A building on piers; below are boats; behind are more of the same, with snowy mountains above.
Cannery dock.

Food, Homer, and Boats

Food. The food that we ate in those years was fish, which was salmon (chum, humpy, king, coho, and sockeye), cod, halibut, whiting (caught through the ice), and trout. We also had razor clams, butter clams, and Washington clams. Some people ate octopus, mussels, and flounder. We also ate what we called gumboots, a mussel that stuck to the rocks. The orange part, which we called tongue, we could eat raw, and the other was so tough it had to be boiled. I can also remember eating sea biscuits raw; it was a cluster of eggs inside the shell.

We ate a lot of greens in the spring, my favorite being puskies. Puskies (must have been a Russian Aleut name) was a big leaf plant that grew everywhere. It had big white flowers on top when it was too tough and strong to eat. The parts of the puskie that we ate was the only part that could be peeled. They had to be young, which was early spring. We had to be careful not to get the outer parts near our skin or it left a rash or burn on some people. These were what most people called wild celery; they were good with vinegar and also mayonnaise. Another plant that was smaller than this one was also called wild celery, but I didn’t care for it. What we called the puskie I have never seen in books, but it also grows in the western states including Montana.

Goose-tongue, which grew on the seashore, we used as a vegetable with fish, but was good boiled with salt pork or ham. Deer tongue, which grew in the same area, grew taller and had thinner stalks or leaves and was eaten the same way. Both of these grew best where the tides coming in and out covered them. We ate dandelion leaves, wilted with fried bacon and vinegar added while hot. Petrusky was used with fish head chowder (large king salmon heads); they were also cooked like spinach.

We had available fiddlehead ferns and a variety of other greens. We munched on sourgrass, wild cucumber, rose hips, chives, and chamomile flowers. We picked all kinds of berries, mostly salmon berries, which were eaten with canned cream and sugar. We also picked blueberries, both the high bush and the swamp blueberries. We found currants high in the hills near the dam. We would crawl on our stomachs across a bridge that had no rails and was slanted. It was high up, but the best currants grew on the other side. The strawberries we found on the cliffs or in abandoned gardens. We had a variety of moss berries that were good for jams and jellies. We ate a lot of beans, corned beef in cans, spam, rice, and macaroni. We made our own bread, usually twelve loaves every Saturday. Our wild meats were moose, rabbit which we snared, spruce hens, geese, ducks, ptarmigan, and porcupine. Some people even ate squirrels but not us. My brother Coogan caught them for someone who made squirrel pies.

We didn’t have fresh milk until my later years, so it was usually canned milk and even our fruit was canned or dried. When we ordered for the winter, it was cases of dried fruits, oats, beans, rice, and even eggs.

The author on a fishing boat holding a large salmon with her right hand.
A little older and a better fisherman.

My recipe for King Salmon Head Chowder. Take one big salmon head, eyes and all, cut up in small pieces, then put the bony and gristle pieces in a large pot to boil with onion, handful of white rice, lots of petrusky, and boil until the gristle pieces are almost done. Then add some potatoes. When they are almost done, add the red meat of the salmon head, and cook until it is done. Don’t forget to add salt and pepper. Put a plate out for bones, because the best pieces are behind the eyes and cheek bones. You can’t beat this for a meal. Serve with bread and a hot cup of tea. Yum, yum.

Moose. We didn’t have moose or deer right in town, but the men usually went by boat to bring home the winter meat. We all relied on this meat as we never got much from the stores; what was shipped in went right away and it was frozen. Once Mom went on a hunting trip. They were surprised to find several moose come right up to their camp site, so ended up getting seven without any trouble.

A big storm came up and they were several days past hunting season before they got home. They came into the harbor with one hundred and fifty ducks and geese strung up on a line on the boat and seven moose. They didn’t get arrested because of the storm. Besides it was the only way we had fresh meat.

We would hang the moose in our basement room and saw off the frozen meat as we needed it. For deer you had to go to Cordova, so we didn’t get much. We ate bear, but I thought that it was too sweet for me; I think it was because they ate berries.

Porcupine. I remember being taught how to clean a porcupine. My brother tied it to the clothes line and I skinned it. I had to be careful not to cut the sack that makes the meat bad. Porcupine tastes like chicken.

Rabbits. The boys always snared rabbits. Sometimes I would go out with the boys and set snares, but when they got home the boys never had to skin and clean them; the girls did. I made a doll coat out of one rabbit skin.

Duck. My sister and I would be the ones that always plucked the ducks. Mom would put a big wash tub between us on the floor and put a big towel on us and we would sit there for hours plucking duck. Most of the time our mother cleaned them, but we did also.

Berries. We spent a lot of time in the summers picking berries. We sometimes sold them. Mrs. Chambers bought my salmon berries. We also picked blueberries, strawberries, currants, custinikies, and even chicken berries. We fed the chicken berries to Ursin’s chickens because they had great big seeds and they were too bland to eat, but they were easy to pick and we liked to pick them and watch the chickens gobble them up.

