Yukon Sourdough and Mom's Bakery

Gold rush towns and sourdough are historically linked.   Sourdough was dominant during the California Gold Rush and then carried through Western Canada, the Territories, and Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush.  Between 1896 and 1899, the Klondike region saw an influx of approximately 100,000 people in search of gilded wealth.   Miners, settlers, and those in search of gold carried their sourdough starters while they travelled north, careful to keep them from freezing.  A sourdough starter consists of water and flour, is set to ferment, and constantly refreshed with water and flour.  It sounds simple, but to maintain a quality starter is very difficult, and essential to the flavour of the final product.  The starters were important because they ensured a steady food supply for the travellers; if their starters were lost or damaged, they could not simply buy yeast from a grocery store as we can today.  In the evening, they would set up camp and use their starters to make bread, pancakes, buns, and the like.  They would then feed their starter (with water and flour), and in the morning continue their journey to gold.

Sourdough is still a strong part of the culture in the Yukon and is one of the many indicators of the Klondike Gold Rush in the region today.  Many bakeries and restaurants provide sourdough options, and to be called a ‘sourdough’ is to be recognized as someone who spends all four seasons in the Yukon.

Tracie Harris of Mom’s Sourdough Bakery is a devout contributor to the sourdough culture of the Yukon.  For over 30 years, Tracie has operated an organic bakery about 2 km off the Klondike Highway, on Lake Laberge.

Her starter is about 95 years old; she has owned it for 55 years, and another family owned it for 40 years before her.  She bakes her breads in a large wood-fired brick oven,

and also makes a great range of treats including cinnamon buns, butter tarts, and Yukon berry pies. 

We picked up a loaf of sourdough and a butter tart.  The butter tart, a Canadian icon itself, was one of the best we’ve come across, and the sourdough was immensely satisfying throughout our nights of camping in the Yukon. 


Fireweed and Frozen Strawberries

After two very long days of driving (what, oh what would we do without podcasts?) we made it to Whitehorse.

We set ourselves up at Robert Service campground and, liberated from the car, got on our bikes and headed over to the Fireweed Community Market. 


The market is only a few years old, but it’s an incredibly popular event, both for food and socializing.  The very first stand we walked up to was Aurora Mountain Farm, and it was stocked full of foods we’d never seen before. 


Fireweed jelly was the first we inquired about; fireweeds are the tall, wild plants with purple flowers we’d seen everywhere on our drive to Whitehorse.  They shoot up thickly in areas where there have been forest fires, adding colour to otherwise barren landscapes. 



To make fireweed syrup, the petals are boiled in water, and sugar is added for syrup (sugar + pectin to make jelly).  We bought the jelly, ate most of it with cream cheese, and added the last few teaspoons to some beet greens we braised one night. 


Aurora Mountain Farm also sold yaro jelly and dandelion jelly, made with locally-foraged plants. 


The market had produce, baked goods, flowers, a fish stand, a cheesemaker, craftspeople, and perhaps the most charming of all – a group of little girls selling icy fruit. 


How many pink-clad girls does it take to push frozen strawberries through a grinder?  Four, apparently.  And how does it taste?  Extraordinary.  Like summer.


We bought chicken curry from a man selling Caribbean food, and browsed the Yukon Made Store nearby, full of locally-made products and books from the area. 


By the time we’d left the market we were full, had found some new foods, and were starting to fall in love (hard) with the Yukon.  Robert Service understands:

The summer—no sweeter was ever;
   The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
   The bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness;
   The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness—
   O God! how I’m stuck on it all.

(From The Spell of the Yukon)