Burt Wolf's Menu: Jasper - #111

Jasper.  The largest park in the Canadian Rockies and one of the most beautiful places in North America.   It shows you what’s been happening on earth for more than 600 million years.   Mountains that came out of the sea.  Glaciers that feed picture-perfect lakes.  An intimate look at wildlife... and a famous resort with some great cooking.  So join me in Jasper for BURT WOLF’S MENU.

Archaeologists believe that native tribes have been hunting in western Canada for almost 12,000 years.  When the glaciers began pulling back to the north, and the area warmed up, that allowed plants and animals to return to the land.  Prehistoric groups of hunters and gatherers took advantage of the changed weather pattern and established temporary settlements during the summers.  The first Europeans into the area were French fur traders who came across Canada in search of a mountain pass - a mountain pass that would take them through the Rocky Mountains to the rich fur territory along the Pacific coast of Canada in the land that is now known as British Columbia. As part of western Canada's program to allow visitors to experience some of the area's history, there’s an organization called Rocky Mountain Voyageurs.  Knowledgeable guides like Art Jackson take you down the river in the same type of canoe that the fur traders used during the early 1800's.

ART JACKSON:  As we’re travelling down the river today, Burt, we’ll be going maybe, oh, upwards of twelve kilometers on the Athabasca River.  The Athabasca Valley is a very large valley, and it was basically a glacial-fed river, and it’s -- the Athabasca word means “reedy waters.”  We don’t see the reeds, of course, at this upper section, but we do lower down where the water’s quieter.  The Athabasca itself comes from the Athabasca Glacier, so it’s a glacial-fed river, and that’s why it has this creamy, milky colors to it.  It’s all glacial silt.

BURT WOLF:   That’s really just rock that was ground very fine by the movement of the glacier?

ART JACKSON:  Very, very fine rock.  And in fact, in some places you can actually hear the suspended particles tapping the bottom of the boat.  Sounds like static on the bottom of the canoe.  ... Well, the very first European that came into this area was in 1811, into the Jasper area.  His name was David Thompson.  And Thompson actually travelled up here in the winter of 1811, using the Athabasca River as his highway.  And the highway in summer was the water, and in the winter, of course, was the ice.  So he travelled over Athabasca Pass, which connects into the Columbia draining system, and from there, all the way to the Pacific Ocean.  As you can see from the size of these canoes, Burt, they’re very, very stable in the, in the river.  The Voyageurs would have canoes in this area about twenty-six feet long.  They were called canoe d’nord, the “northern canoe.”  ... The mountains on our right here are from the front ranges, Burt, so they’re the youngest ranges of the Rockies.  And over here on our left, we’re starting to get a view of Pyramid Mountain.  Pyramid is part of the oldest rock in the park; over six hundred million years old is the rock, and the ranges were uplifted about a hundred and seventy million years ago.  Part of the main ranges of the Rockies.  You’ll also notice in front of Pyramid Mountain, we have these terraces, and they’re called “cane terraces,” which are deposits from the last Ice Age that came through this valley between 60,000 and 10,000 years ago.  All these terraces are basically made from the debris from the glaciers as they travelled down this valley. ... We have a kingfisher chasing a sparrow hawk, and vice versa, the sparrow hawk chasing the kingfisher.  That’s what they’re doing in the water over there.  Diving at him.  ... The Voyageurs were a bit superstitious of the mountains, though; they thought they contained spirits.  And if you notice on the ridge line on the far right, you’ll see the profile of a man staring up into the sky.  And the Voyageurs named that Roche ban homme, “The Man of Rock.”  So he’s just -- his profile is very distinct today, even in the morning haze.

BURT WOLF:   He’s taking a morning snooze.

ART JACKSON:  Yeah, he does look like he’s sleeping. for sure.

BURT WOLF:   What did they eat?

