Citizens! There is nothing sweeter to the soul of the gastronomic anthropologist – the culinary Indiana Jones incarnate who alone is TFD! – than coming across ancient recipes that are barely known outside a particular culture (like this one). Especially those with an established provenance that have evolved to remain relevant to the modern world. This recipe for akutaq – aka ‘Eskimo Ice Cream’ is far nobler and more important to the First Nation Inuit of the far North than the nickname given to it by Qallunaat (the Inuit word for white people). Far be it for me to say that the Inuit haven’t kept a good sense of humor around their less-than-pleasant dealings with us, as revealed in this very funny documentary called ‘Qallunaat! Why White People Are Funny’ – you can watch it here.
I’ve been very fortunate to have visited the Northwest Territories in Arctic Canada and experienced First Nation hospitality firsthand – should you ever wish to see the incredible Northern Lights, the Northwest Territories are one of the best places on Earth to view them! My friend Joe Buffalo Child runs his own aurora hunting tour guide company out of Yellowknife (the capital city) and they are beyond fantastic, check them out here.
Now, as to akutaq – despite its English nickname, it is in no way, shape or form ‘ice cream’. It is a sustenance food for First Nation peoples living in western Alaska and throughout northern Canada. It is a Yup’ik word – ᐊᑯᑕᖅ – meaning ‘something mixed’.
As eruditely noted in whatscookingamerica.net:
The native people (Indigenous People) of Alaska have a distinct version of ice cream called Akutaq (also known as Eskimo Ice Cream). It is not creamy ice cream as we know it, but a concoction made from reindeer fat or tallow, seal oil, freshly fallen snow or water, fresh berries, and sometimes ground fish. Air is whipped in by hand so that it slowly cools into foam. They call this Arctic treat akutaq (ah-goo-duck), aqutuk, ackutuk, or Eskimo ice cream. Akutaq is a Yupik word that means mix them together.
This is a delicacy that Alaska Natives have thrived on for thousands of years. This recipe was made by Natives a long, long time ago for survival and was used as a special traveling food. When hunters went out to go hunting, they brought along akutaq.
The women traditionally made Eskimo ice cream after the first catch of a polar bear or seal. The woman (grandmother or mother of the hunter) would prepare the akutaq and share it with the community members during special ceremonies.
Akutaq can also be made with moose meat and fat, caribou meat and fat, fish, seal oil, berries and other Alaskan things. Women traditionally made akutaq after the first catch of a polar bear or seal. Traditionally, it was always made for funerals, pot latches, celebrations of a boy’s first hunt, or almost any other celebration. It is eaten as a dessert, a meal, a snack, or a spread.
Today, Eskimo ice cream is usually made with Crisco shortening instead of tallow and with raisins and sugar sometimes added. The region of Alaska lived in usually determines what berry is used, and each family usually has their favorite recipe for Eskimo ice cream. It is said that your choice of berries used in making Eskimo ice cream is a lifetime decision. It is okay to eat any flavor made by others, but if you are caught making more than one kind, you will lose all social standing.
I know, I know – to non-Eskimos, this sounds God-awful. Remember though, this was survival food, rich in fat and sugars from the berries to sustain you in a climate that routinely drops to -50 degrees Fahrenheit (it was that cold when I visited Yellowknife a few years back!). The modern version of akutaq I am sharing uses Crisco in place of the game fat as well as a goodly amount of sugar and fresh blackberry juice. Before you cry ‘foul’, be advised that what I have just described to you, is in fact – blackberry cake frosting. Now throw in a ton of other wild berries and you’ve got wild berry-laden blackberry frosting. Served ice-cold, this is tasty stuff, people!
I first learned of akutaq from the fantastic Canadian cooking show called Moosemeat and Marmalade – one of my favorite recent TV discoveries! You can learn more about this awesome and entertaining series here.
You can see the proper consistency of the whipped fat for akutaq starting at :12 in this video preview of the episode:
The defining aspect of this recipe has to be the wild berries – and they must be frozen to work. Thankfully, you can make totally authentic akutaq by ordering frozen wild-gathered berries here. I also specify using powdered freeze-dried cloudberries for texture and color – you can get them from here. Lastly, I call for wild blackberry juice – you can get top-quality juice here. A lesser mortal would stop here, and leave the sea elements of the original recipe out altogether – but I am TFD and I have come up with a genius way to stay true to the roots of the recipe without the fishy-tasting elements!
Specifically, I call for squeezing in 2 capsules of strawberry-flavored DHA oil (derived from arctic fish and rich in Omega-3 fatty acids) into the shortening, which makes this truly an authentic methodology for recreating the recipe outside the North. You can’t taste the fish at all and in fact it just adds a strawberry flavor that works perfectly with the other berries and stays old-school so you can serve a First Nation Elder without fear – you can buy it here.
Citizens, I recognize you may not wish to try this recipe – but I encourage you to take a deep breath and sample a taste of the ancient North that survives to this very day and please trust me – my version is delicious! 😀
Battle on – the Generalissimo
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