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I joined a fellow Master Food Preserver volunteer yesterday to teach salmon canning at the Siletz Confederated Tribes center in Eugene.  I was just the sidekick; Dale is our fish expert.  She teaches albacore tuna canning classes each year.  (Last year, with her help, I wrote up an illustrated guide to the process if you’re interested in trying tuna at home.)

Above: Dale in action and salmon, before and after (or after and before, rather).  When salmon is canned with the skin on, it can be layered in the jar to make really lovely patterns.  Some people made a checkerboard pattern, and others opted for their own creative designs.  Someone commented that it looked almost like a snake coiled in the jar.

Leaving the skin on can be kind of a pain if you want to de-skin the salmon before serving it, but the skin provides healthy fat and flavor.  Salmon doesn’t need to be deboned before canning, as the pinbones dissolve and the spinal column turns soft and edible, providing lots of calcium.  We left it up to the students to decide how they wanted to proceed, after learning how to fillet a hunk of salmon, for those interested in canning without the bones. Easy!

As far as canning classes go, it was probably the most plush gig I’ve taught at.  The organizer, Adrienne Crookes, had all the supplies arranged — from salmon to clean jars to cutting boards to newly sharpened knives — and she even taught the filleting process!  She did quite a bit of work to make this event a success, and it showed.  It’s always such a pleasure to be led by an organizational pro.

A lovely treat was a delicious lunch of salmon burgers made from previously canned fish, as we waited for the long processing to be completed.  The burgers were seasoned with parsley, onion, garlic, and bound with mayo and egg.

After lunch, we were joined by a project coordinator for health and cultural programming for the Federation, Sharla Robinson, who shared a presentation on native foods and reintegrating native plants into the diet.  She stated that Native Americans are particularly susceptible to diabetes and by returning to a more traditional diet, the risk would be reduced.  This is also suggested by a study cited in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, in which diabetes rates plummeted for aboriginal tribes who switched from so-called Western diets high in sugar and refined grains to traditional patterns of eating and living.

For the Siletz Federation, there has been great interest in educating youth at culture camps, but this year marks the first year food is included as part of culture, Sharla noted.  From her poster, replete with photos of food gathering and preparation, I could see that preservation is a crucial aspect of educating new generations about food traditions.  For example, eels are trapped among rocks at the bottom of waterfalls, then smoked like jerky so they’re available for year-round eating.  Huckleberries, salmon berries (and manzanita berries (?!)) are collected for drying.  Fruits like plums, game meat, and fish can be canned.

Pictured above are a lovely jar of beet-red plum halves, a basket of herbs, two jars of deer or elk stew meat, a baggie of what Sharla called “ocean tea” made of a local herb, canned salmon, and giant mussel shells.

What’s ready for traditional projects now?  Hazel branches!  Sharla brought a large armful of switches that had been just cut, and the group of students were persuaded to help peel them for basket weavers.  The Siletz Federation has a language teacher, Bud Lane, who teaches basket weaving.  You can see one white peeled switch in the middle of the leafy pile. While they peeled, I graded exams.  Party pooper, I know. But I did get to see some lovely photos of finished baskets and basket caps, used as part of the ceremonial regalia (thanks, Adrienne!).

Soon enough, the jars were ready and we lifted them out of the canner.  I think we had a 100% seal rate, which wasn’t too shabby at all for a first-time group.  All the students were able to take home a couple of jars.  It was a great group and really fun, plus I learned quite a bit about native flora, fauna, and people.  Thanks, Siletz Confederated!  I hope you have us back to teach more classes soon!

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