Smoking Cohos and Talking Story
Vivian Faith Prescott
Two weeks ago, we went out fishing in our boat for the fall coho salmon run, and my 81-year-old dad caught two cohos. Back at fishcamp, we cleaned and fileted the fish and packaged them up for the freezer. Now, having thawed the filets out for smoking, we’ve brined the fish, loaded the slices up on the racks, and now the smokehouse is smoking. I’m excited about the prospect of jarred smoked salmon and some fresh smoked salmon too. One of our grandchildren, Bear (age 2), hasn’t eaten jarred smoked salmon yet, so I’m looking forward to gifting him his first taste.
A bald eagle sits watching us atop the large spruce above. My dad and I sit near the smokehouse, talking story: “Coho jump clean out of the water like a king salmon and make big splashes,” he says. “From July on, it’s usually a coho you see jumping because king salmon don’t usually jump that time of year.”
The smoking process will take several hours and consist of frequent checks of the fire and the fish doneness. Waiting for coho to smoke means learning traditional knowledge from my Elder dad. Next time we go out fishing, I might be the one to catch a coho. Now, I think about a slice of smoked salmon on pilot bread and Grandson Bear tasting smoked salmon for the first time.
Photos by Vivian Faith Prescott
Labrador Tea: S’ikshaldéen
Vivian Mork Yéilk’
My life goal is simple: Teach people to harvest sustainably as we have done for thousands of years and encourage them to share their gifts and their knowledge. Now, I’m taking my two young nephews and my niece into the wilderness to introduce them to the trees. We shake hands with cottonwood, spruce, cedar, and hemlock. My niece Rhiannon notices the small spindly but leafy plant in the muskeg.
She grabs it: “Look, Auntie Viv, this is the one you can touch. It has the fuzzy side underneath. This one is Labrador Tea.”
Photo courtesy Vivian Mork Yéilk’.
My niece learned about Labrador tea on another field trip I took her on. She now knows more than many adults. The lookalike plant, Bog Laurel, can kill you. In the Lingít language, we call our traditional tea plant s’ikshaldéen. S’ikshaldéen has been used by Indigenous people for thousands of years. Everyone has different ways of harvesting and preparing the tea for a variety of uses.
There are three species of Labrador tea. The common variety of Labrador tea in Southeast Alaska is Rhododendron groenlandicum. It has many names such as Hudson Bay tea, muskeg tea, bog tea, swamp tea, marsh tea, and s’ikshaldéen. Some people prefer to pick springtime leaves, some prefer to pick the leaves when the plant flowers and some prefer the leaves in fall or winter.
As for making s’ikshaldéen tea, people like to make tea from the flowers and the leaves. Some people use only the leaves, and some people include part of the stem. Some people use fresh leaves, and some prefer dry leaves. Some brew the leaves for 5-10 minutes while the water is still orange and hasn’t turned dark brown. Some keep a pot of tea brewing on their stove, which is not recommended because this brings out the ledol in the plant. All species of Labrador tea contain ledol. Low concentrations of ledol in your tea have a restorative effect like coffee or chaga, but large concentrations can affect the nervous system. Luckily the Labrador tea in Southeast Alaska has the lowest amounts of ledol in the Rhododendron groenlandicum variety, and it’s fine to drink a cup of it every day.
Here is how I make Labrador Tea:
1/4 cup of Labrador tea leaves (20-30 leaves)
4 cups of water
Three options on how to make the tea:
Option 1: Bring the water to a boil. Turn off the water and put the leaves in, and steep for 5-10 minutes.
Option 2: Combine tea leaves and water, and bring to a boil. Strain out the first batch of water after five minutes of a low boil. Add four more cups of fresh water and bring to a boil, and steep for 5-10 minutes.
Option 3: Combine tea leaves and water, and bring to a boil. Steep for 5-10 minutes. When drinking the tea, fill the glass 1/3 with tea and 2/3 with hot water to dilute.