4-H canning – the Alaska way of life!

On July 9th, I had another exciting experience during my 3-week internship at SCS.  After focusing on learning about the natural history and management of salmon, this week I got to help at a salmon-canning class with the 4-Hers!

Some preparatory work was required before we would be ready to show the kids how canning works. 

Sophie brought us the fish – generously provided by local fisherman Eric Jordan - one pink and one coho.  Wonderful Renee showed us how to filet the salmon, and let us have a try (our knife work was not in the same skill realm as Renee’s).

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Renee and Sarah filleting our salmon

The guidelines we used for prepping our salmon were provided by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.  After fileting and cutting the fish into pieces, we soaked the fish in saltwater for 45 minutes.  Then we smoked the fish for about 2 hours.  These steps were to add flavor to the fish before canning.  They were not sufficient to preserve the fish (that’s what the canning was for).

We took all our fish and materials to the middle school and met up with 13 eager kids!

After introducing ourselves, we talked about salmon.  These kids know a lot!  Most of them have caught salmon, and all of them have eaten it!  We talked about different ways to preserve salmon (smoking, freezing).  Then we talked about canning as a way to preserve the bounty of salmon that can be caught in the summer.

On to the action!  Everyone washed their hands, and lined up to fill a jar with the prepared salmon.  There was a visible difference between the pink and the coho, and a few intrepid kids who know which was which!

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Photo By Lione Clare

While Sophie and Sarah got the pressure cooker started, I shared some stories and pictures with the kids about my time at the Redoubt Lake fish weir.  I told them about what the weir is for, how we count the fish, how we catch and measure some of the sockeye salmon, and about all the creatures around that want to eat the fish.  They asked lots of great questions!

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Photo By Lione Clare

We talked about all the things that a migrating salmon might have to overcome to make it to its birthplace river to spawn - bears, eagles, otters, orcas, steep waterfalls, and people!  Their imaginations and artistic talents were on display as they used crayons and paper to draw some of the obstacles a migrating salmon has to avoid. 

Since it takes two hours for the salmon to cook in the pressure cooker, we had some already-canned salmon to taste.  Consensus – delicious!

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Photo By Lione Clare

It was my first 4H class ever, and I had a great time! I learned a lot from Sarah, an Alaska Way of Life 4-H Leader, by  watching how wonderfully she works with the children. I now have another Alaskan salmon experience to remember!


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