ART JACKSON:  Well, because they were so busy paddling, they never had much time to trap, to catch game, so they actually traded with the native people, and it was a very important trade item called “pemican.”  And the pemican was produced by the natives in huge quantities from... basically, a basic recipe would be taking one medium-size buffalo, and -- I don’t know if they added dashes and, sips and dashes of various things, but they did throw in berries from the season, fresh berries, they would take the meat and dry it, so that it was dried in the sun and then pounded, and then they would take all the fat from the animal and they would mix the meat and the fat and all the berries together and put it into skin bags.  And the Voyageurs would transport that down the river as their food.  Mind you, it was only -- there was only enough room in the canoe to last about a week for food, so they had to stop roughly every week at a trading post to replenish their pemican supplies.  The distances, actually, in many of the major cities in Canada are roughly one week apart; in distance-wise, five hundred miles, roughly.  And that’s because most of them were fur posts in the early days.

{NAVIGATOR sings in French]

ART JACKSON:  Our main purpose, of course, in taking folks down this part of the river is the unique view from the river of the park itself, the environment here, the river view, the sounds, the wildlife that we run into... we take our folks on a very gentle float down the river.

BURT WOLF:  It is so beautiful.

[Singing concludes]

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The fur trade in North America was based on a European fashion for hats that were made out of beaver skins.  Those very valuable beaver skins were supplied from Canada by a company called the Hudson Bay Company.  Their agent in this area was a guy named Jasper. He operated a trading post and sold supplies to the trappers. 

This is an actual photograph of the building in which he conducted his business. It was known as Jasper House, and eventually the entire area was called Jasper.  The first actual settler in Jasper was a man named Lewis Swift.  He came up from the United States in 1893, built this cabin, traded with the natives, and raised cattle.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  When the European fashion for beaver hats came to an end, so did the fur trade in Canada.  And Jasper settled back to the wilderness that it had been for thousands of years.  But just south of here, in an spot called Banff, the joint was jumping.  The Canadian Pacific Railroad had gotten the federal government to declare Banff a national park.  The railroad built a hotel that had become an attraction for international tourists, and both the government and the railroad were making lots of money.  When a second railroad was built across the country on a more northerly route, it cut through Jasper.  And the government soon realized that it had another opportunity to produce a federal park, and another opportunity to make big bucks. Which was only fair, because the government had spent a fortune getting the railroads started.

In 1907 they set up the Jasper Forest Park.  The original town was just a division point on the railroad called Fitzhugh.  It was really only a row of tents that offered, as the sign in this photo says... a place to "eat and sleep".  There’s an early example of honest advertising. In 1922 Jasper still offered a place to "eat and sleep," but things were getting a bit more elegant.  The Jasper Park Lodge had been built.  For $3.00 a day you could sleep in a log cabin and eat in the main lodge.  You could dance in the ballroom or sit out on the verandah.  Or you just might end up playing golf alongside superstars like Bing Crosby and Smokey The Bear.  In 1953 it became the location for the filming of The Far Country with Corinne Calvet.  I had a crush on her from which I am just recovering.  But life goes on, and today the Jasper Park Lodge is one of the world's great resorts.  It sits on over a thousand acres of majestic wilderness.  The cabins look as rustic as ever on the outside, but inside are the most up-to-date facilities.  The golf course was designed by Stanley Thompson who had the fascinating idea of lining up the holes with the local mountain peaks. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The natural, if somewhat unique, hazards for the course include elk, geese, deer,  and occasionally a bear who seems to enjoy collecting golf balls.  There are facilities for canoeing, horseback riding, hiking, biking and tennis.  During the winter, there’s downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, skating, you can ride around in a horse-drawn sleigh, or you can go snowshoeing.    And all year long, there’s great cooking. 

Jeff O'Neill is the Executive Sous Chef at the lodge and today he's preparing a salmon steak that was marinated as if to make a gravlax, but then it's grilled and served with a sauce of mustard and dill.  Four salmon steaks, about an inch thick, are set into a pan.  Four tablespoons of sugar are sprinkled on top.  Four tablespoons of salt go on top of the sugar.  The mixture of the two is pressed into the surface of the fish.  A sprinkling of fresh dill... about a half tablespoon on each steak... a grinding of pepper.  Then the salmon steaks are turned over and the sugaring and salting and dilling process is repeated.

JEFF O’NEILL:  Here you go.  And that goes in the fridge for about twenty hours, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

BURT WOLF:   See you tomorrow. ...

JEFF O’NEILL:  Ah, welcome back.

BURT WOLF:   Thank you, thank you.  “As we left off yesterday...”  What’s all the moisture?

