for us “imports” goes further back than when we crossed the state line. When you meet a new Alaskan the first thing you ask is where they came from. Pay close attention to their answer. Generally one uses this litmus to determine how long you think this current “Alaskan” will stick around.

Beyond my current employment of becoming more Alaskan, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time exploring my family’s roots, seeing where my people haled from. What roads – oceans ultimately brought me to this point. It’s been fairly enlightening. Modern technology makes tracing your lineage so much easier than just 50 years ago. Even without a genetic test.

Much of this work has already been done for me, I get to enjoy the fruits of my ancestors labor. I’m thankful that they had the foresight to search and record our family history. My maternal Grandmother’s side is quite well documented thanks to books published like H. H. Beeson’s book on our genealogy. And the fact that many of my very early ancestors were Quakers. Those Quakers kept excellent records! This gives us ample data to reconstruct our tree.

Websites like My, Ancestry and countless others provide a plethora of info and simultaneously profit handsomely from folks like me searching the forest for our trees. So many relatives adding family information makes it even more simple. And it’s fun to discover you have a a previously unknown third cousin twice removed doing the same thing as you are.

My Dad’s side is a little is a little more work. But it’s there, just gotta know where to look. Determination, it’s hereditary.

At this point I know 14 generations back to England and Holland on my Grandmother’s surname branch. It’s amazing to see the names and dates of my ancestors, some of which we share. I particularly like it when a letter or note was written, you can get a glimpse of their existence through their words & experiences. Like many family’s from the early American years, my people were determined and hardy souls. I’m thankful they passed a little bit of that down to me.

Most of us want to know where we came from. Some of us get the privilege of finding out. The past offers encouragement for the future. And it reminds us to make our existence here count.

So while I strive on with being a good Alaskan, mother, friend, daughter, sister, partner, employee and human I hear an echo in the distance… What will your life story tell?

It never ends.

Until the snow flies that is.

Spent several hours today helping Thing 1 with her gardening goals. Assembled another raised bed that had been cut out a month ago. Filled it and several more tire towers with compost and dirt. Planted a few more things. I scored a few shorter season plants for half off, end of the season sale. So we planted those.

We also topped off the strawberry bed with another tier and planted some runners. Built a trellis and covered it with bird netting so we can harvest a few berries ourselves.

We have this thing in Alaska called subsistence rights. It applies to all Alaskans modeled after Native Alaskan lifestyles of harvesting annual quantities of food all at once. From game animals to fish, mushrooms to berries, and whales too but only if you’re Native.

This Wednesday begins our local gill Set-net season for sockeye salmon. So for the next couple of weeks be prepared to see us live on the beach in our little (big) tent village. Breath fresh salty air. Fall asleep to the gentle melody of the tide. Work hard and play harder. It’s the Sourdough way!

2020 Fish Camp

Our fish camp tradition began 8 years ago with 3 women with a borrowed site and gear and determination to provide fish for our families. We weren’t very successful that first time. But we did not give up!

We have raised our kids with this annual event. At any given point in the year they can tell you how long until fish camp. It is a tradition that’s anticipated greatly.

This year is extra special because our founder, Niki, is back with us. She’s been full-time RV living and missed the past several years. We are all looking forward to the reconnect.

It’s time to get our fish. Winter is coming.

A few salmon from last year’s harvest.