Christmas excited, our first Carpe Diem berry farm raspberries are ready for picking. Not even exaggerating here…I get into things. Pyjama-clad I head into the patch with my coffee, weigh scale and pint baskets and am in an early morning heaven. It’s just me and the birds… Any marred berries I eat. (Stream of consciousness: “When the harvest really gets going will I be like the I Love Lucy chocolate assembly line scene and come in dripping in horror-movie red juice? Ah, maybe I’ll make jam…”)
Day two. Same excitement. Pyjamas, coffee, scale, baskets and RAIN. Now I know I’m a farmer. Rows of perfectly ripe berries and it’s pouring. Sure, you can pick in the rain but it doesn’t do the berries any favours. Their already short shelf life is shortened more by moisture.
While waiting for a dry spell to get back outside, I browse through MyNaramata, our communities top-notch, on-line, hyper-local source of news and read about the cherry growers and their real issues with rain while listening to the sound of an Apocalypse Now number of helicopters outside my window.
“In the last three weeks before cherry harvest, it is important to keep the cherries as dry as possible to prevent splitting,” the article says. “Rain collects in the well on the top of the cherry, is absorbed into the cherry causing it to swell and skin to split. Enter the helicopters which hover to blow the water off.”
As The Handyman and I share a similar quirky sense of humour he is immediately game for a photo session with our raspberries and his remote-controlled helicopter. I send the photos to MyNaramata as a Photo Friday submission.
Snickering and general joviality all round.
MyNaramata publishes my photo. The editor has a laugh.
Early Saturday morning the phone rings.
“Hi, my name is Mark and I have a question about the helicopter you used to dry your raspberries.”
“Sure, I’ll pass you on to the pilot…”
“The pilot is there? Great, that’s fantastic.”
(“Hey Maverick, the phone is for you. There is a guy who has a question about your helicopter…”)
“Hi, I want to know what helicopter you have there. I was looking at a double rotor one like that in New Zealand but it’s priced at over $200,000. What is the make of yours? Where did you get it? How much was it?”
“Mmmmm,” says Maverick politely but grinning madly. “Not sure if you’ve looked at that photo closely but it is a remote-controlled helicopter we were using there as kind of a joke.”
“(Big pause)…(laughter)….Oh my God (laughter), you’re right. Wow, you got me. (Laughter).”
In the meantime, I’m overhearing the discussion and am doubled over in hysterics…eyes streaming, the biggest uncontrolled yet stifled laughter of the year. I’m trying not to be audible as I don’t know if the guy is dying of embarrassment or not. Turns out it he is a good sport and enjoyed the joke himself. The photo was really small and he was fixated on the rotors without clueing in to the scale problems.
He owns a two-seater helicopter himself and has an interesting story I want to blog about… if he’ll let me…
Camera safely around my neck, I follow Adolf Steffen’s, (a director of the SS Sicamouse Heritage Park board) directions to the letter as I carefully clamber down a ladder into the pitch-black boiler room of the SS Naramata. Immediately engulfed by the smell of what I suppose is old engine oil, it’s easy to paint a picture of men stoking the massive boiler with coal, sweating in the heat with the sound of the pistons pumping madly away in the adjoining engine room.
Launched in 1914, the Naramata is the last surviving steam tug in the interior of British Columbia. Along with the coastal steam tug, Master, based at Vancouver, they are the only tugs of the steam era, not rebuilt to diesel power, surviving in the province. That makes this vessel and my not-open-to-the-public tour pretty special .
“Wouldn’t she look great out there in the lake,” says Adolf. Once the Naramata was brought back to Penticton (1991) to rest beside the SS Sicamous, it was discovered that her hull was paper thin in places and leaking. The tug was pulled onto the beach and backfilled with sand to prevent her from sinking. Even grounded, she is still shipping in some water when the lake is full at this time of the year and it’s not doing this centenarian any favours.
Adolf says about $75,000 is needed to pay a Vancouver company to “pick her up so a cradle can be built under her to fix the hull, sandblast, paint and push her back into the lake.”
Appropriately named after my village, a prosperous fruit-growing community back in the day, her main purpose was the transportation of fruit from the many packing houses along Okanagan Lake to the railway at Okanagan Landing and on to Kelowna. The ship could haul two fully loaded steel barges moving the equivalent of a 16-20 car train filled with Okanagan fruit at an average speed of seven miles an hour. A carload was 840 boxes of apples and even the early wooden barges could carry eight freight cars.
A couple more shots before we headed back topside and into the light.
