The native people (Indigenous People) of Alaska have a distinct version of ice cream called Akutaq (also known as Eskimo Ice Cream). It is not creamy ice cream as we know it, but a concoction made from reindeer fat or tallow, seal oil, freshly fallen snow or water, fresh berries, and sometimes ground fish. Air is whipped in by hand so that it slowly cools into foam. They call this Arctic treat akutaq (ah-goo-duck), aqutuk, ackutuk, or Eskimo ice cream. Akutaq is a Yupik word that means mix them together.
This is a delicacy that Alaska Natives have thrived on for thousands of years. This recipe was made by Natives a long, long time ago for survival and was used as a special traveling food. When hunters went out to go hunting, they brought along akutaq.
The women traditionally made Eskimo ice cream after the first catch of a polar bear or seal. The woman (grandmother or mother of the hunter) would prepare the akutaq and share it with the community members during special ceremonies.
Akutaq can also be made with moose meat and fat, caribou meat and fat, fish, seal oil, berries and other Alaskan things. Women traditionally made akutaq after the first catch of a polar bear or seal. Traditionally, it was always made for funerals, pot latches, celebrations of a boy’s first hunt, or almost any other celebration. It is eaten as a dessert, a meal, a snack, or a spread.
Today, Eskimo ice cream is usually made with Crisco shortening instead of tallow and with raisins and sugar sometimes added. The region of Alaska lived in usually determines what berry is used, and each family usually has their favorite recipe for Eskimo ice cream. It is said that your choice of berries used in making Eskimo ice cream is a lifetime decision. It is okay to eat any flavor made by others, but if you are caught making more than one kind, you will lose all social standing.
The people of the Arctic love to serve their favorite dish to cheechakos (newcomers in Alaska). When guests are willing to try their favorite foods, the Inuits feel pride at sharing their culture. At first, the host might be shy to offer any of their food for fear of rejection. If you are a guest and are offered some (you will probably be served first as a guest), at least try a small amount. Please do not express any “yucks” or other words of ridicule. If you really cannot bring yourself to eat this unusual food, accept the serving and find the oldest person in the room and offer the food to him or her. This will show that you have good manners, if not good taste, and that you respect your elders. Then quickly grab a plate and fill it with things that you can eat. Most people who try Eskimo ice cream say it is delicious!
This was a very hard recipe to record, as each family usually has its own version and usually has never written it down in an actual recipe. They generally just make it from memory and feel. After reading several descriptions on how to make Akutaq, I came up the the following recipe. I have never, personally, made the following recipe.
- 1 cup reindeer, caribou, or moose fat (back fat)*
- 1 cup animal oil (seal, walrus, or whale), divided
- 1/2 cup water or 2 cups loose snow
- 4 1/2 cups berries (blueberries, cloudberries, cranberries, salmonberries, or blackberries), fresh
Grate or grind fat into small pieces. In a large pot over low heat, add fat and stir until it becomes a liquid (the fat should never get hotter than it is comfortable to your hand). Add 1/3 cup seal oil, mixing until it is all liquid. Remove from heat and continue stirring the fat in big circles.
While continuing to stir at a steady rate, add 1/4 cup water or 1 cup snow and another 1/3 cup seal oil. As fat slowly cools and starts to get fluffy and white, add remaining 1/4 cup water or 1 cup snow and remaining 1/3 cup seal oil, continuing to stir.
When the Akutaq is as white and fluffy as you can make it, fold in berries. Form into desired shape. Cover and freeze to firm up.
1 cup solid vegetable shortening*
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water, berry juice, or 2 cups loose snow (optional)
4 cups fresh berries, (blueberries, cloudberries, cranberries, salmon berries, or blackberries)**
* Crisco solid vegetable shortening is preferred.
** Use one or more different types of berries.
* The type of fat used determines how the Akutaq will taste and feel, as each animal has a different type of fat. Well-aged yellow fat is usually preferred because it has more flavor and whips up fluffier than does fresh fat. The ice cream can also be sweetened with sweetener or with fruits. Meat and fish Akutaq are not usually sweetened.
** Crisco solid vegetable shortening is preferred.
*** Use one or more different types of berries.