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We don’t have much daylight this time of year up in Sitka—the sun is up for less than a full work shift this time of year, rising at 8 and setting at 3:30. But in spit of the days growing ever shorter, many of us, my family in particular, are eagerly awaiting the traditions and the family time that come with Thanksgiving. These are some of my favorite traditions:

thanksgiving meal

Photo courtesy of Johnny

Everyone thinks of one thing when they think of Thanksgiving—food–and we’re no different in my family. Since Thanksgiving even often consists of late nights catching up with friends at local bars, there’s a pretty sure bet that at least one person will wake up with a bit of a headache on Thanksgiving morning. Our tradition accounts for that. Thanksgiving breakfast consists of some raw Alaskan oysters and champagne. Oysters and champagne help fill the grumbling stomachs and quell any lingering effects of the night before. Plus, I douse the oysters in my traditional tarragon and shallot vinegar mignonette. Just thinking about it is making me hungry.

Off in our kitchen, everybody pitches in to prepare the meal—another of our traditions. My daughter prepares her three delicious types of pie: apple, pumpkin, and chocolate. My son and his wife handle the gravy and the stuffing. Even my grandkids pitch in, peeling the potatoes for whipping and mashing. And the dynamic duo of my wife and I tackle the most important part of the meal: the bird.

I know Thanksgiving and turkey go together like birds of a feather, but in our family, we make use of the local wildlife to put a unique spin on the bird—instead of the turkey, we cook a few fresh Alaskan Ptarmigan, a gamebird that is indigenous to Alaska and parts of northern Canada. It’s not that we have anything against turkey, though! We just like to make use of the local wildlife. And we prepare the Ptarmigan in a similar way to preparing the turkey, which makes it juicy and flavorful just like a turkey.

There are a few other uniquely Alaskan spins that we put on the Thanksgiving meal. For one thing, I don’t mean to boast, but our cranberry sauce is almost assuredly better than yours. The reason, of course, is the wild cranberry bushes in Alaska mean that we don’t have to rely on canned sauce from the store. My wife diligently picks cranberries in the late summer and makes them into her homemade sauce that she brings out on Thanksgiving Day. Another traditional Alaskan side dish that we’ve included in our meal ever since I learned the recipe from a fisherman in Juneau is delicious herring egg salad, made from the delicious eggs of our indigenous friend, the Pacific Herring.

You had to know that Thanksgiving couldn’t possibly squeak by without the appearance of my favorite food, and the source of my livelihood—the salmon. I save the salmon fillets for the day after Thanksgiving so as not to upstage the Ptarmigan (what kind of fisherman would I be if I didn’t prefer fish to meat from land?), but I work the salmon in in a few other ways. In the hungry hours between breakfast and supper, I put together a tray of smoked salmon to tide us over. But with the meal, along with all the rich foods from land, everyone is treated to my salmon pate, made with smoked salmon, cream cheese, mayonnaise, lemon juice, dill, and green onion. I serve it on crackers.

Of course, there’s more to our family’s tradition than just food. We spend a lot of time telling stories and relaxing by the fire. We love to reminisce about Thanksgivings past, and we try to enjoy each other’s company as best we can. And that’s the advice I have for you too—you never know what the next year may bring, so make as much of the quality family time as you can during the family holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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