“If we don’t get at this restoration project soon in another 10 to 15 years she will be a rust bucket and disintegrate,” Adolf says. Once she is restored and back on the lake where she belongs a pier will be constructed to connect the Naramata to Canadian National Tug no. 6 to offer visitors the opportunity to see the SS Sicamous, the Naramata and the CN tug. This second part of the restoration project puts the total tab at about $150,000.
Canadian National Tug no. 6 is a diesel-powered tugboat launched in 1948 to transfer railway barges between Penticton and Kelowna. A pier attaching it to the Naramata is in the restoration plans.
Topside and back into the light, the Naramata’s green and buff yellow paint is accented with simple but elegant brass details like the door handles leading to the various cabins giving this workaday vessel some class.
The Naramata’s hull and boat works were prefabricated in Port Arthur Ontario in 1913 with as many as 150 men working on her. She cost $40,000 and was shipped to Okanagan Landing for assembly and launched April 20th, 1914.
The deckhouse of the Naramata includes a small mess where a full-time cook worked in the blasting heat which was likely more welcome in the winter. Assistant manager of the SS Sicamous Heritage Park, Jessie Dunlop shared the reminiscences of a former crew member Abe, who stopped by for a tour a few years ago. Abe says the food was always fresh and delicious and a typical breakfast consisted of hash browns, bacon, eggs, pancakes and toast.
Crew member Abe also talked of how the cook brooked no nonsense on board and would threaten to pick up a troublemaker, clothes and all and toss him overboard.
The captain’s cabin is behind the pilot house on the top deck. The horsehair mattress is a long way from a comfy a memory foam.
When the Naramata began her service, she was the most modern tug on the southern lakes and rivers. Adolf also pointed out the Naramata’s double steel hull which made it capable of breaking ice on the lake. It’s been many years since the lake has iced up but it did frequently in the early 1900s. The SS Naramata would push through the ice to make a channel for the passenger steamers, including the SS Sicamous.
“The Naramata played a big part in the history of opening up the west here,” says Adolf. “Moving the fruit from the orchardists to market in the barges and onto the rails brought prosperity to the area. In the scheme of things, the $150,000 we need in total to fix her up and get her back in the water is not a lot to pay for preserving this important part of our history.”
So far $25,000 has been raised and the campaign to raise the remainder will launch soon. If all goes well everyone will soon be able see her and to paint their own pictures of what life was like on the SS Naramata during its hard working life on the lake.
The first recipe from the first crop of our Naramata raspberry farm berries is fittingly by our favourite Chef, Stewart Glynes, the owner of The Bench Market and it’s from my new favourite cookbook, The Butcher, the Baker, the Wine & Cheese Maker in the Okanagan and we are taking them to good Naramata pals’ place for dinner tonight. So much love packed in there that I had to use a run-on sentence…
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cold unsalted butter
pinch of salt
3-5 Tbsp cold water
Mix together flour, butter and salt in a bowl with hands until it is a fine sand-like texture. Add cold water a little at a time, until dough comes together but is not sticky. Form into flat dish shape and chill for about an hour.
1 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
In your mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until smooth (about 7 minutes) on medium-high speed. Add almonds and eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Add flour and mix on low until just combined.
Preheat oven to 350. (Stewart says this recipe makes about 12 4-inch tarts but my tart rings must have been taller as I only had enough pastry for 6 tarts…) Place dough on floured surface and roll out. Cut a circle slightly larger than your tart rings or tart pans and fold into bottom of shell. Add 5 or 6 raspberries to the bottom of the shell. Add enough almond cream to come even with the top of tart. Press another 5 or 6 raspberries into top of almond cream in whatever design you like.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until top is lightly brown around edge. Top with powdered sugar and some sliced almonds toasted for a short while in the oven and garnish with a sprig of mint.
“Farming should not be a romantic idea because it’s very far from being a romantic pursuit,” says Michelle Younie, owner of Somewhere That’s Green Edible Landscapes in Penticton and the farmer of Valley View Farms that provides produce for the Hooded Merganser Bar and Grill. I re-visited Michelle’s own farm recently and was blown away by the changes in a few short months since my last visit. Her farm is not only productive, it’s beautifully tended, practically weed-free and the produce is super-charged.
She found her vocation early in life and took her interest to another level by working on farms in Italy. “I was always obsessed by food and learning about growing it. My very first day on the farm in Italy I helped make 500 jars of tomato sauce…how perfectly Italian is that?” says Michelle. The recipe involved basil, carrots, onions, garlic and tomatoes and it’s still her go-to tomato sauce.
“My three months in Italy with its olive groves and vineyards convinced me that this is the way I want to live.”
“Although it seems like the in thing to do these days it is a lot of hard work and a labour of love,” she says. “I had a friend who bought five acres thinking she was going to grow hops. She didn’t even have a watering can when they first started out. They are still in the process of planting the hops and converting the land, even if it’s all a bit overwhelming. Having land is a lot more work than people initially expect and some of the romanticism dies once you get your hands dirty.”
