The spring run of herring, when thousands of the small fish arrive in southeast waters, to spawn is a sure sign of spring. After the herring spawn, some of their roe makes its way to Anchorage.
In Sitka, subsistence fishermen placed hemlock trees in the water, and herring lay clumps of eggs on the branches. The branches were cut off, and some were flown to Anchorage, where at least one Alaska Native Medical Center patient waited with anticipation:
78-year-old Mamie Alexander says if she were home in Ketchikan, she’d be eating fish eggs by the plateful. For now, she’s happy to have it in a green salad. In fact, she’s so busy savoring the treat, she doesn’t want to pause to answer a hospital worker’s question:
Dr. Gary Ferguson says a change in federal law allows health care providers to serve donations of traditional foods.
“We want them to have traditional foods… Herring eggs on the menu… exciting,” Ferguson said.
ANMC’s menu also includes dishes such as piruugax̂, or fish pie, salmon soup, salmon bacon, fiddlehead ferns, and reindeer pot pie.
Ann Evan, of Nunapitchuk, names several dishes she ate growing up: dried white fish, fresh seal meat and muskrat with seal oil. She says it’s important for parents to keep feeding traditional foods to their children:
“It’s more important to eat Eskimo food let the kids learn how to eat Eskimo food,” Evan said. “One of these days we might not have enough money to buy food and have to hunt some, Native food and some white food.”
Dr. Ferguson says traditional foods offer patients rich nutritional benefits as well as a taste from home.