I suspect salmon and hospitality have been partners a long time in this part of the world.
The salmon makes regular appearances in the artwork of the First Nations peoples all along the Yukon River and across the mountains to the BC Coast.
I look at the old black and white photographs of the native people from 100 years ago and it seems there are always salmon drying on racks in the background.
Even the place names I have paddled past with my children, “Big Salmon” and “Little Salmon,” speak of this wonderful sustainer of life and treat for food enthusiasts.
How lucky we are to have access to this wonder food that is so much of this place.
So when guests and friends come from Outside, I will often serve salmon for dinner and hope that when they return to their home, the memory of the time they spent in the Yukon will remain strong within them.
Last week, I had breakfast with a fellow at Rotary Club who was visiting the Yukon for the first time. He was in his late 60s or early 70s and was travelling here with his brother because their grandfather had crossed the Chilkoot in 1898. He had joined the tens of thousands who made their way down Lake Bennett, through the Southern Lakes and the fearsome rapids and all the way to Dawson City that spring and summer.
Like most, he did not find gold, but he had an adventure that his ageing grandsons wanted to understand and have a taste of.
As Dick and I spoke, I came to learn that he was a retired professor of mathematics and now lives in Virginia, in the US, in the same town where I went to university.
Living by myself in my cabin, I enjoy company, and so I invited him and his brother Max to dinner. I also mentioned to them that they might search the archived RCMP records at the MacBride Museum or Yukon Archives and might find the record of their grandfather passing by a checkpoint on his river trip to Dawson.
When I met up with them the next evening to lead them up to my cabin for dinner, they were both full of excitement and enthusiasm and had news to tell me: the day before, they had driven to Skagway and taken the White Pass train and gained a much clearer picture of the land their Grandfather had traversed.
And in the archives, here in Whitehorse, they had searched out and found the record of their Grandfather passing the Bennett Lake RCMP checkpoint, on May 27, 1898. Exactly 111 years earlier, to the very day.
This made me doubly happy, as I had prepared a dinner at my cabin that I thought was appropriate to welcome travellers from the Outside and hopefully leave them with a happy memory of this unique part of the world.
They sat looking out from my deck onto Echo Lake that evening, happily relating their adventures and plans to drive up to Dawson City the next day. I grilled two big skinless fillets of salmon on the barbecue, the fish wrapped in tin foil with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking, and coated with a mix of two parts salsa and one part mayonnaise. The foil traps the moisture of the salmon, salsa and mayonnaise, and poached it beautifully.
Out it came, steaming pink from both the colour of the fish and the spicy sauce, and I served it with wonderful asparagus and wild rice. With some freshly ground pepper and salt, and a squeeze of fresh lime, it turned out beautifully.
I had wanted to serve them a wine that they would not have had before, and found an extraordinarily complementary British Columbia white that went perfectly with our slightly spicy salmon dinner.
I highly recommend the 2007 Calona (yes that’s the right spelling) Vineyards Artist Series Sovereign Opal, at only $14.60. It is a slightly sweet (a “1” on the liquor store sweetness scale) and according to the vineyard website, the sovereign opal is a special grape varietal developed by Agriculture Canada specifically for the Okanagan Valley.
It has a lovely pale gold colouring and a wonderful bouquet with sort of tropical fruit note to the smell. When you taste it, the mouth notes are more like apricot and apple, and the sweetness is just right, not at all cloying.
It has a respectably long finish or aftertaste and went amazingly well with the salmon.
I would try it with any mild to moderately spiced fish or chicken dish. I’m going to test it with barbecued and curried chicken this month and suspect it will be great.
I’m also adding it to the special wine list I’m putting together for this Friday’s annual Rotary Club Lobster dinner at Mount Mac. I suspect the slightly sweet and buttery lobster flesh may be a perfect match for this wine.
I was delighted to have played a part in creating a happy memory for my dinner guests, Dick and Max, and doubly so that I feasted them with salmon, like so many who have passed this way before travelling through the Yukon.
And I was delighted to share this happy golden discovery with them, as they followed the path of their gold-seeking Grandfather.