JEFF O’NEILL:  The moisture is the liquid from the salmon that the salt has extracted, so that’s where we get the cured salmon effect from.  Right now, if you wanted to, you could probably eat it in the state it’s in.

At this point the sauce is made.  A cup of mustard is mixed together with a tablespoon of honey... two tablespoons of chopped fresh dill and a teaspoon of oil.  Now we are ready for the grilling.

JEFF O’NEILL:  Well, right now I’m oiling the grill; when you’re barbecuing salmon, I think it’s really important that you first scrub down the grill as best you can, heat it up to a very high temperature and then oil it with just a little regular vegetable oil or olive oil.  Either will work. 

The salmon goes onto the grill... and cooks for four minutes on each side.

JEFF O’NEILL:  So now at this point, what we do is we give the salmon a little turn; gives it some nice grill marks, and it also adds a little bit of flavor.

The fish steaks come off the grill and onto the serving plate... some zucchini goes on... a sprig of dill... pickled beets, and the sauce on top of the fish.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  For over 100 years the Canadian province of Alberta has been famous for its lamb. So it's only fitting that Jeff uses the local product for his next recipe. 

It's grilled lamb chops served with a ginger and tomato salsa.  First the salsa... two tablespoons of olive oil go into a bowl ... followed by two tablespoons of red wine vinegar... two crushed cloves of garlic... and two cups of tomato cut into small pieces.  All that gets mixed together. Then a yellow bell pepper and a green bell pepper are seeded and chopped and mixed in.  Three tablespoons of chopped cilantro and a tablespoon of chili paste are stirred in.  Finally... a cup of chopped green onion... and a quarter of a cup of Japanese pickled ginger that's been minced... salt... pepper... and a little sugar.  That should rest in the refrigerator for an hour so the flavors can blend together.  A rack of lamb that’s been frenched is sliced into individual chops. 

JEFF O’NEILL:  In this neck of the woods, when we mean a “frenched lamb rack,” is the meat’s been removed from one- third down the bone, and from between the bones.  And that makes for a nice eye-appealing look in the restaurant.

BURT WOLF:   Gives you something to grab onto when you eat with your hands, too.

JEFF O’NEILL:  Exactly!  And that’s what we’re gonna do today.

Then the chops go onto the grill... and a little salt and pepper go onto the chops.  As soon as the lamb is cooked to the degree of doneness that you like, take the chops off the grill and get ready to plate the dish.  The chops go on... roasted potatoes (these have been cut to look like mushrooms)... steamed carrots, and the salsa on top of the lamb.

During the 1840's a Jesuit missionary known as Father de Smet was traveling through this part of the Canadian Rockies.  He had so much trouble crossing one of the rivers that he named it "Maligne," which is the French word for "wicked".  Today Maligne is the official name of the river, as well as the canyon through which it flows, and a nearby lake. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The Maligne Canyon was created by what is called a “hanging glacier.”  During the last Ice Age, which ended about 10,000 years ago, the Maligne Glacier was making its way down this valley. 

It was coming out of that mountain over there and sliding down to the right.  At the same time, a much bigger and deeper glacier was pushing its way down the Athabasca Valley. That’s the valley which you can see at the right of your screen... crossing in front of the Maligne.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   So here’s the ice of the Maligne glacier working its way down the valley.  Along comes the bigger, more powerful ice of the Athabasca.  It just lops off the end of the Maligne.  The Athabasca is also much deeper.  So when the ice melts, the Athabasca valley is much lower, and the Maligne is left “hanging up” hundreds of yards above the Athabasca. 

And that's exactly what you see today as you look down from the mountains.  Maligne has become the longest and deepest limestone canyon in the Canadian Rockies.  For thousands of years the river took the path of least resistance and cut a crack through the bedrock that is narrow, deep, and filled with a rushing river.  It cuts through the rock at the rate of half a centimeter per year as it surges down this gorge to join up with the Athabasca River and then off to the Arctic Ocean. It is an amazing place to visit.  But it is only the beginning of the extraordinary display of nature that is on view in this valley.  As you continue up the canyon you come to Medicine Lake.  The lake sits on top of a bedrock base that is made up mostly of limestone... limestone which dissolves in water.  During the centuries since the lake was originally formed by melting ice, the water of the lake has been able to find its way into the limestone and create a series of sinkholes and underground caves that run down for almost three miles.  During the winter Medicine Lake virtually disappears.  The native tribes considered that "bad medicine" which is where the name comes from. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   When the water from Medicine Lake comes out in the valley on the other side of this mountain, it creates new lakes.  This form of underground drainage is known as a "karst" system.  And the one here at Medicine Lake is the largest in the world and one of the reasons that the area has been designated as a World Heritage Site.

