Ann Berg

Ann Berg

Pioneer Potluck: Fond memories of bonfires

We would spend all night in the middle of the summer around the bonfire.

  • By ANN “GRANNIE ANNIE” BERG For the Peninsula Clarion
  • Tuesday, January 21, 2020 11:19pm
  • Life

Our first year living at the cabin on the lake. Fall of 1986, North Nikiski

We have so much fun around our bonfires. Bob started the tradition in our family many years ago while he was trimming trees and clearing brush so we could see the lake from a cabin that we were renting. We had to watch him closely. Sometimes when he ran out of firewood or energy, he would go for the next best, closest, easiest thing he could put his hands on. I caught him carrying our neighbor John’s kitchen chairs down to the fire. He stated that John needed new ones anyway. I rescued them! The garden hose did not fare so well. It sure made a lot of smoke.

Bob’s bonfires always brought out our neighbors (who no doubt saw all the smoke!).

We would spend all night in the middle of the summer around the bonfire, singing, telling stories and jokes and watching the sun go down and the moon come up all in the same hour.

Sometimes our visitor was a wandering moose — peeking in on us — or a “hooty owl,” letting us know that we were probably too noisy. And always a variety of food and drink shared by all. We loved the spontaneous bonfires. They lasted for days and we never knew who would be sitting by the fire when we got up in the morning — usually it was John! He lived in the cabin next to us.

One memory is about our friend John. His three-wheeler crawled up on a blade of grass and dumped him over backward. When he finally landed and got back on his feet, he had a broken right arm. As we all know, if you are right-handed, there is not a whole lot you can do until it heals. Sitting beside a bonfire was pretty easy to do. He sat on a tall stool on the upside of the fire, with his arm in a crutch that Bob carved out of a forked (or fork-ed) stick. He had a wool poncho on and his favorite fishing hat sat on his head, with his arm in the fork-ed stick. We all were singing songs, and telling the stars and moon and wandering moose, how “things” should be.

Then in slow motion, John tipped forward, slowly plunging head first into the fire. We quickly fished him out and tried to put out the little fires that were erupting on the wool poncho. We sat him back on the stool and put his crutch back under his arm. He never said a word, then he looked around and slowly said, “Anyone seen my hat?” The very second he said “hat” it burst into flames in the middle of the fire. The rest of what was left of the evening was spent mourning the loss of John’s fishing hat.

Then there is the memory of Ditcher Dave and his shoes. He came by his name easily — he parked his car in the ditch once in a while! He was among many guest that seemed to show up when they saw Bob’s bonfire and the smoke it gave off from time to time. Dave had his feet propped up on a rock that formed the ring around the fire. I looked up and yelled, “Dave! The soles of your shoes are dripping into the fire!” He slowly moved his feet, stating that his feet were getting a little warm. He stomped around in the grass, gravel and leaves until they cooled off, leaving bits of the grass, gravel and leaves embedded in the soles of his shoes. “Darn! I just bought these yesterday!” The rest of that evening was a big discussion on how “they don’t make shoes like they used to!”

Dave wore those shoes for a while, but if he was on concrete or in his house, they would click and clack, because of all the gravel and rocks embedded in the soles. He gave them up finally with great regret, but bought new ones just like them. He was careful to not prop them up on the hot rocks of a bonfire.

What fun we had! What good memories!

Beef or Moose Mixture

Make ahead and freeze or can and use on days that you need a shortcut for supper.

1 large chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1⁄2 cup each parsley and celery, leaves chopped

1 cup water

Combine and set aside.


5 pounds of lean ground beef or moose

1 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1⁄2 teaspoon celery salt

2 16-ounce cans tomato sauce

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon oregano

1⁄2 to 1 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon marjoram

Stir and brown meat. Spoon off fat, if any. I sometimes use a crumpled paper towel and place on the inside edge of pan to soak up fat.

Simmer 30 minutes.

Spoon into hot canning jars and can as per instructions in pressure canner. Or cool and put in freezer the next time you need a fast meal of pizza sauce, casseroles with elbow macaroni, or meat pies. Can be used if you are going camping or fishing.


No beans, no tomatoes in the tasty soup!

In a jar with lid place:

1 tablespoon garlic salt

6 tablespoon chili powder — mild or hot

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon crushed cumin seeds, or ground cumin

1 teaspoon crushed oregano

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons dehydrated garlic

2 tablespoons dehydrated onion

3 tablespoons paprika

Place lid on jar and shake to mix. Set aside

In a large pot brown:

2 to 3 pounds of lean moose, or beef cubed

½ cup oil

1 large onion chopped

2 cloves of garlic mined

When browned add:

The spices in the jar

6 cups of water and simmer covered, two hours on stove.

(I put mine on the woodstove, however the simmer time is about 5 hours.) Or put in crock pot to simmer all day.

At this point you can take off the stove, and let cool until the next day for the flavors to mingle. Bring it back to a boil the next day and add a paste made of:

3 tablespoons flour and 6 tablespoons of cornmeal mixed in a small amount of cold water. Add to pot and simmer, stirring constantly for about 15 minutes for the cornmeal and flour to become smooth and the chili to become thick. Add water if necessary throughout the cooking time. Adjust taste to your liking.

Eat with warm tortillas or crackers. Sprinkle cheese on top if you want.


The Italian sausage could be substituted for chicken or hamburger.

1 pound mild or hot Italian sausage, remove the casing or buy bulk ground Italian sausage

1 tablespoon garlic

1 onion, chopped

2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes

3 14-ounce cans chicken broth

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

1 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons Italian seasoning

2 carrots, thinly sliced

2 small zucchini, sliced

1 package — about 9 ounces —frozen cheese tortellini, thawed

½ cup Parmesan cheese

Brown the sausage with the onion and garlic in a heavy Dutch oven. Drain.

Return to pot and stir in broth, tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, carrots, sugar and seasoning. Simmer for 40 minutes. Stir in the tortellini and the zucchini. Simmer 10 minutes. Serve with the Parmesan cheese sprinkle on top.

• By ANN “GRANNIE ANNIE” BERG, For the Peninsula Clarion

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