Master Chef – 14th Century Inuit Style

I often talk to upper primary school sudents about the minimalist environment of the 14th century Inuit peoples of Baffin Island who lived above the Arctic Circle. The setting for Polar Boy. So much of what we take for granted – from our lifestyle to the words and images we use to describe things – just doesn’t exist there. No trees, no metal, no cotton and little colour. Very little fire.

Seal oil or beluga whale oil were the options for light, warmth and cooking. Oil was burned in a Qulliq, soapstone lamp/stove. The soapstone was carved to form a rounded shape, with a depression at the top to hold the fuel. Warmed up soapstone could be used to heat up water and boil meat.

But oil was usually in short supply. The latter always elicits a groan when the kids realise this means food was often eaten raw. But then we talk about the harshness of the climate, the ever present threat of starvation and what we might do to survive. Frozen meat, called quaq, is easy to eat since the ice crystals in the meat and blood assists in the chewing process. Meat eaten this way provides a kind of “rush”, producing extra body heat.

For the recipe minded – who do have access to heat, vegetables and a seal to stew:

· 2 lbs seal meat, with fat, cut into small pieces (4 cups)
· 6 potatoes chopped
· 3 carrots chopped
· 1 onion chopped
· 1/3 cup tomato sauce or soy sauce

1. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the oil out of a few fatty pieces of seal.
2. Add meat and onion. Cook, stirring, until meat is browned.
3. Add carrots and potatoes. Add water to cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer.
4. Cook about 35 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Stir in sauce if desired.

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