At some Alaska stores, Rudolph is the present

From hot dogs to hides, reindeer products make the holiday rounds

Posted: Tuesday, December 19, 2006

ANCHORAGE - Bob Hicks is taking a uniquely Alaskan gift to a Christmas party in New York City: hot and mild sausages made with reindeer meat.

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"I'll tell them it's Rudolph," Hicks, a retired lawyer who moved to Alaska in 1971 from the Boston area, said with a devilish grin inside the bustling Alaska Sausage and Seafood shop. Behind the counter, workers hustled to fill holiday orders, including the ever-popular all-reindeer package.

Yes, folks. Around here, Rudolph doesn't just deliver the presents, he is the present.

The caribou's domestic cousin is always a sure thing in a place where restaurants offer reindeer sausage and street vendors hawk sizzling reindeer hot dogs. And the delicious irony of it all is not lost on locals over the holidays.

At Indian Valley Meats south of Anchorage, reindeer sausage and jerky are a big hit in gift baskets snapped up by locals to send to relatives outside the state. Shop owner Cathy Drum said she's heard her share of Rudolph jokes, even as customers help themselves to the samples always set out.

"Just the other day, a lady gave her daughter some and said, 'You just ate Rudolph,"' Drum said. "The girl wrinkled her nose and then started laughing."

But there's more to this red-nosed reindeer than just the meat.

Consider the other possibilities. How about a reindeer hide? Antler earrings, cribbage boards or eagle carvings? Ulu knives with antler handles? Mukluks featuring the hair of reindeer legs?

At the Alaska Fur Exchange in Anchorage, the shelves are packed with pelts, hides, horns and bones along with gold nugget jewelry and native arts fashioned out of all manner of animal parts. Much of the inventory is one-of-a-kind, including a dreamcatcher made with a reindeer antler and turkeys feathers.

The store also carries antlers shed by both reindeer and caribou. Reindeer antlers tend to be smaller, but that's not always the case, so it's virtually impossible to tell which is which. Either makes a lovely carving or jewelry, such as the earrings with the silhouettes of tiny reindeer cut in.

Gillespie, an avid hunter, said he has no problem with the idea of Rudolph as an edible gift.

"In the Lower 48, people are hitting deer with their cars all the time," he said. "Wouldn't you rather harvest that critter and eat him?"

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