Michelle’s advice is to start small like she did with an eight-foot by eight-foot garden and work up from there. “Take everything in steps. There is a lot to learn.”
Michelle has learned to grow what people will order. She sells out her produce to a list of customers who come to the farm weekly to pick up their orders. “Nothing goes to waste. If there is anything left over it goes to the rabbits my partner raises.”
Much of the discussion on my second visit to Michelle’s home farm, this time with the lovely ladies of the Naramata Garden Club, centred on bugs. “We host volunteers from around the world for six to eight weeks every summer and a German girl’s worst nightmare was her job of picking bugs by hand. I’m so desensitized now that it seemed funny.
“Overtime you get a balance and some bug damage is acceptable. This year my issue is cutworms and I’ve had to re-plant some things. I need to let the chickens out more to take care of them.”
Michelle says there is a desire to learn about food growing again that was lost to the last generation. She is doing her part. “My nephew was with some of his pals and one of them found a big worm and was squeamish about it. He said, ‘You should keep it, take it home and feed it to your chickens.'”
In addition to her work on Valleyview Farm and on her own farm, Michelle consults teaching you where and what to plant in your yard with a focus on edibles. Her services range from designing and planning your edible landscape to building, planting and maintaining it for you.
Consider saving money on your gym membership for the summer and taking your workouts outdoors. Scientists agree that we get a bigger boost to our mental well-being by exercising in natural environments. There is even a new term for it – green exercise and it comes with a greater feeling of revitalization, increased energy and…
A series of fortunate events brought together my niece and family, including her 10-month-old blue-eyed lady-slayer, and the baby’s great-grandma all together for her 81st birthday. A fresh, light, three-layered Lemony Snicket buttermilk cake is just the ticket. Lemon buttermilk cake, glued together with lemon curd, soaked in lemon syrup and topped with a luxuriously buttery, vanilla swiss meringue buttercream icing is a worthwhile afternoon’s bake-a-thon.
5 tablespoons butter, diced
3/4 cup granulated sugar
5 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, don’t even think about bottled
2 large egg yolks
1 large egg
Place the butter in a heat-proof bowl and set aside. Whisk together the sugar, lemon juice, egg yolks and egg in a medium sauce pan and cook over medium heat stirring to prevent the eggs from curdling. Cook about 6 to 8 minutes until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and strain it through a sieve over the bowl containing the butter. Sir to combine and cover with plastic wrap touching the curd to prevent a nasty skin from forming and put in the fridge for about 4 hours to cool and set.
butter and flour three 6-inch cake pans
2 1/4 cup cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
3/4 cup butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
2 egg whites
1 cup buttermilk
Pre-heat oven to 350F. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside. Place the sugar and lemon zest in a bowl and rub them together. In the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the sugar mixture and mix on medium-high until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl. Turn the mixer to medium-low and add the lemon juice, vanilla, eggs and egg whites, one at a time. Stop the bowl and scrape it down. Turn the mixture on low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Just mix until combined, about 30 seconds or so. Evenly divide the batter into prepared 6-inch pans and bake for 22 to 24 minutes checking with a toothpick for doneness. Cool for 15 minutes on a rack before removing the cakes from the pans.
Lemon simple syrup
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
Stir all the ingredients together in saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Cool.
1/2 cup egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups butter at room temperature cubed
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Yellow food colouring
Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer and whisk together by hand and place over a medium saucepan filled with a few inches of water to create a double boiler. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Whisk intermittently and heat until it registers 160F or until it is hot to the touch. Fit it onto your stand mixer and with the whisk attachment, beat on high for 8 to 10 minutes. Stop the mixer and swap out the whisk for the paddle and turn the mixer to low. Add the butter lumps a few at a time and then the vanilla and beat for 3 to 5 minutes until very smooth. Add a tiny bit of yellow food colouring a bit at a time until you achieve a pale yellow colour.
Level the cakes and select one for the bottom layer. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of each cake with the lemon syrup. Pipe a line of buttercream around the top edge of the first layer to create a dam. Fill in with half of the lemon curd, top with a second layer and repeat the procedure using the rest of the lemon curd. Add the final layer. Crumb coat and frost the cake with buttercream and decorate with sugar pearls if you want to get fancy.
Me and my camera paid a visit to Karolina and Doug’s lavender farm to drop off 140 white lavender plants I started from cuttings for them in my greenhouse.
