Get a Taste of the
National Parks at Home!

Posted by Cindy Clarke on 3/3/2016
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Food, Grand Canyon, National Parks, New England, Tauck, Travel, USA, Wyoming, Yellowstone

gc_frybreadIt goes without saying that an escorted tour to America’s national parks is a visual feast. But while your eyes gorge on gorges like the Grand Canyon, a deep dish of layered sand and limestone cascading one mile down; rock candy landscapes peppered with a salt lake (think Utah, home to five national parks and dusted with deserts and an “unsinkable” lake); salmon streams iced in winter; and appetizing scenery gamey with wild animals and edible vegetation like saguaro and prickly pear cactus, your taste buds are also in for some pretty amazing culinary treats indigenous to the region you are visiting.

Take Arizona, home to that grand canyon and some of the oldest documented food traditions in North America. Corn and squash have been cultivated here for more than 4,000 years. The state’s farmers still grow more than 160 varieties of heirloom fruits, vegetables and grains since 1912. The oldest surviving breed of sheep, Navajo-Churro sheep, has provided meat, yarn and fleece since they were first introduced to the US in the mid 1600s. Cactus and mesquite flour have been important food sources for the locals for centuries. And its Native Indian foods, among them the eternally popular Navajo fry bread – which was said to have evolved out of the mid 1800s when 8,000 Navajo were imprisoned at nearby Fort Sumner, New Mexico, with little more than flour and lard to eat – still tempt national park visitors today.

You can sample it in “tacos” at the restaurants in Grand Canyon National Park or try it plain with honey, green chili, chocolate or chorizo like the locals do. Want to make and bake navajo fry bread at home? Click on the recipe here.   

alaskan_salmonVisitors to Denali, Glacier Bay and Kenai Fjords national parks in Alaska can expect to experience a satisfying array of natural superlatives… North America’s highest peak, giant vegetables that thrive in Alaska’s long summer days like the record breaking cabbage that weighed in at a whopping 94 pounds, the continent’s largest forests and the biggest mammals, (whales, moose and bears among them)… as well as local fare that is deliciously wild and sustainable. Summertime serves up amazing wild berries, including sweet blueberries, yellow salmonberries, mossberries, lingnonberries, watermelon berries and bush cranberries.

Outside of Alaskan cities, game animals like moose, caribou, elk and bear, form the basis of many locals’ daily protein. Reindeer, introduced to Alaska from Siberia in the late 1800s, is enjoyed in the form of sausages. And sourdough bread has been a staple in Alaskan homes since the Klondike Gold Rush when virtually everyone kept a pot of sourdough starter in their kitchens. They fed the starter with a little flour every few days to keep the wild yeast alive and thriving so they could bake bread whenever they wanted. It's said people would even bring the pot to bed on cold nights to keep it from freezing!

Speaking about freezing, you may think native Alaskans would have had enough of the cold weather to forego ice cream but the Eskimos made their own version of this icy treat, known as "akutaq." It’s made by whipping the fat of reindeer, seals, or bears, then adding snow and wild native berries. Nowadays it is made with Crisco and is mixed with berries, mouse food, dried meat, and other vegetables depending on what is available.

The abovementioned food notwithstanding, Alaska's cold-water seafood, from salmon and halibut to those supersized King Crabs, is the centerpiece of this state’s cuisine. Alaskan salmon is one of the most important foods here and is served up in a variety of incarnations, among them, smoked salmon, salmon jerky, and even sweetened salmon candy. We’ve included an easy recipe for you to bring the taste of Alaska home.

lobsterAlong with hiking, biking, sailing and exploring the woodlands, rocky beaches and glacier-scoured granite peaks of Acadia National Park on Maine's Mount Desert Island, the main attraction here is… and has been for centuries… “lobstah,” plucked straight from the sea to the stove to the plate. Lobster has a colorful history as an abundant, dirt cheap, poor man’s meal, as fertilizer and fish bait for American Indians who baked them wrapped in seaweed in open fire pits, and more recently, as a beloved crustacean delicacy that promises a rich and decadent taste that belies its modest calorie count and bonus healthy food benefits.

Little changed over the last 100 million years, lobsters have an unusual anatomy. Its brain is in its throat, its teeth in its stomach, it hears with its legs and tastes with its feet. While the most plentiful and most popular size of Maine Lobster is between 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 pounds each, they can weigh more than 40 pounds and grow up to three feet long. The Guinness Book of World Records cites that the largest lobster on record weighed in at 44 pounds, 42 inches long and was believed to be at least 100 years old. Don’t expect to find lobsters under 3 1/4 inches or over 5 inches long on your plate when you order one in Maine; government regulations protect the small and the strong to keep the population robust!

Colorful in the wild, from green and yellow to bright blue, all lobsters turn red on the outside when cooked with snow-white meat on the inside, a good way to know when it's time to eat! According to more than one lobster aficionado, you should eat them, bib on, the way they’re meant to be eaten: freshly boiled or steamed with a dip in butter.

Boiling lobster is certainly the easiest way to cook lobster but steaming it can result in somewhat more tender meat.  If you have the equipment (a steamer pot, or even just a rack that sits inside your large pot) you might consider steaming as well.

To steam live lobster, first fill the pot so that water comes up the sides about two inches. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, sea salt is best, for each quart of water. Bring the water to a rolling boil, and put in lobsters, head first, one at a time. Cover the pot tightly so the water quickly returns to a boil again and then start timing.

Steam a lobster for 8 minutes per pound, for the first pound. Add 3 minutes per pound for each additional pound thereafter. See recipe card for approximate cooking times. Regulate the heat if the froth starts to bubble over… and do not overcook! Click here to see more on steaming lobster.

Biosn_ChileIf you're heading out west to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, where the elk and the buffalo bison roam, bring your appetite for outdoor adventures reminiscent of the Old West, and chuck wagon cooking, cowboy style. You may be wondering why I crossed out “buffalo.” According to national park experts, no buffalo have ever lived in North America, but bison have and still do! The misnomer happened long ago when early explorers came to North America, at which point there may have been as many as 60 million bison on the continent. They thought the animals resembled the old world buffalo they were familiar with, and so they called them that. The word comes from the Portuguese bufalo, or "water buffalo," from the Latin word bufalus, which meant "wild ox." Bison are so important in the cultural history of the Dakotas that they’re featured on North Dakota’s state quarter and as hamburgers on lots of local menus.

Venture to Wyoming and you will still find bison referred to as buffalo, along with different sustainable foods made from this lean grazing machine! If you think Buffalo wings may seem an obvious choice, think again. There is no buffalo meat or Wyoming connection with these popular snacks. Buffalo wing chicken snacks were “invented” in Buffalo, New York. What you will find here are buffalo jerky, buffalo sausage, buffalo burgers, pan-fried buffalo steaks, buffalo chili and more. (If you find some ground bison meat in your local grocery store, get a taste for this Wyoming favorite by making buffalo chili at home with this recipe.)

Wyoming cuisine is influenced by the cowboy and ranching culture in addition to its American Indian residents, so you will also discover regional dishes like fry bread, fresh cutthroat trout, beans, biscuits and plenty of meat-based dishes, including beef, venison, bison, elk and lamb, on menus here.

Click here to download all of the recipes!



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