Harriet Davis, J76

After 17 years of working her way up the direct marketing ladder in Manhattan, Harriet Ballard Davis, J76, of Cumberland Center, ME, met the love of her life and traded big city living for the wilds of Alaska. “Alaska’s hard to get out of your blood because it’s different from anyplace else,” writes the mother of two, who was eight months pregnant when she settled in the “bush.” “I was not surprised to find how spectacularly scenic the interior was, but I didn’t know how small and insignificant it would make me feel. Humans are tiny, inconsequential specks against a backdrop of enormous mountains and infinite valleys.

“Resting on a tiny peninsula off the Bering Sea, the Inuit village of Unalakleet is just east of the International Dateline. We were some of the last people to see the sunset every day. Jokingly we’d claim, ‘It’s not the end of the earth but we can see it from here.’ In winter, the Northern Lights show themselves in the dark sky. I remember one night lying in bed, peeking out the window to watch a 40-minute light show fluidly transforming the night sky.

“We had killer blizzards and wind in Unalakleet, which is Inupiaq for ‘where the east wind blows.’ But in late summer at the height of salmon running, we’d all head up river, put our poles in, and five minutes later you’d get a catch, over and over. Then we’d get them all in the boat, whap ‘em on the head, and then I went to work: I’d pickle some of the fillets, brine the fish roe, and then we had to vacuum-pack everything for the freezer to last for 6-9 months. Smokehouses and drying racks are scattered around the village. The sight of rows and rows of brightly colored salmon fillets hanging under the sun is breathtaking and mouth-watering. I really miss the subsistence food—it was hard work, but so worth it. We frequently would open our door to find a box of live king crabs, a cooler of frozen musk ox, moose, seal, wild hare, and in one case the skinned complete hindquarters and legs of a caribou leaning against our outside wall. In the village, everything is shared—and I gave back by cooking up one of the dozens of recipes I created.”


Harriet Davis' Musk Ox Stew

As with any stew meat, it is important to braise the meat at a low heat for a long time, allowing the liquid to just barely simmer. Marinating the meat in wine first helps to tenderize it and give it a deep, rich flavor.

3 lbs musk ox or wild game (beef or buffalo may also be substituted)
2/3 bottle red wine
2 garlic cloves, mashed
1 bay leaf
I small onion, slivered
1 tsp thyme
2 tsp salt
Several grinds pepper

Marinated stew meat, drained
Reserved marinade plus enough red wine to equal 2 to 2 1/2 cups
3 tbsp plus 1 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 c chopped onions
2 tbsp flour
2 15-oz cans diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 tsp thyme
2 tsp brown sugar
8 large carrots, about 4 cups, peeled and sliced on diagonal 1/2” thick
8 oz mushrooms, cut in half if large
1 c frozen peas defrosted (or fresh)
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut stew meat into chunks and place in zip top plastic bag with marinade ingredients, using enough wine to just cover the meat. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Drain the next day, reserving the marinade and meat separately.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Heat 3 Tb of oil in large stock pot on medium heat. Add meat with salt and pepper to taste. (You’ll need to sauté the meat in two batches.) Brown three to five minutes per side. Remove from pot and set aside. Drain off any liquid from pot. Add 1Tb oil. Add onions and garlic. Saute for 5 minutes. Add flour and stir for 2 minutes. Add marinade/wine, tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, and brown sugar. Bring to simmer, stirring. Add meat and any accumulated juices. Bring to simmer, cover and place in oven for two hours.

Check to make sure the stew is not bubbling too vigorously. If so, reduce oven to 250 degrees. After 2 hours, remove pot and add carrots and mushrooms. Return to oven, increase to 275 again, if needed to maintain low simmer, and cook 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until carrots and meat are tender. Beef may take a shorter amount of cooking time than wild game. Add peas and parsley, stir and let sit for 5 minutes.

Serve over whole wheat barley or with whole grain bread on the side and a green salad.


Harriet Davis' Poached Salmon

2 to 3 pounds salmon fillets—preferably wild caught, not farm-raised
White wine
Juice from 1 lemon
Light soy sauce, about 1/4 cup
2 garlic cloves, mashed
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 lemon thinly sliced, seeds removed
Freshly ground pepper and a sprinkling of salt

Wash fillets and remove any pin bones with tweezers or fish pliers. Place in roasting pan. Pour wine over fillets, enough to cover bottom of pan by 1/4 inch. Pour lemon juice and soy sauce over fillets. Place garlic cloves in liquid base. Spread onion and lemon slices over fillets. Sprinkle salt and ground pepper on top of fillets.

Cover tightly with foil and bake in a 400-degree preheated oven—about 20 minutes, depending on thickness. Remove foil and check for doneness by inserting spatula or knife in middle of thickest fillet. When slightly underdone, take fillet out and let pan rest on top of stove for about 5 minutes. Fish will continue to cook outside oven. Serve with slices of lemon or sauce.

“I always cook more fillets than I know we’ll eat for dinner, so I can use the leftovers to make salmon salad or salmon cakes.”


Harriet Davis' Salmon Cakes

If you plan wisely, poach enough fish for dinner to have about a pound left over for salmon salad or these easy-to-make salmon cakes. (I also use this recipe with trout or crab, but I eliminate the soy sauce.)

3 cups of cooked, flaked salmon, preferably poached as above
1/3 c bread crumbs or wheat germ or combination
4 scallions, chopped
1 Tb Dijon mustard
1 Tb light mayo
1 Tb soy sauce
Garlic salt and pepper to taste
1 large egg and 1 egg white
2 Tb olive oil

In large bowl, combine all ingredients except oil. Shape into eight patties. Keep in refrigerator until ready to cook (at least 2 hours to firm). (You can also freeze patties for up to two months. Defrost in refrigerator before cooking.)

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add patties and cook for 2 minutes. Turn over and cook one minute more. Transfer to lightly oiled (sprayed) baking sheet and bake in oven for 8 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges or sauce (see below). Serves 4.


Harriet Davis' Dijon Dill Sauce for Salmon

Equal parts light mayonnaise and low fat plain yogurt, 1/3 to 1/2 cup each
Dijon mustard, 2 to 3 Tb
Orange juice, freshly squeezed from 1/2 to one whole orange
Grated peel from one lemon and one orange
Chopped dill, preferably fresh
Chopped capers
Garlic or regular salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients except salt together to taste. Add salt if necessary. Keeps over one month in refrigerator. (Make a big batch once you find a combination that suits you.)

Want to share your story? Submit a class note and you may be featured on tuftsalumni.org and in Tufts Magazine!

Return to list of alumni profiles