Pioneer Potluck: The stinky fish barrel story

  • By Ann "Grannie Annie" Berg
  • Tuesday, November 3, 2015 5:54pm
  • LifeFood

In a cabin, 1986-87

North Nikiski, Alaska

We spent many, many hours around Bob’s bonfires. Once in a while we would catch a smell of a terrible stinky odor. One warm fall day, I had to go to work and Bob and John were maintaining the bonfire.

“Peeeuuyyouh, Ukggghh! What is that smell! I smell that every once in a while. What is it?” I asked Bob and his forever partner, J.T. or John (aka, John Turnbull.) “Can’t you guys find it?”

A short time later, as I was about to leave they came around the corner of the cabin, “Well, we found it, but don’t know how we are going to get rid of it!”

What do you mean, “get rid of it” I say.

“Well,” they said, “It’s a big 50 gallon plastic barrel full of fish guts and liquid over by the homestead cabin.” They both were a little pale and shaking there heads.

“You have to be kidding,” I said.

“We wish we were!” they replied in utter dismay. The barrel had been left by former renters.

After I left for work, Bob and John gathered themselves around the perpetual bonfire, that Bob maintained night and day gathering junk, garbage, trees, tree branches, brush, old bottles, cans and shoes. He cleared around the cabin we called home and the cabin that John lived in next door. (That is another story!)

The cabins were 15 years old (there were four at one time) when we moved in and no one had cleared around the outer edges. The trees and brush grew right up and around all of them. Bob spent many months clearing, sawing, trimming and making the hillside in front look like a golf course.

We enjoyed the fire ring he built between the cabin and the lake, halfway down the hill. Night after night was spent singing and telling stories with our neighbors. We shared food and recipes. Always someone showed up with a dish or casserole, of a new or old recipe, for everyone to taste. I did my share of cooking. My desire to cook for everyone was strong and my desire to share recipes with my friend was endless.

We had crab feeds and steamed clams, supplied by son, David. Salmon bakes and beer batter, deep fried salmon in a cast iron skillet over the fire. Sometimes shrimp pots boiling over the fire with those wonderful big Homer shrimp. Moose steaks and roasts always. Beef steaks, very rarely! Not much money in our pockets, just good fun and smiles on the faces of neighbors and relatives, young, old and new. Fresh bread of course was coming out of my oven all the time. And always, always dessert supplied by someone. I kept a big supply of hot dogs and buns in the freezer.

A great debate began in the daytime and lasted into the wee hours of the night as we gathered around Bob’s bon fire discussing the solution to the Stinky Fish Barrel.

Finally about three days later, on my way to work, I said, “I sure do not like that smell when the wind blows from the south. Think you guys will get that taken care of before I get home?”

Both John and Bob looked up from the comfortable place by the fire, and grinned. “Well, of course we will take care of it, we have a plan.” (That only took three days!)

First Plan: They made a lid for it, cutting out a big circle of wood with one of Bob’s saws. Then they had to figure out who was going to get close enough to put the lid on the barrel. John lost. He ran up to the barrel, half threw the lid on to the top of the barrel, turned around and ran, gagging and retching from the bottom of his stomach. “OOOOEEW ugh, Bob that is awful,” gagged John. Then as an after thought, they said to each other, “Maybe we should have put a bag of lime in it before we put the lid on.”

I was designated to pick up a bag of lime. I had to go “clear to town” to buy a big bag of lime from Kenai Hardware Plumbing and Lumber.

Huddled around the bonfire after work, they formed Plan Two:

Upon delivering the lime, John and Bob were trying to figure out who was going to take the lid off the Stinky Fish Barrel and who was going to pour the lime in. John lost again. Bob ran up and took the lid off and John poured the lime in. Bob replaced the lid and the both ran, needless to say, gagging until streams of tears were running down there face.

Next week: Plan Three

The Grannie Annie series is written by longtime Nikiski resident Ann Berg. 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

Lemon Custard Puddin’ Cake

Page 57 of Grannie Annie’s Fish From Cold Alaskan Waters Cookbook

This recipe is dated 1949

In a large mixing bowl, combine:

6 tbsp flour

6 tbsp butter

1/2 cup sugar

4 egg yolks, save the whites

Beat and add:

1/2 cups milk

Grated peel of one lemon

2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

Mix in very well.

Wash beaters and in a small mixer bowl beat until stiff:

4 egg whites and slowly add:

1/2 cup sugar

Fold egg whites into the large bowl of batter. Pour this into an oiled 2 quart baking dish.

Place the dish inside a shallow pan with hot water. (I used a 13 x 9 baking pan for this)

Bake at 350 degrees for 55 to 60 minutes. Serve warm. Hide a piece because it is excellent cold.

Halibut Honey-Mustard Fingers

Partial thaw halibut fillets. Trim and cut into 1/2 by 2 inch strips. Set aside to thaw.

Prepare the honey mustard.

In 2(two) small bowls place:

1/2 cup honey in each bowl

1/4 cup Dijon mustard or mustard of you choice in each bowl. You will have to have one bowl for serving for dip and one for drizzling over hot halibut fingers.

Stir and set aside.

In a medium bowl:

1 cup flour

1/2 tsp garlic salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

Stir with fork

In a pie plate pour:

3/4 cups canned milk

Heat oil in large cast iron skillet to medium hot. Or use a deep fat fryer.

Dip fingers in milk. Roll in flour mixture. Place on wax paper and finish dipping and rolling.

Place fish in hot oil a few at a time. Fry, turning until browned. Do not over cook halibut. Cook about 2 or 3 minutes. Drain on paper towel lined paper plate. Finish frying. Place on a warmed platter, lined with lettuce. Drizzle the one bowl of honey-mustard mixture over the top.

Serve with a napkin and a smile and the extra bowl of honey-mustard for dip.

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