At the Last Frontier an invitation to a backyard BBQ is an invitation to a potluck or vice versa. In other words, the guest is supposed to bring a family-size dish or drinks for a group of five for an evening. If the dish is non-vegan, a friend killed what you eat. There is no dress code as Mother nature dictates what you can wear. When the potluck is in the evening, the look is more or less the same pre-, in and after the mosquito season.
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Backyard BBQs Are a Potluck in Alaska
In Alaska, invitations to backyard BBQs are invitations to a potluck party. The backyard BBQ season starts in mid March and ends with the first real cold snap (temperatures below -20F or -28.9oC). No matter what the weather is like, the party will launch. At temperatures above freezing or when it rains, the party will be outside under a heater or tent roof.
On the contrary, at temperatures below the freezing point, it’s just the host or home owner who stands in Sorrels, a Carhartt wool lumber jacket and Alaska jeans at the grill. The jeans have a 16 oz weight fabric, typically with a plaid flannel lining. The grill master goes outside just to turn the fish, meat, sausages, vegetables, potatoes around once in a while. Guests and family members stay inside. Therefore, forget about the best way to dress for a BBQ with friends. It’s neither a backyard BBQ, nor a dinner party, it’s an Alaska potluck.
What’s on the Table at an Alaska Potluck
The smell of moose, caribou, halibut and smoked or grilled salmon is in the air at every potluck in Interior Alaska. It mixes with the great scents of raspberry, cranberry and/or blueberry pie of self collected berries or rhubarb pie. Add Alaska grown cabbage, carrots, young spruce tips, turnips, mushrooms, black or red potatoes and Alaska weeds you can eat and you have the full collection of Alaska food on the table.
The young spruce tips are the base of a spicy salsa. The turnips, potatoes and carrots go on the grill. The cabbage is turned into coleslaw. Dandelion salad or bake anyone?
Who doesn’t have a yard and who isn’t fishing, hunting or berry picking, brings drinks. These can be from the liquor store. However, the favorites at potlucks are home-brewed beer and the homemade rhubarb or berry wines, or even snaps and vodka.
In addition to pies, there may be cookies or fudge for dessert.
Game Meat Is not for Sale
Alaska law forbids to sell game. Therefore, when you want to eat moose, or caribou, you have to host a potluck. One of your friends for sure will bring a dish of moose or caribou stew or even a raw piece for the grill. Alternatively, you may trade your garden’s or fishing bounty with game from your hunting friends.
Actually, I never ate caribou, or moose despite I was at many potlucks with huge dishes of these treats. My husband tells me, they taste great. I just don’t like the idea of eating something that was killed by a friend. At potlucks, I stick to the collectibles, dishes with berries and rhubarb, Alaska edible mushrooms or the spruce dip salsa.
Alaska Grown Fruits and Vegetables
Rhubarb, cabbage, potatoes, turnips, and carrots grow well under the midnight Sun. Everything else is a matter of luck. Either it is too dry and hot for lettuce or too wet and cold. More on what Alaskans grow in their yards. Since getting fresh vegetables in Alaska is difficult, Alaska self-grown vegetables are welcome at every potluck.
If there are potato chips they are grown in Alaska and home-made in a kettle. Some of them are even made from black potatoes (my favorites).
How to Recognize a New Alaskan
Alaska is a whole different world. Everybody recognizes a guest who is new in Alaska. These guests bring a tray of tropical fruits, a potato or noodle salad. This means something that they did not grow or kill. Other indices of new Alaskans are that they fail to bring a pair of high booties like Xtra-tuffs, combat or hiking boots and a hoodie or at least a baseball hat under which you could push a scarf for neck protection.
You ask why you would need these carry-ons?
After 7 pm, the mosquitoes come out for dinner. Therefore, sitting in a circle munching food makes you the buffet for them unless you wear clothing that makes it impossible for these little blood suckers to drill thru. More on mosquitoes in Fairbanks.
Mosquito repellent is just an appetizer for these beasts Many hosts will not burn mosquito sticks because of the stink and their health-adverse emission of particulate matter of 2.5 micrometer or less in diameter.
What to Wear to an Alaska Potluck
Even if the backyard BBQ were just a family, Alaskans wouldn’t wear the typical stunning looks Americans wear at a family BBQ. Some may even come in PJs. More on Alaskans weird relationship with their PJs.
At temperatures above freezing, but below 50F (10oC), Interior Alaskans wear jeans with lining or jeans with long Johns to feel comfortable sitting outside. A shirt and wool sweater or wool shirt with (down) vest is the standard top coverage. People protect their ankles from mosquito bites with footwear that goes over the jeans or reaches under the hem of the jeans’ legs.
Interior Alaskans consider 50F (10oC) and above as “warm” when it is dry. Then a tightly woven shirt and summer jeans or pants are a Do. In the afternoon, there is little need for protection from mosquitoes. At that time, robins and dragon flies are eating them. Therefore, sandals without socks like in my outfit are fine. However, in the evening, boots are a Must to not host these 0.79 inch (2 cm) large mosquitoes for dinner.
More on Alaska lifestyle in my post on transfer stations and what to do when you spend a week in Fairbanks.
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Photos: G. Kramm
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