A little further up the valley and you come to Maligne Lake.  This is the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies and one of the most beautiful sights in North America.  In 1928 a local guide named Curly Phillips built this floating boathouse on the lake and tourists began to come up to see the place... and eventually to fish.  Today there are tourboats that will take you out to visit this fascinating spot.  These days one of the local guides is John Auger.

JOHN AUGER:  The mountain range to the left of us, the Queen Elizabeth range, is all limestone.  Limestone’s a fairly solid rock, and most of the Canadian Rockies are made of limestone.  And why they call it the Canadian Rockies is because there’s such... (Laughs)

BURT WOLF:   Rocks!

JOHN AUGER:  Rocks, exactly!

BURT WOLF:   Those are big rocks!

JOHN AUGER:  Yeah, they’re big rocks, and just the, the sight of them inspires awe to people, and they never used to look like this before the Ice Age.  What they were is huge rolling hills with no trees, no nothing on them.  You can see to the left there’s a mountain range that’s called Sinking Ship Ridge; you can see grooves right in the side.  That’s where rocks have literally ripped the side of the mountains off.  And this is one of the largest rock slides in the Canadian Rockies, right at the end of the lake.  You’ll notice huge rocks to each side of the lake, boulders out to the left and to the right of us.  To the left of us, right under Sinking Ship Ridge, we have a “perennial avalanche chute.”  And that’s a very green, grassy slope where no trees will grow on.  Now, the perennial avalanche chute, what that means is we’ll have a minimum of one avalanche every winter.  We get so much snow in the mountains in the wintertime, and they almost look like ski slopes.  But that’s the last place you wanna ski on, ‘cause once those avalanches come down, they come down of a speed of about a hundred, hundred and twenty to a hundred and fifty miles an hour.  And it just rolls and rolls, and literally tons and tons of snow, by the time it gets down towards the bottom.  So that’s why there are no trees up here, and that’s why there’s not even tree that will grow up here. ... That’s a glacial stream coming into the lake, you can see it coming right from the toe of the glacier.  And that stream will come right into the lake in this point.  Now, they’re depositing so much silt, and we call this glacial silt, or rock flour... as a glacier moves, it picks these boulders up, crushes them underneath them, into the very fine powder, so that’s why the glaciers look very dirty, a bluish-gray.  As they melt, all this silt and rock flour comes into the water via the streams, gets deposited in the lake and slowly fills the lake up.  Now this point here is called the Samson Narrows.  Would y’all just believe in about a hundred and fifty to two hundred years from now, this whole point will close up, ‘cause of all that glacial silt?  So we’ll be have an upper and lower Maligne Lake, be able to walk across the point of the lake here.  And that’s just from all the glacial runoff. ... Eighty-five percent of the water in this lake comes from the glaciers.  On a day like today, one of the hottest days we’ve had, the top surface will reach perhaps fifty degrees Fahrenheit, but under, that’s constant thirty-eight to forty degrees Fahrenheit, so it is fairly cold.

BURT WOLF:   I won’t be swimming here today.

JOHN AUGER:  Not a lot of people do.  (Laughs)

By the end of the 1800's most of the important mountains in Europe had been conquered by climbers... and serious mountaineers were looking for new challenges.  When word of the Canadian Rockies reached climbing clubs in Europe and the eastern cities of North America, the climbers started heading to Canada's western provinces.  The railroads quickly realized that catering to mountain climbers could be a very profitable business.  They also discovered that the press coverage of the mountaineers brought hundreds of general tourists who just wanted to stay in hotels owned by the railroads and look at the mountains that were being climbed.  They began bringing in mountain guides from Switzerland and assigning them to the hotels.   Eventually it got to a point where any tourist who wanted to climb a mountain could safely do so.  They set up climbs that were more like uphill hikes for amateurs, as well as the real stuff for the real climbers. Of course, the primary objective for many of the early climbers in the Canadian Rockies was to make the first climb to the top of a specific mountain.  The challenge of setting a new record.  Which is precisely what is happening now.  You are witnessing the first ascent of Old Fort Point by a two-man culinary climbing team, with chicken. Actually Jeff is not scared at all... I'm the one who's chicken...and so is the recipe. 

