Bob Hicks is taking a uniquely Alaskan gift to a Christmas party in New York: hot and mild sausages made with reindeer meat.
"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 & Seafood shop. Behind the counter, workers hustled to fill holiday orders, including the ever-popular all-reindeer package.
Across Alaska, restaurants offer reindeer sausage year-round. Street vendors hawk sizzling reindeer hot dogs during the summer and during the start of the Iditarod dog sled race in March. And the delicious irony of it all is not lost on locals over the Christmas holidays.
At Indian Valley Meats near 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 had heard her share of jokes about Santa's favorite red-nosed reindeer as customers helped themselves to the free samples.
"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."
Reindeer is a lean meat that must be blended with beef and pork to make the sausage. It tastes like traditional pork sausage but spicier.
But in Alaska, reindeer is more than just meat.
How about a reindeer hide to hang on the wall? Earrings and cribbage boards carved from reindeer antlers? Knives with antler handles? Traditional dance fans from the animal's beard? Mukluks, or furry snow boots, with hair from reindeer legs?
At the Alaska Fur Exchange in Anchorage, the shelves are packed with pelts, hides, horns and bones. Reindeer hides are considered ideal for hanging on a wall or sofa back. But reindeer hair is hollow and easily breaks, so it wouldn't last long as a rug.
Store owner Gus Gillespie imports his $135 brown and cream-colored hides from Finland because they are cheaper than Alaska hides. Reindeer are not native to the state anyway, having been introduced from Russia and Norway more than a century ago.
Gillespie, an avid hunter, said he had 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?"