Homer. The small town of Homer was fourteen miles across the inlet from Seldovia. We knew some of the kids from there as they came over in the summers and worked in the canneries.

The YaSure Club, which was at the end of the spit going from the dock, had a dance hall that we went to when we were in our teens. Mom made sure that we had a chaperone, usually Louie Nagy, who stayed with us. The club also had a couple of slot machines. I was lucky with the dime machine. The Homerites complained that we were playing with them, so I think they took them out.

We would get one of the guys that had a boat to take us over after work. When we got to the dock, we would call a cab. A station wagon cab would come get us and after we’d get to town, none of us had money to pay him, so we always ended up walking back to the dock, which was at least seven miles. They got smart and refused to come pick us up. We always managed to get home by 7 AM to get back to work.

Man holding a wool jacket wearing a driving cap. Behind is a pruned pine tree by a building.
Louie Nagy.

One time coming from a dance in Homer we hit a storm. The boat we were on was only about thirty foot and was full of teens. We couldn’t see the lights of the light house and water was coming into the cabin. The kids that were sitting on the floor were wet. So that I wouldn’t get sea sick, I stood in the steering wheel area, which had no roof, and got my new coat sopping wet. We did manage to get home safely.

We also went to the big Homer fair, usually staying at friends’ houses. We had a friend that had a cabin in the woods and let our family stay there during the fair. He had a strawberry garden on his hillside; that’s the only thing I remember eating at his house except the crackers we found in the dark in his kitchen. To get from town you had to go on a narrow path through the woods, some of it swampy, with boards lying across water spots. It was terrible in the dark without a flashlight, trying to find the cabin from the main road.

Another time we were in Homer for the fair, when for the fun of it, a friend and I hitched a ride on a coal wagon, pulled by two horses. We thought that it was better than walking. We ended up way out some road where there were cows. We were both afraid of cows, especially bulls, and I had on red, which we heard that bulls would chase. We managed to creep in the ditches so the cows wouldn’t see us, and eventually got to town, dirty from the coal wagon and from the ditch.

We were usually broke; besides, I don’t remember any place to eat near the dance hall, so one of the boys would take us up the hill to his house and we would raid the ice box. Some of the kids raided the garden. I tried it once and got scared out of my wits, for when I climbed over the fence I saw a bunch of legs which turned out to be horses. I didn’t go any further, but did share in some of the carrots and radishes the other kids got.

War. During the war, PT boats were stationed in town. Mom laundered uniforms for the GIs. We had army and also navy coming to town quite often. The town was lively then, with not only the canneries, but the GIs and the dances.

We had black-out all the time. We were used to it because our lights didn’t come on after midnight anyway.

Once a navy ship was in and we had a big dance. I was dancing with a sailor and almost died when he said, “Put your head on my shoulder and dream.” Sometimes the young sailors would get drunk and would cut our clothes lines so we had to be sure to take the clothes in before it got dark. We usually didn’t lock our doors, but did so then.

Family Boats. All three of my brothers grew up to fish and, of course, fishing meant boats. The first boat in the family that I remember was my brother Thomas’s. It was about a 30-foot boat named the Moon. I don’t know who named it, but I thought that it was a pretty good name.

Small fishing boat below a dock
Moon, 1957.

Thomas got the Pacific Mariner in 1964 with partners. The boat was 108-foot and could carry a lot of crab.

Metal-hulled ship for crabbing
Pacific Mariner.
Deck of a large ship for crabbing
Mother on board the Mitrofania, on a family fishing trip which Coogan had quite often.

The next one was the Andronica, which he later sold and it was sunk in Alaska. He then bought the Metrofania with our brother Coogan, which they still crab together on, and Coogan tenders the rest of the time. Tom also had smaller boats, including the Echo and the Janet S., but I don’t remember all of them.

Coogan’s boats were the John Adam, the Gertrude Ann, and the Metrofania. Andrew’s boat was the Scenic, which was lost in a storm when they were on it. They survived in a cave on an island and had to set the island on fire before they were rescued, which took three days. Luckily it was a cave that the boys had earlier put matches in for survival.

Prow of a large fishing boat at dock

My sister Deloris’s husband Earl (Pete) Peterson’s boats were the Echo and the Markayla Dawn. His boat is 53-foot and caught on fire once. It was an electrical fire. It was better than ever after it was redone. Pete has a scow that he uses to carry his crab pots on. He also fishes halibut and cod. Their grandson Sean has a fishing boat and fishes for salmon in Cook Inlet.

My sister Dolly and husband Perry Buchanan’s boat is the Dolly B. Their son Tom has the first Dolly B., and their oldest son Stephen has the Marathon.

Medium-sized fishing boat with a small boat on it
Dolly B.
Seldovia harbor