What Is Eskimo Ice Cream?

B. Chisholm

Eskimo ice cream is not a creamy, dairy ice cream, but is actually called Akutaq, and is an Alaskan dish usually made from berries, animal fat, sugar and sometimes fish. Recipes differ from region to region and have been handed down from generation to generation. It is a well-loved dish still in Alaska, and is often brought to potluck dinners.

Two young boys
Two young boys

Alaska is an extremely cold climate, situated at the top of North America, close to the North Pole. It has vast expanses of wilderness and wildlife. Fish is one of the most common foods and is freely available due to its abundance in both rivers and the sea. This explains why dishes, such as Eskimo ice cream, are popular in the country.

The Alaskan name, Akutaq, for Eskimo ice cream, is a Yupik word meaning "to mix together" and that is precisely how Eskimo ice cream is made. When fish is used it is boiled until cooked in a pot of water. All bones and skin are removed and the fish is squeezed out carefully to remove all water. The fish is then broken into small pieces.

Traditionally, seal or walrus fat is added at this point. Modern recipes may use Crisco or commercial shortening. This is mixed well with the fish, usually by hand, incorporating air during the mixing process and "fluffing it up". After this, sugar is added. This, too, is a modern addition to Eskimo ice cream as hundreds of years ago, when it was first made, sugar was not readily available in Alaska.

Either with, or after, the sugar, the berries are added. Again, recipes differ from region to region and family to family. Variations occur, due to availability and preference. Commonly used berries include cranberries, which are easy to find in many areas of Alaska, and blueberries, which are more scarce. Many people include a combination of berries in Eskimo ice cream.

Once the mixture is really well blended, the Eskimo ice cream should be creamy and fluffy. It is then frozen and can be stored for a long time. This is often necessary in Alaska where winter temperatures reach way below freezing and rivers freeze over for an extended period. Traditionally the Eskimo ice cream was made in vast quantities during the times of plenty, and stored to be eaten throughout the winter period. Nowadays the dish is brought out at fairs and dinner parties and shared as a traditional Alaskan delicacy.

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