Ann “Grannie Annie” Berg

Ann “Grannie Annie” Berg

Remembering the good old days

About a little history of Alaska during the oil boom of the 1960s

  • Tuesday, August 20, 2019 8:45pm
  • Life

We welcome relatives, friends and tourists! Here is a little history lesson about our Great State!

Alaska is a very young state, born in 1959. We are still growing from the changes of the Russians hunting for furs and fishing, to the growth of the military during WWII, to the discovery of oil at Swanson River and on the North Slope. Our culture and legacy has changed with people from every state in the union coming to seek the fortune in mining gold in the 1800s and 1967 to seek their fortune in black gold.

Sadly people came to seek financial benefits and sometimes not to accept and embrace the culture and life they found. Seems their goal was to change to the generic version matching the “Lower 48.”

Our goals changed to the culture called “money.” Some families survived and some families did not. The long two- to four-, sometimes six-week stretches, of men working away from home in the oil patch, split families — and the mothers and kids headed back home to the comforts of a familiar hometown and family. Women were on their own while the husband worked the long stretches on the North Slope or on the platforms in the inlet, with small children in a harsh cold environment of the dark cold winter. Coping with coats, boots, hats, gloves and 12-foot snow banks, getting cars and trucks brushed or shoveled off so they could hopefully get them started in -20 degree weather, only to become stuck in the heavy snow, simply was too much for some of the women of the southern states.

Most of the oil families lived in trailers hastily put up by contractors who brought them from California. Trailers with hardly any insulation were not made for the harsh cold winters. Doors and windows froze shut; the bedding froze to the walls. I know, because my kids and I were one of the many families living in the California-style trailer house.

I was fortunate enough to move to the comforts of a warm house.

This lifestyle was too much for some mothers, who simply gave up and went back to the comforts of a warm home and family. Also, not having fresh vegetables and fruits, eating fish, fish, fish, moose, moose, moose, not wanting or willing to learn a new way of life, especially a new diet and ordering all the clothes (and some food) through catalogs was just what made for the already sad and lonely mother return to her homeland.

We also had to travel to Anchorage for most of our canned goods and almost all the meat products. No local nice big grocery stores!

On the other hand, the contrast of the long summer days, the beauty of the first robin in May, looking for a worm-morsel in the new green grass, the fireweed, wild geraniums, Jacobs’s ladder, and the berry bushes blooming, and, oh yes, the excitement of fishing for the big one!

I particularly enjoyed picking the many different wild berries and making into jellies and jams for the winter time. I enjoyed sharing the abundant jams and jellies also.

The visitors coming to fish for salmon and halibut, the picnics, potlucks, and late-night bonfires means getting together with your friends, new and old, most of them we have not seen all winter. Exchanging hugs and stories of the harsh times of winter make it seem so far away from the next cold season.

Happily, some of us survived and learned to love Alaska by changing and adapting to the cultures, the abundant foods available and the way of life that the families you left behind will never understand. I have survived and am so very lucky to have my kids and their families in this same area. We have been here for 52 years! Bob adds, “and not going anywhere. This is our home!”

Skip ahead from 1967 to 2019: The families that survived and the way of life of the oil patch have changed drastically from living in trailers with lean-to roofs in 1967, to nicely built homes near lakes and rivers and overlooking the beauty of Cook Inlet. The cities have grown and prospered with the paved streets and many businesses. We have paved roads, where gravel and mud was the norm. And the trails into our houses are “borough (county) built” gravel roads, maintained in the wintertime by graders to keep the roads open for our children and grandchildren to get to the bus stop. Families, who migrate to Alaska today, have no idea of the hardships of 50, 80, 100 years ago.

Well, in our house, built by Bob, we are almost modern!! We still have an outhouse (just in case the water freezes up.) We have a generator that we use in case the winds in March take out the electric power. We still hunt for moose and fish for the big one. We have learned to eat and enjoy the products of Alaska. We pressure can moose and fish in jars, but most of have freezers and just simply freeze the game and fish. My freezer in earlier times, 1967 -68, was a Blazo box sitting in a high place, just in case dogs, coyotes, weasels and wolverines came by to help them selves. My first winter here in a little trailer, I placed my Blazo freezer box on top of the trailer roof, like I was told, feeling satisfied that I was protecting my winter supply of meat. One morning I spied a raven with strips of bacon sitting in a tree. Hmm, I wondered, where did he get that? Next morning, when I went to the “freezer” to get bacon for breakfast, half the moose and fish had been pecked and pulled into shreds and MY bacon was gone!

