Friday, March 21, 2008

Alaskan Russian Foods

As many of my readers are aware, I was born and grew up in Alaska, living in five different communities. The "city" where I was born was Kodiak, on Kodiak Island, where the Russian influence can still be felt in the culture, religious practices, and surnames of the Native Alaskans living there. While Kodiak is near the top of the Aleutian chain of islands creating the Southwest panhandle of the state, the Southeast panhandle--where I spent most of my childhood--also felt Russia's hand and can be seen in the architecture of the old Russian Orthodox churches in Sitka (the capital under Russia) and Juneau (the current state capital). However, the Native Alaskans of the Southeast panhandle were more religiously influenced by the Presbyterian, Catholic, Lutheran, and Salvation Army churches.

Russian Church, Kodiak, Alaska


St. Michael's Cathedral, Sitka, Alaska

(For more views of beautiful Russian Orthodox churches
in Alaska--onion domes and all--click
here.)


Two wonderful Russian dishes I remember eating as a child were pirok and kulich. Pirok is a fish pie that my mother would make as a simple, filling main dish, using canned or fresh Alaskan salmon. It is especially tasty topped with a tomato-based cocktail sauce, such as what you would eat with shrimp. Kulich is also known as Russian Easter bread, and is a delicious treat, made sweet from candied fruit and heavy with many eggs (made of course, to celebrate the end of Lent and self-denial). Dad was usually the one who made kulich, and our favorite way to eat it was lightly toasted with lots of butter! In fact, just thinking about it makes me want to haul out my breadmaker and make a loaf this weekend to eat with Easter breakfast!

I believe the following recipe is from Alaskan Cookbook for Homesteader or Gourmet by Bess Cleveland; Berkeley, California: Howell-North Books, 1960.


PIROK
Pastry for double-crust pie
2 c. cooked rice
1 onion
3 hard-boiled eggs
1 can salmon or 1 lb. fresh salmon, deboned
salt and pepper to taste

Line pie with pastry. When steaming rice, add 1 chopped onion. When done, mix with canned salmon, including juice. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Put 1/2 rice and fish misture in unbaked pie shell. Press quartered hard-boiled eggs into mixture, top off balance of rice and fish. Cover with piecrust, seal edges well and cut steam vents. Bake 1/2 hour (1 hour for fresh salmon) or until well browned. [A temperature is not given; I cook mine at about 425° F.] This is a dish brought to Alaska by the early Russian colonists, and was first made with salt salmon.

Traditionally, the kulich dough was braided, then baked. However, when Dad made this, he would bake it just as he and Mom did our sourdough-raisin bread: in greased coffee cans, creating a nice round load, easily sliced and able to fit into a standard toaster. While the sourdough-raisin bread, which was our everyday bread, was made in two-pound coffee cans, the kulich, more of a dessert than a sandwich bread, was usually baked in one-pound cans. I am adapting my Mr. Coffee bread-maker's recipe for a one-pound dried-mixed fruit bread, which yields a similar result.

KULICH

1 egg plus enough water to equal 1 c.
2 c. + 1 T. bread flour
1/2 t. salt
2 T. honey
1 T. dry milk
1/2 c. bran cereal
1/2 c. chopped candied mixed fruit
1/2 c. raisins
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. yeast

Place ingredients into your breadmaker according to its suggested guidelines and use the Whole-Loaf (as opposed to Dough) Sweet Bake setting (setting 8 on Mr. Coffee breadmaker). Yield: 1 one-pound loaf.
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