Pioneer Potluck: St. Patrick’s Day at 35 below

  • Wednesday, March 8, 2017 10:41am
  • LifeFood

Rick’s Ranch, North Nikiski

Late 1980s

Bob is known for his bonfires for the past 30 years. We have had a bonfire of some sort in the spring, summer and get-to-gathers in the fall. But the most fun time is in the middle of the winter, standing around a roaring Bob-bonfire with all our friends.

We just had one this Christmas that was a dozy! Lots of family and friends standing around watching all the little kids, some big kids, a grandma, uncles and cousins sledding down our hill. And for us not so brave, the warm cave, juggling the wet coats, mittens and boots on kids when they came in from the cold. The fire was fuelled by a load of pallets, that Bob was bent on burning in one bonfire, not matter how long he had to stand there. What a roaring good time we all had.

In March, some years are so dreary, we have to find something to celebrate. Almost every year at St. Patrick’s Day, Bob and I have had some kind of celebration.

The St. Patrick’s Day, years and years ago, was a memorable one. It had been snowing, starting in November and never stopped. So we had snow, snow and more snow. In March being mostly house bound, like most of our friends, we decided have a St. Patrick’s party.

Bob cleared away the snow once again with the snow plow, measuring 6 feet total, at that time. This made some berms 7 to 8 feet tall, that froze solid. He had shoveled a path to the outhouse every day starting in November, because it was essential to keep the path to the outhouse clear. We did not have running water! He would have to stand back at every shovel full and toss it high upon the 7 foot snow bank. We carefully planned how we were going to accommodate everyone.

The yard was filling up with snow banks pushed up by the snow plow and there just was no place to put any more snow. That did not matter, we decided to have a St. Pat’s party anyway. It was up to Bob to get the wood to burn. Not too hard to do as we burnt wood in the stove to keep us warm in the house.

We used to cut and split our wood or have it hauled in and then we split and stacked it. We usually planned on 12 cords of wood to get us through the winter. Sometimes we had help in the form of Arleigh when he was old enough to “hep Bob” carry wood. Grey was ever so helpful also when he was old enough to pack wood for “Bomp.” Our neighbors, our relatives and their relatives have all helped with the splitting and stacking of wood at one time. You will never be forgotten!

The day came for our big party! Bob hauled some pallets he had found and then stacked wood on top. He carried his “weed burner” (as I call it) to the wood pile — and poof, we had a roaring fire. Our brave, brave friends came from down the road, up the road, from far and near, to have a break from the constant cold and snow just to have a St. Patrick’s party at Bob and Ann’s.

When they arrived they parked alongside the drive way and down into the cul de sac and walked in, covered dish in had. Bob carved out a ledge in the snow and that became a table. The men carefully guarded the beer so it would not freeze! And no one complained about taking the long path to the outhouse! Everyone crowded around the bon fire and jabbered up a storm. Laughter rang across the lake.

I had made corned beef and cabbage and one nice visitor brought a big kettle of it also. We hauled out our BBQ grill, lit it and placed the two big kettles on it to keep it warm. I jabbered with all, being glad to see some familiar faces, not seen during the long, cold winter. Then I went to stir the corned beef and cabbage. It was cold! There was no flame. We had just gotten the bottle filled. I relit it — it burned for about 5 seconds and went out. I tried it again! Nope, it would not stay lit. It was so cold the propane froze! At 35 below things freeze, even propane.

Not to be deterred, we hauled the big kettles of corned beef and cabbage into the house, heated them up and eventually we had heaping cups of hot corned beef. Sure did taste good!

This was before Bob built his cave-shop. This was before we had running water. This was when we were young and the cold was nothing to worry about and our friends came and enjoyed themselves around a roaring Bob-bonfire. What a delightful break that was from the long bleak cold snowy winter! What joy we had and we still talk about it!

This March has not been dark, bleak and dreary — it has been long, but mostly sunny and the cold has never gotten down to 35 below! Small blessings in the middle of March makes me happy.


On a sad note, my dearest friend Leatha Earll called me this Monday morning. Her son Leith Gene Earll passed away Sunday. The Earll family and especially Leatha, have been my dear, dear friends for almost 50 years. Leatha shared her bread, cookies and cakes with me when I first came to Alaska. She would come to my little trailer with her small son “Little Gene” and deliver some of her home baked goodies. Her family and mine have been close friends all these years. We shared fish, went on moose hunts and butchered and canned moose and fish. She and I gathered up 6 kids of mine and 3 of hers, jammed them in a camper and went clam digging. All the memories come flooding back to times when my kids grew up with hers. Our deepest sympathy goes out to this fine hard working lady and her family. We love you!

The Pioneer Potluck series is written by 47-year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. She has gathered recipes for more that 50 years. Some are her own creation. Her love of recipes and food came from her mother, a self -taught wonderful cook. She hopes you enjoy the recipes and that the stories will bring a smile to your day. Grannie Annie can be reached at

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