Which is for chicken breasts sautéed with a sauce of onions, flavored vinegar, honey and spinach... with a little melted brie as the peak.  Jeff starts by putting two tablespoons of vegetable oil into a hot non-stick frying pan.  While the oil is warming up, two boneless, skinless chicken breasts are dredged in flour on both sides.  Then the chicken goes into the pan and cooks for three minutes on the first side.  A little salt and pepper and the chicken is turned and cooks for three minutes on the second side.

JEFF O’NEILL:  The way you can tell it’s time to flip the chicken, is by looking at the edges; you can see a little bit of browning on the edge. 

The chicken breasts come out of the pan and in goes a half of a red onion that has been thinly sliced.

JEFF O’NEILL:  I’ve chosen a red onion because of the strong flavor, and it lends itself to the color once the raspberry vinegar is added.

Three minutes of cooking and two tablespoons of honey are added. Then an ounce of raspberry flavored vinegar or balsamic vinegar or just a good quality red wine vinegar.  The sauce simmers for about three minutes at which point it comes out of the pan and is held aside.  A little oil goes into the pan, followed by a crushed clove of garlic and four cups of spinach that have been washed well.  Two minutes of cooking... the onion goes back in.  Two more minutes of cooking and once again everything comes out of the pan.  The chicken breasts go back in... the spinach and onion mixture goes on top of the chicken.  A few thin slices of brie cheese on top.  A cover.  Two more minutes of cooking to melt the cheese.  The cover comes off and it's ready to plate.  First the chicken... a few carrots... some zucchini and it's ready to serve.

JEFF O’NEILL:  Comme ça?

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): As I mentioned, the first Europeans into this area were French fur traders known as Voyageurs.  They got along quite well with the native tribes; at least I hope they did... they were always marrying each other.  And as often happens... when two cultures get together, they influence each other’s recipe.  An example is this Voyageur Stew.  Originally it was made by the native tribes.  They would take the intestines of an animal, or a large skin, fill it with the solid ingredients, cover that with water, and then, because they couldn’t put the skin over direct heat, they would drop in hot stones until the water came to a boil, and the food was... boiled. When the Voyageurs showed up, they had metal pots.  So all the ingredients went in, and you see this dish being sauteed for the first time... and it tasted much better.

The recipe starts by putting a little oil into a deep- sided pan.  As soon as the oil is hot... in go three pounds of lean beef cut into small cubes. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The original native tribes would have made this dish with moose, elk, or bear meat, and if you can get that in your supermarket, please use it.  My market tends to be out of elk and bear most of the time, and they never have moose on special, so I tend to make this with lean beef.   

The beef cooks for five minutes, then in go two cups of coarsely chopped onion... three quarters of a cup of maple syrup... a few minutes of cooking... three cups of potatoes cut into small cubes... two cups of turnips, also cut into small cubes... a few more minutes of cooking... a cup of minced green onions... four cups of beef stock... salt and pepper and an hour's worth of simmering.  The result is a dish that pays tribute to the history of Jasper.

Jasper is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.  Mountain peaks that look across the top of the world at rocks that are over 600 million years old.  It's an amazing experience.  We talk about the wonders of our planet and the effort we must make to preserve them.   But when we make those statements in crowded and tense cities...in nations that seem always to be in conflict... it's sometimes difficult to remember precisely what it is that we are trying to save.   Not so in this place. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Jasper is here to remind us what home looked liked in the beginning, and what it feels like to be in the arms of nature.  And that's just a little of what Jasper is all about. I hope you enjoyed it... and I hope you will join us next time as we travel around the world looking for good things to eat and the reasons why people eat them.  I'm Burt Wolf.