I spent the last week traveling to Point Hope and Kotzebue for a Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting project I’m working on with photographer Katie Orlinsky about Alaska Native subsistence hunting and climate change.

In Point Hope, we spent a lot of time in kitchens. We made donuts. (On a Sunday, with Aana Lane and Joyce Meyer.)

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I also really enjoyed spending a few hours with a group of women who were preparing akutaq, or Eskimo ice cream, as part of the menu for the annual spring whaling feast.

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Here’s my new friend Jana Koenig telling me how you pronounce “akutuq.”

Jana’s dad, Clark Lane, is a whaling captain and his crew got a whale this year. The families of the successful crews share food with the rest of the village. Jana learned to make akutaq from her aunt, Aana Lane.

Akutuq is made many ways in Alaska, and is eaten all over the state. In Point Hope, it starts with hot, rendered caribou fat that must be mixed by hand. It’s pretty amazing to watch how it changes.

Here is how it starts:

It thickens:

And thickens:

And then thickens further:

It is flavored with seal oil and made either savory, with ground caribou, or sweet, with berries.

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Then it is spread into a sheet pan. Here is Tia Kingik with a pan of it.

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It gets decorated with the shape of a cross and left in the arctic entry to cool and firm.

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Then, when it’s feast time, the women deliver it to the feast grounds, slice it, and serve.

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There’s Jana with her pan. IMG_1409

How does it taste? I tried a bite from this tray. It has a light texture, kind of like whipped butter. I tasted the berry flavor. It was fatty, sweet and tart, like berries, with the slight marine aftertaste that comes from seal oil.