Pioneer Potluck: Measuring distance in Alaska and hosting summer potlatches

Smoke salmon cream cheese dip, salmon pot pie, salmon salad, broccoli bacon salad

  • By ANN “GRANNIE ANNIE” BERG For the Peninsula Clarion
  • Tuesday, June 11, 2019 11:48pm
  • Life

You know you are talking to another Alaskan when they measure distance from one town to the other in hours and not miles.

A vacation in the summer for some Alaskans means a weekend camped on the banks of the Kenai River, or up The Little Susitna River.

In our case, the Kenai River is about an hour from here. To get to the Little Susitna (Little Su) we would have to drive about four hours, find a boat and/or fly. That is about all day. I do not have a clue the mileage!

Fishing on Kenai, Tustumena or Skilak lakes is about two hours from our place, but may take longer — as you would have to stop at all the tributaries in between to dunk your fishing pole.

How about a trip to Ninilchik and Anchor Point for a fishing trip on a charter boat out into Cook Inlet? That’s about a two-and-half-hour drive. On to Homer to sightsee or halibut and salmon fish or to bring home crab and shrimp — that is three or four hours depending on where you stop and how long you are there.

Coming home is from two to four hours depending on how many motor homes are on the road. You really have to concentrate when they spot something interesting and stop and pull halfway off the highway. We have been behind motor homes that just plan stop in the road and look at a bear, moose or beautiful flowers. YUP, it is summertime in Alaska!

You end your day either staying for the night or driving home in twilight — about 10 or 11 p.m., as it does not get completely dark throughout June, July and part of August. But you have to first stop to eat in one of the several seafood restaurants, which may take one to three hours.

We can go to Seward from here in about four hours. I know people who make it in about two, but we are in no hurry. There is lots to see and potty stops to be made along the way.

Go to Seward for the Salmon Derby or 4th of July. The Mount Marathon race up and down the mountain brings large crowds. Don’t forget to take a Kenai Fjords charter boat out into Resurrection Bay and beyond into Prince William Sound. The captains are very informative and interesting. For four hours on that charter you get to see all kinds of sea life, sea birds and glaciers. It’s a trip you have to take. Getting off the boat and going the SeaLife Center on the edge of town is always a treat.

Summer visitors at our house get a peek at our Alaskan homestyle living. Sometimes we plan a trip to Homer. Susan and I are planning such a trip in August with good friends Jo Anne Wahlstrom and daughter Kandi and Leatha Earll and daughter Tia. We rented a lodge and we are going to have a rip-roaring good time. It may take all day to get there and a sleepless night, but we’ll take several walks on the beach and I am sure enjoy some great food at many of the nice restaurants. I am especially looking forward to that trip! We can take as many hours to get there and that many hours getting home — who cares about the mileage!!

One year, we planned a trip to Fairbanks and Chena Hot Springs with Sister Elaine and her husband Ted Oster. We took all modes of transportation. We drove four hours from our house to Anchorage. We flew to Fairbanks, rented a motor home in Fairbanks and drove about three hours before we stopped for the night and “camped” in our motor home. On to Chena Hot Springs. What a nice place to visit. We especially enjoyed the ice house and the hot springs. Then we drove back to Fairbanks, floated down the Chena River on a paddleboat stern-wheeler, ate a nice lunch, got on a train in Fairbanks and got off at the depot at Denali

We took a delightful trip — long, but very interesting trip, by old-school bus to a resort within Denali Park, Kantishna Road House. We were served lunch, walked around and took the long, long ride back to the lodge that we were staying at for the night along the highway entrance to Denali Park. We had a great time at the family-style restaurant and enjoyed cheerful and funny entertainment.

The next morning we climbed on a train headed for Anchorage, and took the long four-hour (or was it five hours, Bob will tell you it was WAY TO LONG!) ride through all kinds of beautiful scenery. My sister and I took so many pictures standing outside on the train platform. I took so many pictures I still have not counted. So did Elaine! The Hurricane Gulch Bridge crossing was the highlight.

As we arrived at the train depot in Anchorage, we took a taxi to the airport so Elaine and Ted could go back to Colorado. That was a trip to remember in hours and days and days. I would be totally astounded at the miles we traveled, as if we were counting miles. This is Alaska where we count in hours!!

Don’t forget to go to the gold mining camps, an hour close by and hours faraway.

Valdez and Whittier are fun trips and can be reached by car, train, boat or airplane.

BUT, our favorite trip of all is in our backyard around a bonfire with friends and family who have brought their favorite dish to share at an annual picnic that Bob and I have every year. This year it will be in August to say hello to friends we have not seen for weeks, months or years. In the Native villages, it is called a potlatch.

We have given many, many potlatches — what we call bonfire picnics. No one leaves hungry and usually takes a plateful of food home with them, as food is in abundance and varied.

Our bonfire picnics often include friends who offer their smoked salmon to our guests. It is always delicious. Much jabber and tall-tale telling is ongoing. If this sounds like fun, come join us sometime. We would love to hear your stories and taste your special dish around the special potlatch we call a bonfire.


We served this at the 2001 Christmas Party for Fireweed Herb Garden in the gift shop. We had many requests for it.

In a medium bowl stir until blended:

1 8-ounce package cream cheese at room temperature

2 tablespoons sour cream or mayonnaise

2 tablespoons finely minced onion

Small amount of finely chopped red bell pepper (optional)

1 teaspoon lemon pepper

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup minced smoked salmon

1 teaspoon Tabasco

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

Stir to blend completely. Place in serving bowl and chill at least 8 hours. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with cheese crackers, saltines or Wheat Thins.

Gets better after it is in the fridge for a while.


Quick — have a can of refrigerated biscuits on hand.

Oil a 2-quart casserole and place the following into it:

1 pint canned salmon, drained and dark pieces removed.

1/2 cup each chopped onion and celery

1/4 cup green pepper chopped fine (optional)

2 cups frozen mixed vegetables. Run under hot water in a colander and drain.

1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1 can undiluted cream of mushroom soup

Mix until blended. Top with refrigerated biscuits. Brush tops with butter and sprinkle with garlic salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees until biscuits are browned and casserole is bubbling.

This is so very good on a cold winter night. Don’t forget the Grandma McClure’s dill pickles!

Serve with salad made from fruit cocktail, chopped canned peaches and sliced, diced orange. Fold in Cool Whip or mayonnaise. Sprinkle with pecans.


1 pint can drained salmon, removed the dark pieces.

1/2 cup mayonnaise or half yogurt and mayonnaise

3 teaspoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped dill pickle relish

1/2 small onion, chopped finely

1 teaspoon dill weed

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Combine all ingredients. Toast and butter English Muffins. Spread with cream cheese. Top with salmon mixture.

Cut in half and serve with Broccoli Bacon Salad.


Combine 2 large bunches of broccoli, chopped — discard woody steams, slice the rest

1/2 cup raisins or craisins (optional)

1 pound fried bacon. Chop bacon before you fry it!

1 cup chopped red onion

Combine and pour over:

2 cups mayonnaise

1/2 cup sugar

4 tablespoons vinegar

4 tablespoons milk

Combine and chill all night.

To serve, sprinkle with sunflower seeds. This is so good I could of have made a meal of it.

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

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