Ann Berg and her husband, Bob, can be seen in March 1995 during a -17-degree cold spell. (Photo courtesy Ann Berg)

Ann Berg and her husband, Bob, can be seen in March 1995 during a -17-degree cold spell. (Photo courtesy Ann Berg)

Pioneer Potluck: Not like the old days

A far cry from the days when we could brave freezing tempatures with no power

  • Tuesday, January 14, 2020 10:11pm
  • Life

We usually get started early in the fall getting prepared every winter by checking oil in the cars and pickup and the snow plow. We have plug-ins for block heaters for the cars. We usually have new oil in both the cars. We rearrange the position of the snow plow so it will be ready to get started and plow snow.

We usually have plenty of firewood for the woodstove in Bob’s Cave-shop. We did buy a small Toyo oil heater for the Cave to keep it warm when Bob is not in there. Well, this year because of the cold we had to order two more cords of wood.

I have a new — bought three years ago — Williams propane stove in the Sewing-computer room. This model runs without electric. We have a Renai propane stove in the house that is about 15 years old and have the plan in place to replace it with a Williams, but for right now it works perfectly.

Our woodstove in the house is very old and in need of repair so it sits in the corner gathering dust and whatever has no home any other place in the house. So in our mind’s eye we thought we were prepared.

Well, along come the wind and the ice on the trees and power outages. The Renai will not run without electric, so we ended up in the cave, parked in front of the blazing hot woodstove. Very comfortable, but it is hard to sleep in a wooden rocking chair and a recliner. The second day of the no power, we packed in an air mattress that we never used on our 10,000 mile vacation we took in 2000.

No air pump for the air mattress. So we grabbed lots blankets and made a bed on the floor for Bob because he had to go to work that Monday morning. The floor is extra cold and it was as comfortable as a cold cement slab! He finally got a little snooze in. Finally on the third day we were lucky to have power back but not so for lots of people. We were comfee in our house with the Renai heater going full blast.

The first thing my son said to us — he works on the slope on the ice road, driving his shift at night — was go buy a generator. Susan and I went on a quest and found a Honda generator at Sportsman’s in Soldotna. So now we have a generator, and hopefully we mostly have everything covered! We do have a generator that is a big as two horses and twice as heavy that is about 35 years old. Too big, too old and too loud for us to even think about getting it started, let alone moved. We used it many a year when we first built our house 32 years ago and lived for four years with no electric.

Oh, but not so fast — the cold snap with 11 below for several days and then the days of dropping to 17 below at night and 12 below in the day. It got OLD just trying to stay warm.

Well, for some reason we did not get the oil changed in both my Subaru and Bob’s Olds. And for some reason the block heater in my car did not work. And for some reason Bob’s car just plain did not turn over at that temp, even with it plugged in. Oil too thick, he says. My 1998 Subaru started! It moaned and groaned but is started so Bob did not miss any work and we were not completely shut off getting groceries and things necessary. Although our family and friends checked to see if we were OK and needed anything. Thank you God for cellphones, good family and friends!

So now after is has warmed up to 11 above, I will go get my oil changed, and have the block heater replaced and Bob will change the oil in his (which, after it warmed up to 11 above, started).

In the old days we were very self sufficient at 17 below and colder, and I have pictures to prove that we never blinked about no electric, as we did not have any in the first place, and the woodstove kept us warm as long as we chucked wood in it. Heck, we even had bonfires in the cold, just because we were all bored. But then we were a lot younger.

I recently came across a photo of Bob and I standing front of our house, snow piled high and light from the bonfire glowing on the snow and our faces and on a path to the outhouse that Bob shoved every morning to keep it open. We learned several tricks to keeping our hindsides warm. One was a tidbit from Earl Robbins at Bishop Creek. Hang the toilet seat on a hanger behind the wood stove and take it with you when you go to the outhouse. IT WORKS!!

On March 17, 1995 St Patrick’s Day at 17 below, we decided to have a St. Pat’s bonfire party. Bob plowed the yard out as much as possible and a parking place on the hill for bored neighbors and family to park and walk down to the bonfire. Bob shoveled out a shelf for everyone to put there goodies and drinks.

I proceeded to make a big pot of corned beef and cabbage with potatoes for everyone and started it on the woodstove blazing away in the house. I pulled out the big barbecue grill to keep everything warm as some one brought a big pan of hotdogs and there were salads and desserts that went on the snow shelf. I transferred the pot of corned beef to the grill to make more accessible for everyone. I turned on the grill, NO flame — took me about five minutes to realize that the propane line had frozen. So I packed my big pot back in the house and sat it on the hot woodstove, along with the hotdogs in water. I made hot chocolate and hot coffee and when someone was hungry or needed a hot drink they just ambled into the house and helped themselves.

We had about 25 hardy souls standing around the huge bonfire that Bob built — the bigger the better in Bob’s book! First they would toast their front sides and turn around and toast the backsides. Everyone was happy and had such a good time telling jokes and stories into the wee hours of the morning. What fun! What great memories! Glad that is a memories because I don’t want to go stand by a bonfire at 17 below at 82 years old. My bones need to be warm on all sides.

We do miss our old sauna that was near us when we lived in the cabin. And those stories are for another time. We had lots of fun and kept warm and toasty too.


Oil and line an 8-inch pie plate with one large flour tortilla.

In a bowl mix:

2 cups leftover chicken, turkey or cooked ground beef/moose

1 can cream of chicken soup or cream of mushroom

1 small bag of favorite mixed vegetables, thawed and warmed in microwave

1 small can green chilies chopped, do not drain

½ chopped fine onion

1 or 2 jalapenos

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon minced garlic

Pour into like-sized pie plate — top with another flour tortilla, sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Top with small amount Co-Jack cheese.

Set on a larger pan because it will spill out.

Bake at 375 F for 30 to 40 minutes.

This is a good one-dish supper. Serve with your favorite green salad.


Use your 6-quart stew pot or slow cooker. I used to put this on the woodstove and let it cook away!

Poach 4 chicken breasts (or 2 thighs 2 breasts), cut in fourths. Set aside.

Brown in 1 teaspoon of oil in stew pot.

1 chopped onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Stir in:

1 teaspoon cinnamon (yes really)

1 to 2 teaspoons chili powder

1 to 2 teaspoons ground cumin


1 can of Mexican-style stewed tomatoes

1 can chicken broth

1 cup celery

1 cup frozen corn

1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno

½ teaspoon oregano

Add the chicken breast and press into the sauce.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours at 350 F, or in slow cooker for 2 hours on high.

Serve in small bowls and with some sticky rice in bottom. Add the stew and garnish with cheese and finely mince onion.


In a large 6-quart cooking pot (I have a Visionwear glass pot I have used for 35 years) or slow cooker

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 pound of cubed chicken or pork — I use breast and thighs

1 15-ounce can of can of pineapple chunks with juice

½ cup dark corn syrup or brown sugar

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons catsup

1 tablespoon minced garlic

½ onion cut in small chunks

2 tablespoons soy sauce

½ green pepper, cut in chunks

Simmer 2 hours and stir often.

Mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch with ½ cup water

Stir into sauce and simmer 15 minutes. Serve with rice.

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

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