Tag Archives: dolly varden

With apologies to Wisconsin, a love note to Alaska

My mental map of Juneau is populated more with berry bushes than actual manmade landmarks: hairy stinkcurrants and blackcurrants, which make the best jam; red currants, not only delicious but about as optimal as foraging gets; salmonberries, juicy but flavorless, a good fallback or pick-me-up on a bike ride; and of course blueberries. Last year W. brought home from Alaska, as a consolation prize for the wage slaves in our household, namely me, a case of blueberry jam.

This year, alas, we were too early for berries. The currant-skeins were all so small and green …

However, we were not too early for Dolly Vardens. Named, I remind you, for a flirty Dickens tart in a polka-dotted dress. Dollies are hardly flirtatious, though. They’ll just eat whatever, and that’s why I love them.

They taste like a delicate cross between trout and salmon. Yet salmon and halibut, the big fatty brutes, get far more attention. Lucky me.

Of course, W. and I are not averse to salmon-fishing. We carried home two of the four we caught, frozen and wrapped in my wedding-party attire. (The wedding being the ostensible occasion we were there; the fishing being the actual reason.)

If W. learned anything as a teenaged deckhand on a charter-fishing boat, he learned how to make fish look big in the photo. I think the blood makes it look like he won a knife-fight with the fish.

Rockfish: Disparaged by salmon fishermen, but it makes the best Thai fish cakes.


We did a lot of nostalgic hunting and foraging, starting the first day: a bike ride to a bolete spot at the base of a glacier, followed by waffles at the Waffle House, followed by dolly-fishing amid the horseflies at Eagle Beach. I have many fond memories of slow, brain-dead waffle-eating after a long day of foraging or hiking out the road. And I love the luxury of how casual fishing is in Juneau: deciding after the day’s main-course activity, to follow up with a little casting … not driving all day to get to a fishing spot; not staking ego or happiness on whether anything is caught, because the fish are so plentiful. In Wisconsin I haven’t encountered any fish bonanzas except winter bluegills, which are hardly worth eating.

Other notable edibles:

• Beach asparagus, a salty vegetable I just learned about. Would make excellent salad garnish.

Foraging for the masses: The Shriners in their tiny cars and everyone else at the 4th of July parade spend most of the parade throwing taffy at people. Sartorial note: Shriners in Alaska wear fancy rubber boots from Fred Meyer.

• A Maryland-style crab boil, with newspapers festively lining the table — Maryland-style except for the size of the crabs — something I’d been yearning for since I left Alaska. Incidentally, PSP has recently been found in Southeast Alaska crab guts. (You never ate the guts anyway, but do be careful.) I am concerned that the anthropogenic rise in sea temperatures will bode ill for my love affair with Dungies and other Alaska shellfish. If the oysters start getting spawny in Kake, that’s when I’ll grow a beard, slash my clothes and start wandering the streets with signs about Impending Doom.

The actual reason we went to Alaska: A wedding in Excursion Inlet, two hours' boat ride from Juneau. This picture marks the first time I have mixed high heels with seaweed.

Wisconsin has its charms, such as the four gallon bags of cherries I put in the freezer last week. But I left my heart somewhere in Gastineau Channel — to feed, naturally, the Dolly Vardens I hope to catch on my return.