Every year I spend about a month using a pressure canner to preserve the bounty of the backyard garden. That's child's play compared to the way Alaska residents do home canning. In a land where store-bought groceries can bankrupt you, the tradition is to shift the jar supply constantly to what's available or in season. Alaskans can everything from bear meat to mushrooms, stocking it away for future meals.
"If it stops crawling long enough, we'll put it in a jar," says Jon Rowan, a schoolteacher in the town of Klawock, on the island's west side.
Rowan hunts, harvests and cans nearly every sort of creature that lives in the diverse, rain-drenched ecosystem of the region. His cellar is crammed with hundreds of jars of salmon, halibut, rockfish, lingcod, deer and even seal, which Rowan can legally shoot because he — like many of the island's several thousand people — has Native American roots.
Seal blubber, Rowan says, is cooked for hours before going into the jar. It may be used for cooking or simply melted over rice — "kind of like how you use soy sauce at a Chinese restaurant," Rowan says.
The meat of local seals is also canned.
(Image credit: Alastair Bland/for NPR)