The economy rises and falls with the price of oil and so does the price per pound of the fish caught commercially. The biggest employer in Alaska is the United States government and the State of Alaska. We have many military bases, some are combined in the past years. Next in line is oil-related companies and then commercial fishing. Our schools are state of the art and most rural communities and villages now have a school. In early years, the small school-aged rural kids were sent to school in larger cities for their education. They were gone from their families for months!

Sadly, the economy fails the young person just out of high school, who other than working in a cannery in the summer has little opportunity to work within the state. Most jobs available require much experience. We have great colleges and the opportunity abounds once you receive your degree. The mode of travel has upgraded from small twin-engine planes to the big jets. The road transportation in my old Willies Jeep and big four-by-four Army trucks from the early Army days and those beat-up cars and pickups with windshields and headlights broken and numerous dents and bumpers torn off has changed to the every modern car available. Many villages still rely of airplanes as the means of transportation. Local village transportation is usually by boat and in the winter, snowmachine. Bob and I may not be the most modern, but we are happy where we are at, snuggled in our small house on a beautiful lake not to far from Captain Cook State Park and fishing in the Swanson River.

Our visitors exclaim with much surprise. “Do you live here all winter long?” and “It is so quiet and so pretty!” Life is good — we are happy. May your have a wonderful visit to our beautiful state!

We are about to embark on the yearly job of winterizing and putting things away for the winter months. Yes, we have been in our house 32 years and we are “here to stay!”

Please keep the firefighters and those who have lost homes and business to the dreadful fires this summer in your prayers. DO NOT LIGHT ANY FIRES OUTDOORS AND MAKE SURE YOUR WOOD-BURNING STOVE HAS A CAP ON THE TOP OF THE CHIMNEY SO SPARKS DO NOT FLY INTO THE TINDER-DRY SURROUNDINGS,

BLESSINGS EVERY ONE.

Recipes

Rhubarb season is here and time to pull and make your favorite jams, pies, cake, cupcakes and cookies. Dice and put in freezer in 2-cup potions for a treat in the middle of winter. I collect rhubarb recipes and here are a few of my favorites.

RHUBARB BREAD

Oil two 5- by 9-inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl: place:

1 cup brown sugar

1⁄2 cup white sugar

2⁄3 vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk or 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon vinegar in it — let stand 5 minutes

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon salt

2 1⁄2 cups flour

2 cups small diced rhubarb

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup chopped nuts

Mix all ingredients until smooth. Pour in prepared loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

Test to see if done.

Cool on rack for 10 minutes and tip out of pans.

Glaze with:

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

A few drops of water

Pour over warm loaves. Cool and cut in slices. Delicious!

RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE

The first pie I made in Alaska. Still my favorite!

1 9-inch pie shell — unbaked

1 pie crust for top but this is optional* (see below)

In a bowl:

2 eggs

3 tablespoons milk

2 cups sugar (I use 1 brown and 1 white)

Beat and add:

1⁄4 cup flour

3⁄4 teaspoon nutmeg

1⁄4 teaspoon allspice

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

4 cups diced rhubarb

Mix and add rhubarb.

Pour into pie shell.

Dot with butter.

Place top crust over and:

Brush top crust with melted butter or milk.

Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.

*Or, with NO top crust, sprinkle with:

1⁄2 cup brown sugar

1⁄4 cup butter

1⁄2 cup flour

1⁄4 teaspoon nutmeg

1⁄8 teaspoon cinnamon

Bake at 400 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes. ENJOY!

RHUBARB BARS

2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 cup butter, softened

3 cups white sugar

1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt

1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour

4 eggs, beaten

4 1⁄2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix together 2 cups of flour, confectioners’ sugar and butter until it forms a dough, or at least the butter is in small crumbs. Press into the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch baking dish.

Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven. While this bakes, whisk together the white sugar, salt, flour and eggs in a large bowl. Stir in rhubarb to coat. Spread evenly over the baked crust when it comes out of the oven.

Bake for another 35 minutes in the preheated oven, or until rhubarb is tender. Cool and cut into squares to serve.


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


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