Virginia Lacy: white butter and unfriendly goats

PART 2 OF 4: The sea provided many foods, from salmon and halibut to razor clams and cockles

Cordovans said bon voyage to one of our dearest community members this month as Virginia Lacy set her sights on Shelton, Washington to be closer to her son Michael Noonan and other family members.

For those of you who may not know about Virginia’s rich and exciting history in Cordova here’s a little background pulled from her own writings and presentations that she made at various occasions for the Cordova Historical Society and the Alaska Historical Society. Now we continue her story …

From her paper: “More Than Subsistence:”

We drank goat’s milk when the goats were producing. At other times, we had a powdered milk that was called KLIM, which is MILK spelled backwards. We had it just mixed with water but one family had some kind of a machine with paddles and they added a clump of butter which was mixed in and of course made the milk much richer. I also found KLIM on the internet, still being made by Nestle but produced in Canada.

Our goats were not friendly—especially the Billy goat. You had to continually watch your back or he would butt you. The goats would eat anything. We called one of them “Tin Can’ because he even tried to eat cans.

Our butter was white and a yellow capsule was included with it and we took turns for the fun of being the person who mixed it until it was yellow with no streaks. It was kept in brine in small wooden kegs to preserve it. It was interesting to find that when our family went to Bulgaria to visit my father’s relatives many years later that their butter was white. It was white on the farm as well as in one of the hotels where we stayed. My grandson had never seen white butter before and it took a while to convince him that it wasn’t shortening and would taste good on his toast.

The pigs got all of the table scraps that were not used in the compost. When my grandfather decided, it was time to kill one of them I would head up into the meadows to the fox pens and stay there until they were finished. He had a big vat that they filled with boiling water to take the hair off the pigs. He taught my grandmother to make headcheese and they smoked their own ham right along with the smoked fish. Sockeyes and cohos made the best hard smoked fish and it was kept dry by hanging in gunny sacks so it would not mildew.


King salmon was canned both plain and kippered. And of course, salmon was salted to be made during the winter into pickled fish and freshened out and fried to serve with sourdough hotcakes. One of my grandfather’s sources of income was from seining hundreds of humpback or pink salmon in the bay, hard smoking them and shipping them to the interior for feed for the dog teams.

The sea provided many foods. In addition to salmon, there were rockfish, red snapper, halibut, herring, smelt, butter clams, razor clams, cockles and crab. There was a large herring saltery on a dock in the cove and a large tender would come in to haul away the huge wooden kegs.  My mother fried herring crisp, put them on a platter, covered with sliced onions and drizzled them with oil and vinegar. Her version of pickled herring was eaten either warm or cold. We had a Norwegian friend who did a fancy pack that he called “Rollmops.” He filleted the herring, removed the skin and all the bones, put thin slices of onion on the fillets and carefully rolled them up, sticking a toothpick in them to hold the shape. He put them in jars with vinegar and lemon slices and they were a special gift at holiday time.

In our area, we did not eat whales, sealions, or sea otter. My great grandparents used the sea otter hides for rugs. The only part of the seal we ate was the liver, fried with bacon and onions, but my grandmother did render out the seal fat and made a very light oil similar to Wesson oil and it was used in cooking. I don’t know if our Prince William Sound seals are like spotted seal but from the internet I noted that an ounce of spotted seal oil contains 251 calories and 43% of the daily allowance of fat, which is not too good for our hearts. On the plus side it contains no sodium or cholesterol.

Clams and cockles were steamed, fried, made into clam chowder and fritters. Squid also made great fritters and I recall my uncles pounding on octopus to tenderize it before it was fried or used in a fish stew. My grandmother and I would walk to a small rocky island in front of Alice Cove carrying screwdrivers and we would pry chitons from the rocks. They are also called “bidarkis” but we called them “Gumboots” probably because that was their texture after they were cooked.

Most of them were small, about five inches long, but once in a while we found the large red “monsterosa” variety and they were really prized. We also harvested sea urchins for the roe. Every woman had her own recipe for Russian fish pie and I thought my mother’s version, made with salmon, rice, hard-boiled eggs, cabbage and carrots in a very flaky crust was the best.

Next week:  Life in Alice Cove continues with berries, beach greens and raisins providing a little too much of a ‘kick!’