In an earlier post…Money for nothing and the plants for free…I did an experiment using honey on half the stems to be rooted and a root hormone stimulate (powder) on the other half. I had equal success with both methods so will use the more natural, readily available and economical honey from now on. After I took the cuttings from the farm, prepared them for planting, transplanted them from plug trays into bigger pots and fussed and hovered over the little guys for several months I have now turned them over to the lavender farm to complete the fussing for a while longer before they have enough of a root system to withstand transplanting in the field. Lavender grows best from cuttings as they often don’t come true from seeds. The white lavender looks stunning in wedding photographs. I did a trade for some of the farms famous Balton sour cherries.
The farm was in the midst of their first harvesting when I stopped by.
Jennifer Cockrall-King’s Food Artisans of the Okanagan will make you salivate and then want to hop on a plane, train, car or bike and set out to sample as much of this bounty as your pants will allow. This new guide to the best of what’s grown, fished, foraged, made, baked, brewed or cooked in the Okanagan and Similkameen is the result of a year of Jennifer’s curation, interviewing and storytelling of more than 125 artisans. A food culture writer and urban agriculture expert for more than 20 years, she spent an afternoon talking to me about the the behind-the-scenes process of writing the guide book, the momentum of the Okanagan’s culinary scene and the people and passion behind it, life as a food writer and her next big project. Highlights of our discussion follow.
“The toughest thing about the project comes after all the writing, editing and lay-out work is done and it’s too late to change anything,” she says. I’m always scared that there will be something I want to change or I’ve gotten something wrong.”
Food Artisans of the Okanagan is attractively and thoughtfully designed and well laid out. The guide is organized geographically and then by category such as fish and seafood, cheese, spirits, beer cider and mead, fruits and vegetables and chefs… Each section (North, Central, South Okanagan and The Similkameen) includes a clear map to help you plan your foodie route. It’s also fun just to flip through the guide stopping to admire the great photos and reading through the stories of the artisans that catch your interest.
“I’m pleased with the book,” says Jennifer. “The publisher (Touchwood) spent money in the right places. The cover stock is perfect and the illustrations great. We went through a lot of different ideas for the cover and then chose between six different colour schemes.” The guide’s Tuscan yellow and blue scheme is perfect for the Okanagan.”A good cover design makes a world of difference as does a good spine design. There are so many things you don’t think about such as the trim size. The book feels good in your hand and it’s a standard guide book size which helps you see immediately how the book is designed to be used. There is nothing worse than picking up a nice looking book and it’s all floppy in your hands.”
After Jennifer was approached by the publisher to write the book, she pushed back on the timeline to allow her the breathing room to do the great job she wanted to do. That meant the time to visit each of the artisans in person in a 20,000-square-kilometre area. “For that entire year you have no income from the project. You are working on perspective and just hope people will buy it.” (Sales are great so far…) Not to mention all the driving…
Her criteria for choosing the artisans to feature is illustrated by a recent encounter at The Bench Market (featured in the guide). “I ran into a German tourist who bought a copy of my book which I signed for him. “I thought to myself if this guy buys my book and decides to drive to Osoyoos to seek out some of the artisans that captured his interest am I going to feel confident that he will be happy he did? This was my gut check. Can I feel confident that someone randomly opening a page and deciding to go somewhere will be glad they did.”
Jennifer writes about who the artisans are, how they got into their business and what makes their offering unique. “Part of the fun of writing the book was making new discoveries myself. I didn’t know the North Okanagan at all. One really surprising discovery was Fieldstone Organics in Armstrong. I’m a Prairie girl and just didn’t picture grains being grown in the Okanagan.” Fieldstone Organics works with 25 other local organic farmers and now has a line of dozens of organic, non-GMO whole grain and whole seed products like rye, flax, spelt and Emmer wheat along with organic lentils, dried peas and buckwheat.
She also had fun discovering unlikely success stories like Doug’s Homestead Meat Shopwhich is pretty much in the middle of nowhere in Hedley. With a cult following Brent and Linette McClelland sell over 300 pounds of beef jerky alone every day through their front door.
Jennifer also made a point of giving a shout-out to the amazing chefs of the Okanagan that are doing some very cool things attracting international attention with all the lovely meat, fish, produce, grains, fruit…that our bountiful valley produces.
“My hope for the success of the book is largely for the people I profiled. I want readers to make an emotional connection and to understand what goes on in the production of their food. These people put their heart, soul, sweat and backs into this physically demanding work.”
Jennifer’s engaging writing gets right to the heart and stomachs of the people who buy her book. “Good food writing is not as much about the writing as it is about communicating. It’s not about flowery quill pen activity but more about being approachable, open, curious and well-informed.”
Job done or job jobbed as they say in England.
Her next project is about seed banks around the world and we got onto the topic of her visit to the Norway Global Seed Vault on the island of Spitsbergen. Future blog post I hope…