Shishmaref doughnuts

Lisa Conathan, Head of Special CollectionsThis week’s Rare Books Bakeoff features Lisa Conathan, Head of Special Collections. Lisa’s report:

I chose the “Eskimo cook book” to highlight indigenous contributions to our cookbook collection. This book was written by students of a day school in Shishmaref, an Inupiaq town on an island in the Chukchi Sea. The children compiled recipes reflecting the unique combination of indigenous and European-influenced traditions of their town. Since many of the Native Alaskan ingredients such as oogruk (seal) blubber aren’t available to me, I chose a sourdough recipe. I’ve associated sourdough with European traders or settlers in Alaska, but this native cookbook shows that is was also adopted into indigenous cuisine.

Despite contributor Morris Kiyutelluk’s recommendation (“[seal blubber] is good shortening for doughnuts”) I substituted canola oil. The recipe called for baking soda in addition to sourdough, which was a new combination for me. I confess to adding a tablespoon of sugar. The result was a delicious, tangy, chewy fried dough that my kids sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Composite photo of donut making

Of course sourdough also has a particular resonance during COVID-19, as so many of us have turned to comfort baking. My strain was in my fridge long before the pandemic, but it seemed particularly fitting to highlight this durable, tough, impressionable mixture of flour, water, and yeast.

Recipe for doughnuts

Cover of Eskimo Cookbook1 teaspoon soda into sourdough and as much flour as you need. Sprinkle with little salt, then knead. Take one piece of the dough at a time, roll between hands, then make a hole in the middle with your finger. We melt the seal blubber. After it is melted we put doughnuts in it and cook them in the seal oil.

— Elizabeth Tocktoo

Eskimo cook book (Shishmaref Day School, 1952) is part of the Chapin Library’s historic cookbook collection.