Are you ready for some plain talk?
“The time will soon be here when my grandchild will long for the
cry of a loon, the flash of a salmon, the whisper of spruce needles or
the screech of an eagle. But he will not make friends with any of
these creatures, and when his heart aches with longing he will
curse me. Have I done all to keep the air fresh? Have I cared enough
about the water? Have I left the eagle to soar in freedom? Have I
done everything I could to earn my grandchild’s fondness?”
—Chief Teswahno (movie star Dan George)
I was six years old when I was taken to Neah Bay, Washington, to spend time with an aunt and uncle living in a cabin owned by the Weyerhaeuser lumber company. Neah Bay is at the very Northwest tip of the United States, often called the “beginning of the world.” This company had logging rights agreements with the Makah Indian tribe. After ceding 300,000 acres of land to the US Government, this tribe was granted Whaling rights, which meant the tribe could kill three whales per year if they used their ancient killing customs. The last and only whale was killed in May 1999, when the environmentalists stopped this. However, a Seattle judge decided in 2021 to allow the Makah tribe to resume the killing of whales by using their ancient methods. That decision has been overruled, and today, the case is back in the court system.
The Makah used whale meat to feed their people, its blubber for oil and some for ropemaking. Nothing was wasted.
The Makah today, numbering 1,000, have secured help from Wells Fargo with a $14 million grant, sporting a new dock, icehouse, and warehouse whereby anglers can come, pay for, and use these facilities.
Neah Bay in the ’40s had a schoolhouse, where the Makah children were forced to learn the “civilized way of living.”
I remember my uncle walking with me, tagging along down to the beach where the Indians had erected poles over pits of fire where salmon were hanging by those ropes made of whale hide while being smoked. And while my uncle would barter for salmon, I would walk cautiously among the poles, taking in the wonderful smells of smoking fish.
Aunt would make a sauce of cream, butter, chopped dill pickles and other ingredients to bathe that slab of salmon in, and when ready, she would spoon this delicious mixture over thick slices of her French bread, which she had toasted.
Those days in Neah Bay also introduced me to a new lifestyle and language my young ears haven’t heard before—that of the woodsmen, loggers and truckers, men who used their sleeves as handkerchiefs, spat chewing tobacco on the ground, and disappeared behind trees when nature called.
I remember returning to the convent and the nuns having several ‘talks’ with me about what ladies say and do not say, so much so that I wince today whenever I hear some of those words.
I would love to go back to Neah Bay, just once more, to see the one and only “longhouse” dwelling where some of the Makah lived in groups. I would love to smell the beautiful spruce and alder trees and wade on the water edge of the ocean as I did as a child. But then I remember the quote from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “man cannot step in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.”
Now that fresh King Salmon are being caught in our Monterey Bay, I shall simply cook a recipe that I have tried to duplicate, my aunt’s recipe for us in Neah Bay, and I think I have it pretty close. I have substituted capers for my aunt’s dill pickle and a splash of dry sherry wine. The other ingredients aunt used remain a mystery.
Aunt Ardis’ Grilled Smoked Salmon in Sherry Cream Sauce
I make two aluminum foil packets of alder wood chips that I have soaked in water for an hour and placed on the hot side of my barbecue. Leave a 3-inch opening on top of the packet for smoke to escape. On the cold side of the barbecue, I oil the grates and when the packets are smoking, place the salmon skin-side down, close the lid and cook until the salmon reaches 120 degrees or about 15 minutes. Then I flip the salmon over onto the hot side of the grill for one minute only to crisp the top. (I lightly oil the top of the salmon before flipping to the hot side to prevent sticking).
Sherry Cream Sauce
4 Tbsp. Butter
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
In a saucepan melt butter and add flour whisking quickly. Add: 1 ½ cups of room temperature half-and-half cream, whisking quickly. Then add:
1 tsp. onion salt
½ tsp garlic powder
1 pinch thyme
1 tsp. Dill Weed
¼ tsp. black pepper
Bring to a simmer. Cook for 2 minutes, then add capers.
Thin sauce with 2 Tbsp. dry Sherry wine.
Taste and add salt if needed.
Add 1 Tbsp. chives prior to serving.
Serve over toast or alongside rice. Freshly marinated and grilled asparagus completes this delicious meal.