Jenn portrait with book take 2
Award-winning cookbook author Jennifer Schell at the launch of her new book, The Butcher, the Baker, the Wine & Cheese Maker in the Okanagan, at Bench 1775 Winery on the  Naramata Bench overlooking Okanagan Lake. Photo: David McIlvride, Spatula Media

Within five minutes of dipping into Jennifer Schell’s new collection of recipes, the stories of the chefs who crafted them and the artisans who provided the amazing local ingredients and the libations to accompany them, I knew she was preaching to the choir. And I say hallelujah. To anyone who delves into this beautifully written and designed cookbook who isn’t yet in the I-love-the-Okanagan-choir, your robes await.

Jennifer has the enviable good fortune of being raised on an orchard in Kelowna and has marinated herself in the area’s rich and growing artisanal food culture. She describes the book perfectly as, “A love letter to the Okanagan and to all those who have created, grown, and nurtured our special valley on this earth. They are a delightful confluence of old and new world, blending their international influence and flavours with our local bounty, establishing a cuisine that is distinctly Okanagan. Through their recipes and stories, I am pleased to introduce you to these gifted people who bring this local food to your table every day.” I love her love letter. Here’s why…

I whipped up a batch of Bean Scene’s best-ever ginger cookies from the Brunchie Lunchie section to fuel a cover-to-cover read. They were the best-ever.

During my first flip through The Butcher, the Baker, the Wine & Cheese Maker in the Okanagan, I was captivated by the photos, most taken by Jennifer herself. The photos are professional in quality but somehow capture the warmth of her subjects and the beauty of the dishes without that slick over-styled look so common in magazines and cookbooks today. I’m not sure what secret sauce went into the picture-taking, editing, lay-out process in this TouchWood Editions book but it worked.

On a second pass through I began virtually cooking and baking, selecting recipes that caught my eye and looked easy or doable and even ones that I could see taking on as a challenge like Chef Bernard’s “twisted” carrot cake and Cheffrey’s wild boar ragu. How cool would it be to serve up Wild Moon Organics Berkshire pork meatballs in tomato sauce or, cedar-roasted chicken with spruce and sumac or, pan-roasted arctic char with braised beluga lentils and smoked heirloom tomato-peach gastrique and blow the socks off my guests on our deck?

Summer dining Okanagan style at my nieces’ wedding at Gods Mountain catered by one of the chef’s featured in the cookbook, Dana Ewart of Joy Road Catering, Penticton. Photo: Jarusha Brown

I then began spotting familiar faces of many chefs, farmers and others from my Naramata hood, the Penticton Farmer’s Market or restaurants we frequent and I had to check out their recipes and stories…Chefs like Dana Ewart, one half of the Joy Road Catering team (Cameron Smith is the other half). We look forward to her cinnamon buns every Saturday at the farmer’s market and have been guests at the best wedding feast I’ve ever attended that they catered. This is a bit of a digression…but here are a few photos of that wedding banquet all taken by Jarusha Brown and catered by Joy Road…

IMG_2530IMG_2528IMG_2529On my list of for-sure-recipes to make very soon with the first of our Carpe Diem raspberry crop is The Bench raspberry almond tarts. I plan on taking my cookbook over when we stop for lunch at The Bench and go over the recipe with Chef Stewart Glynes. He has been my go-to guy for pastry and baking questions for sometime now. To say we are Bench regulars is a bit of an understatement…The Handyman has a custom sandwich called The Fussy Chicken there. It was fun to see Stewart sourcing his berries from my neighbour James Young who has crammed acres of production into his 0.39-acre property. James was a great help when I first got my greenhouse. I’m hoping Stewart will be a key customer for our raspberries.

I was also delighted to see my pal Karolina Born-Tschümperlin of Forest Green Man Lavender Farm (previous blog post) in a magical pairing with Legend Distilling, just a stumble from my  house (previous blog post), to create the Legendary Green Man Lavender Martini recipe. Yes please.

No self-respecting cookbook reviewer can do a proper job without actually getting some flour on that book and cracking the spine a bit. (Although I must say that I would buy this book even if I didn’t intend to bake or cook a single thing from it. The photos and the stories of the valley artisans are fun just to browse through and I plan to leave a copy in my guest room.)

Jennifer has kindly agreed to let me share a few recipes I’ve made in upcoming blog posts. The instructions were clear, the recipes produced delicious results and I’m in the enviable place to source the actual ingredients used. I’m sure you can seek out the artisans in your hood to provide you with top-quality, lovingly produced, sustainable ingredients that will at least come close.

The view from Bench 1775 Winery, labelled The Best Patio in the Word, the venue for the book launch. Its winemaker Val Tait is featured in the cookbook with a Bench 1775 Blissful Mojito recipe.

Here is a brief Q & A session with Jennifer:

How long does it take to put together a book like this, what were the biggest challenges and the most enjoyable part of the project for you?

I set a rather ambitious schedule for myself. The current cookbook took five months. The biggest challenge is the cookbook creation process, but also the most enjoyable part for me, is the photography. There is a lot of scheduling and driving around, but I truly love visiting with the people, old friends and new, and being able to visit their farms or restaurants, see what they are working on and catch up with their news. These people never fail to inspire me. Each has such passion for their craft and community, and after each and every meeting, I am super charged and can’t wait to share their faces and their stories with my readers.

What recipe should I make first and why?

It is hard for me to pick a favourite recipe so maybe if we go with what is in season. If there is still rhubarb out there (yup…some left in my garden), I would suggest my mom’s rhubarb pie. I also love the simplicity of the Apple Cake on Wheels and local apples are always available in the cold storage of BC Tree Fruits. Potatoes should be ready soon and the Sunshine Farm Heritage Potato Flan is a winner. OK, that was three instead of one. Sorry, every recipe is  wonderful!

(Throw down accepted…I’ve already made the Apple Cake on Wheels…excellent…)

What’s next in the works for you?

I swore I would take a break after this last book — but, I can’t stop now! Too many stories to share and new farmers and drink makers and butchers and bakers to meet! I am working on the outline of the next book now.