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As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder

Seal Oil

And seal oil was used a lot. People would render down the seal fat and so the oil was used. Or bear grease. It was used for cooking. It was just used to enhance the food or add on to the food, to give it a different flavour. I know with the dried salmon, people today use different kinds of dips, to dip their fish or just put over the fish, however it’s prepared. But people used, like, the seal oil or the bear grease to dip the fish in. Or put a little bit in the fish stew. So that changed the flavour of it. Bear grease, it’s very bland. Actually, it’s really good. Not long ago a friend of mine gave me a small package of it – almost like a pound, I guess. And it makes the best pastry. Um-hmm. Really white. Really white lard, like, kind of a texture? And it just makes beautiful, flaky pastry. It doesn’t have any taste to it. No distinct taste to it. Like the seal oil, it took a lot of getting used to for me to be able to eat seal oil in the cooking. It’s got a very strong flavour and very strong odour to it. If you’re cooking it you pretty much had to cook it outside, because it really goes through the house and everything.

So my granny used to cook it on the beach, and they’d have a fire on the beach. But they would take the fat off it. It’s like, um, it’s like pig, you know, pork. There’s so much fat on the outer layer. Thick – about maybe an inch thick of the fat. And you’d trim all that off, and then you would cut it up and render it down. And that was the oil that was used for cooking. Yeah. It’s an acquired taste. But again, there was no lard or oil in those days. We didn’t have that. So my granny’d use that for cooking, like frying bread, or frying other kinds of foods. Like Mazola oil? Yeah, ’cause we didn’t have Mazola oil back then, so that’s what was used, like, for frying bread or frying meat or whatever.

I did acquire a taste for it when I was young then. I was probably about, I don’t know, thirteen, fourteen. But I remember we had to depend on that for cooking ’cause there was no lard and I guess that was during the war too. But prior to that, it was always used. Then the other commodities came in, like lard and oil, things like that that you could buy. But my grandparents still used the seal oil because they were accustomed to that. They were used to that. And I remember when the margarine first came out, it was in a plastic container. It was, like, in a pouch form. Thick plastic. And it was white. And you take it and you squeezed it and there’s a little ball in there of food colouring, I guess that’s what it was. It was orange in colour. So you squeezed it and you worked this pouch until you got the yellow margarine. Yeah. So that was quite the new thing, back then. Yeah, I remember that. And later on it came already yellow, right? Took the fun out of my life. [laughs]

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