Homemade rhubarb vinegar and sunflower-seed soup? Yukon food experiments you have to try

Rhubarb vinegar fails to sunflower-seed soup successes — Yukon foodie and cookbook author shares local recipes to try.

Michele Genest is 'experimenting with stuff' and concocting recipes with Yukon-grown products

Suzanne Crocker, a Yukon filmmaker from Dawson City, decided she's going to eat all-things-local for a whole year. Michele Genest, a northern food expert, shares some recipes with northern ingredients. (Archbould Photography)

When a Yukon woman from Dawson City decided she was going to eat food sourced solely from her community for one full year, a northern foodie — and fellow Yukoner — jumped at the challenge.

Michele Genest, who's also the author of Boreal Gourmet, has been "experimenting with stuff" and concocting recipes with Yukon-grown products — which have resulted in both successes and failures.

All that work for Dawson City's Suzanne Crocker.

"My job is to make it taste good so that Suzanne's family will eat it," says Genest.

"This challenge that Suzanne set for herself is also a challenge for me to be more inventive using local products," says Genest. "It's also forced my entry into the world of fermentation and also sprouting."

Genest says the goal of the First We Eat project is to start a dialogue across all of Northern Canada about food security and sourcing locally.

Here are a few recipes you can try — some have worked, and others are still in the works.

Homemade rhubarb and cranberry vinegar 

'It's a lovely colour... But where's the acid?' asks Genest, whose first attempt at homemade rhubarb and cranberry vinegar wasn't so successful. (Submitted by Michele Genest)

There isn't a Dawson City-sourced vinegar, so Crocker will have to make her own.

Genest used some rhubarb from her garden and cranberries she picked, and experimented with a method she found in a book called Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz (he made vinegar out of banana peels and pineapple skins). 

  • 1 cup low bush cranberries or chopped rhubarb, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup birch syrup, at room temperature
  • 4 cups water, at room temperature

She placed her fruits in a one-litre glass jar, dissolved the local birch syrup in water, and poured it over top. She stirred vigorously and covered it with cheesecloth, setting it in a warm, draft-free place. Stir vigorously four times a day, the recipe says. 

Long story short, it didn't work. 

"So a month later, I'm not sure that I have vinegar," says Genest. "It's a lovely colour... But where's the acid?" 

Genest is asking northerners to send in their tips if they've made vinegar from northern fruits before. Meanwhile, she's attempting it a second time. This time, she'll use a wider-surfaced bowl to expose more of the liquid to the air, and perhaps set the mixture by her furnace in the basement. 

Toasted sunflower-seed soup 

'It's very garlicky. There's a lovely, roasted, nutty flavour,' says Genest. (Archbould Photography)

But here's a nutty, hearty success to try.

"Suzanne loves nuts," says Genest, who recommended Crocker order some Russian sunflower seeds to plant. These yield a lot more seeds than average. 

"Sunflowers grow well here, but what we don't know is whether the growing season will be long enough to produce seeds," she says.

"The hope is they will yield enough for her to use, maybe not for oil, but hopefully to replace the nuts she loves." 

  • 1 head garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided 
  • 2 cups + 1 tbsp sunflower seeds, divided
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1½ cups onion, chopped
  • 4 cups organic chicken stock
  • 1 cup 35 per cent cream

Slice the top off the head of garlic and oil the skin and top. Bake sunflower seeds on a parchment-lined baking sheet with the garlic at 350 F (180 C) for up to 10 minutes. Put toasted seeds aside and toast the garlic for another 30 to 40 minutes until it's soft. 

Heat oil and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and add red pepper and sauté for two minutes. Add onion and sauté until it's translucent. Then squeeze the roasted garlic out from its skin into the pot, adding seeds and stock. Boil over high heat and reduce to medium-low. Simmer for five minutes. 

Then puree the mixture with an immersion blender.

"It's very garlicky. There's a lovely, roasted, nutty flavour," says Genest, who says garlic can be grown north of 60. 

Yukon potatoes tossed in wild onion and pumpkin seed pesto 

Genest hopes that Styrian pumpkins will soon be widely grown across the Yukon. (Archbould Photography)

​Here's what Genest calls "an aspirational recipe." 

That's because she's hoping Northern farmers will take up the challenge of growing Styrian pumpkins, originally from Austria. 

"They're grown for their seeds rather than their flesh," says Genest.

This recipe combines both potatoes and wild onions which are grown "very easily" in the Yukon, says Genest. 

  • 1 cup chopped green or wild onions
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted
  • ¼ cup canola or sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • Optional: 1 tbsp hot water
  • ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese 
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine onions, garlic, and pumpkin seeds in a food processor until it turns into a rough paste. Add oil as the machine is running. Add (hopefully homemade rhubarb or cranberry) vinegar and if necessary, hot water to loosen the pesto. Then crumble some feta into the mix and refrigerate overnight. 

Genest recommends to use this sauce over Yukon Gold potatoes.

"They're just a nice coating that adds to the crunch and sharpness of the onions and the nutty [flavour] of the pumpkin seeds," says Genest. 

with files from Sandi Coleman

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