Pioneer Potluck: The stinky fish barrel

  • Tuesday, August 22, 2017 8:13pm
  • LifeFood

At the cabins, May 1986

“Peeuuyouh! Uggh! WHAT is that smell? I smell that every once in a while. WHAT IS IT?” I asked Bob and his forever and always partner J.T. “Can’t you guys find that?”

We lived in the cabins in the lot next to ours for 5 years before we built our house. J.T. lived in the cabin next door. We helped each other and I cooked for both most of the time. Once in a while J.T. would splurge on a frozen pizza. But mostly he lived on potato chips.

One evening I happened to looked out our big window when I saw a flying black, smoking object sail through the air and into the bushes below. It landed near the lake where it laid and smoldered and smoked for a while. J.T. had put a pizza in the oven and then laid down on the couch and went to sleep. Well, the rest is history. His cabin smelled like burnt pizza for a long time, but that was not as bad as the time he burnt the hamburger.

Do you know who bad burnt hamburger smells? It leaves a longer lingering odor! But back to my other smelly story! The stinky fish barrel!

A short time later the guys came around the corner of the cabin.

“Well, we found it, but don’t know how we are going to get rid of it,” Bob announced.

My surprised and loud answer was: “WHAT DO YOU MEAN, get rid of it? What is it?”

“Well,” Bob said, “It’s a big 50-gallon plastic barrel of fish guts and liquid over by the homestead cabin.”

“YOU have to be kidding,” I replied.

“I sure wish we were,” was their reply.

We moved into the cabin in October of 1985. It was cold and on into winter and freezing weather. Then next spring things thawed out and that is when the stinky fish barrel began to ferment again.

So started the great debate, night after night, daytime too, gathered around the perpetual Bob’s bonfire. He would gather up junk, garbage, trees, tree branches, brush, old bottles, cans, shoes and anything he could find to throw on the fire. He spent weeks cleaning, pruning, sawing and trimming trees so we could see the lake from our front porch. He cleaned around the cabins (there were four at that time) and spruced up the place that had been so neglected. The trees and brush grew right up next to the cabins. When he got done the hillside in front of the cabins looked like a golf course.

We enjoyed the fire ring he built between the house on the lake, halfway down the hill. Night after night we spent setting around the fire singing and telling stories with our neighbors, who would see the fire and the smoke and stop by. Some were getting off from various jobs, or no job, just curious. They would spend the night sharing their tales of woe with the rest of us.

Along with the sharing of stories and song was the sharing of food. Always they would arrive with a favorite dish or if it was a bachelor — or some I called “orphans,” as they worked on the slope or platforms and had family in another state — they would hand me a bag of chips or some smoked salmon or fresh caught salmon. The casserole dishes were some old recipes and some new ones for everyone to taste.

I did my share of cooking. The desire to cook for everyone and to share recipes with my friends was endless. I learned all about smoked fish, canned fish, how to prepare moose in several differnt ways.

We had crab feeds and steamed clams, supplied by son David. Salmon bakes and deep fried salmon. Sometimes shrimp boiling in pots with those wonderful big Homer shrimp. Moose steaks, always. Beef steaks, very rarely. Not much money in our pockets, just sharing what we had and lots of laughter and smiles on the faces of neighbors, young, old and new. Fresh bread, of course. I got good at baking it. Always dessert, usually from the rhubarb plants or the blueberries.

Back to the Stinky Fish Barrel tale:

“I have to go to work, ” I said to J.T. and Bob. “Don’t like that smell when the wind blows from the south. Do you think you can get that taken care of before I get home tonight?”

Both J.T. and Bob grinned and shook their head, “Well, of course, we have a plan!”

First plan:

They made a lid for the barrel cutting out a big circle 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. J.T. lost! He ran up to the barrel, half threw the lid on the barrel top, turned around and ran, gagging and retching from the bottom of his stomach.

“Oowweee Bob,” tears rolling down his face, “that is awful!”

After a few moments of reviving his normal self, J.T. said, as an afterthought, “Maybe we should have put a bag of lime in it before we put the lid on.”

I was designated to pick up the lime. I had to go “clear to town” (Kenai) to buy the bag of lime at Kenai Hardware, Plumbing and Lumber. (This was where the Salvation Army building is now.)

Second plan:

Upon delivering the lime, J.T. and Bob were huddled down near the forever lit bonfire, pondering and 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. J.T. lost again. Bob ran up and jerked the lid off , J.T poured the lime in. Bob replace the lid and they both ran, needless to say gagging and retching again from the pit of their stomachs. Off they went to the bonfire for a well deserved beer and the notion that the stinky fish barrel was finally fixed.

Next week: the third plan!

The Pioneer Potluck series is written by 50-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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