Don Holm was more than a fisherman.
Don Holm was born in 1918 in North Dakota, the son of a blacksmith who was the first Generation born in America from a Swedish family. Although he attended four different colleges at this time, he kept trying his hand at different types of labor in different places.
He worked in construction, building dams in Western states; logging; commercial fishing; and by 1940, he was gold mining in Alaska.
While he was in Alaska, he sold his first story to Alaska Sportsman magazine, titled, “In Alaska, of All Places!” “You’d expect dog-team races and skiing, but not football, baseball and tennis!”
After serving with the Navy in World War II, Holm stayed near where he was discharged in Bremerton, Washington, finished his education, and spent a decade working in advertising before getting a job as a general assignment reporter with The Oregonian in 1960. In 1963, he married Myrtle Seabold, who would go on to co-author some of his cookbooks. By 1969, Holm was the Wildlife and Outdoors editor.
In his writing, Holm often drew on his experiences traveling in rugged country and passed along the practical wisdom he’d learned, both about living off the land (as he did in this smoked fish recipe) and about sometimes forgotten food traditions. In 1972, he wrote a book specifically focusing on sourdough recipes, a tradition well-known to Alaskans, where many families still feed starters that came to Alaska during the Gold Rush.
His basic starter recipe was included in a book review from the September 17, 1972 edition of the Nevada State Journal:
‘Sourdough Starter’ Easy
(Click to expand the intro to the story.)
SAN FRANCISCO (UPI) — Outdoors Editor Don Holm in his latest book destroys the idea that there is something difficult about making a sourdough starter.“Just to show you how simple sourdough is, you’re going to learn how to make a sourdough starter in less than 60 seconds:
Holm, outdoors editor of the Portland Oregonian, has written “The Complete Sourdough Cookbook” in collaboration with his wife, Myrtle, and published by Caxton Printers Ltd. of Caldwell, Ida. $3.95.
Here is Holm on the subject:
“Put two cups of flour into a crock, jar or Tupperware bowl that is at least warm room temperature. Add 2-1/2 cups lukewarm water, and set the whole batch in a warm but not hot place.
“That’s all there is to it.” He then goes on with recipes for bread, biscuits, waffles, etc.
Holm died in 2002.
Holm wrote to preserve frontier recipes and techniques, but it’s not as though many of those recipes were fixed, or the authors had any experience in teaching those techniques in print. Holm didn’t have the advantages I do here, with centuries of digitized history at my fingertips to help me fill in the blanks.
Perhaps the best summary of his role in this process was the description of one of his books in an ad from the June 27, 1970 edition of The Billings Gazette:
Old-Fashioned Dutch Oven
with Sourdough Cookery and Smoking and Jerking
By Don Holm
(Coxton — $3.95)
Complete with authentic Sourdough Baking, Smoking Fish and Game, making Jerky, Pemmican, and other lost Campfire Arts. The author does not claim to be a cook “of any merit” but he has had a lot of experience in cooking under fairly primitive circumstances, and he does not want to have this art lost in “these days of mechanical refrigeration.”
From a box sold in Martinez, California.
Smoked Fish by Don Hôlm, Fisherman
2 cups water
1/2 cup soy sauce
1-1/2 cups apple juice
1/4 cup non–iodized salt
1/ 2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon onion salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Mix together water, soy sauce, apple juice, salt, brown sugar, garlic and onion salt and black pepper. Mix well–drop chunks of fish into the brine and leave overnight.
Then next morning remove fish and dry thoroughly with paper towels, but do not rinse. Put immediately into smoker for 8-10 hours.
(Delicious) if that’s how you spell it.