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Alaska Pioneer, Mary Carey

On a recent trip (1996) into Denali National Park (read our "Denali Travelogue") we stopped in Talkeetna to visit Mary Carey, a fascinating pioneer in Alaska's gritty history. Mary runs the Fiddlehead Fern Farm, one of the few places like it in the United States. Since she quit teaching years ago she's occupied her time near the small town of Talkeetna with writing books, tending her fern farm, and entertaining visitors.

We bought one of her books, Alaska - Not for a Woman! (from her book: "Despite the fact that we had no highway connecting us with the outside world, there were eighteen cars in our village. These were brought in on the Alaska Railroad, which was pushed through Talkeetna during World War I.")

Mary autographed her book, and to make the fiscal deal even, we also bought one of her jars of preserved fiddlehead ferns. Cassidy remarked that the jar looked like laboratory specimens of green octopuses. But Mary pointed out that the fiddlehead fern is an excellent source of vitamin A, niacin, riboflavin and loads of vitamin C, as well as a great source of magnesium, phosphorous and iron. But you have to pick 'em early in the spring. However, you can freeze them for that taste of spring in the middle of winter.

Before we left, Mary shared one of her fiddlehead fern recipes with us:

Mary Carey's Recipe for
Deep Fried Fiddleheads in Beer Batter

1 quart fresh fiddleheads, 3-inch necks
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper

If fern is not completely dry, blot dry with paper towels. Put dry mixture into paper bag and shake a little of the fern at a time, as you would a chicken.

Beer Batter:
4 egg whites
1 bottle beer
1 cup flour

Beat egg whites until stiff. Add beer and cup of flour. Whip until stiff. Dip fiddleheads by holding tips of stems. Deep fry until golden brown.

(Note: Mary died suddenly at her McKinley View Lodge in 2004 at the age of 91)

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