A late summer evening on our Naramata, British Columbia deck turned into a two bottles of wine, three-hour bear show and some things that you had to see to believe.
A medium-sized black bear, a three-year-old (neighbourhood regular) claws his way up a 40-foot pine making a hell of a racket. He has my attention. A few minutes later it becomes obvious that a much bigger black bear was the cause of his scramble. So now there are two bears up in the tree.
The vineyard owner from our neighbouring property comes by to explain his theory that it’s a battle over territory…namely his beleaguered vineyard that is now stripped of grapes with half his irrigation system in pieces. The vineyard’s name…. Bad Bear Vineyard. Can’t make this stuff up.
During the three-hours, the bigger bear would close the gap between them and give the smaller guy what for.
A bear fight in a very tall tree must be accomplished carefully with claws firmly clinging to the tree and it is very noisy.
In between battles the bears would rest and make themselves as comfortable as possible among the branches.
The smaller guy further up the tree would occasionally break off branches and drop them on his rival. This is the part that starts to be, “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.”
The uppermost bear peed on the lower bear. It was full-on, like out of a fire hose. The big guy looked up to see what was going on and pretty much ignored it being a bear and not overly concerned with hygiene. Although, a few minutes later it did wake him up and spark a new battle, so anthropomorphasizing, maybe it did piss him off.
Just about out of wine, the fight ended when it began to get dark. The bigger bear clumsily scrabbled his way down the tree while I much more lithely ran for the house. A few minutes later the weaponized smaller bear made his way down and sauntered off.
Naramata is world-renowned for taking it slow. Our little village is one of only three Canadian communities with a special status as a “slow city” bestowed on us by Cittaslow, an international organization formed in Orvieto Italy in 1999. We just get better and better and living up to our slow status.
Here is a new and most wonderful way to celebrate life in the slow lane in eight painless steps:
Take your time, decide if you want it neat, with a splash of water to open up the flavours or on ice if it’s a hot day and that’s your jam.
Stroll on out to the patio with the best view in stunning Naramata overlooking vineyards, Okanagan Lake and Giant’s Head mountain.
Pull up an Adirondack and place your tumbler on the arm.
Leisurely contemplate the amber colour of the whisky as the sun lights it up.
Get your nose involved and appreciate the aromas of dried fruits, vanilla and spice.
Take a sip…savour.
It took Legend Owner/Distiller Doug Lennie four years to make this beautiful Wyatt Whisky, we owe it to him to push pause and fully immerse ourselves in the tasting.
“Making whisky is why I wanted to get into distilling in the first place,” says Doug as he talks to me on the sunny patio in early spring about Legend’s inaugural 1,400 bottles of Wyatt Whisky. “It’s special because it’s named after our son. It’s special because it’s made with British Columbia wheat and aged in oak barrels that previously held local wines and ports. It’s special because we are excited about good food and wine and we are making something unique that is full of character.”
Wyatt Whisky joins a growing list of hand-crafted spirits the Naramata distillery is garnering a loyal and enthusiastic following for. It’s best known for its range of legendary gins.
Doug describes his first whisky as very much a Canadian style whisky made from 90 per cent wheat (Red Wheat from Peace River), 10 per cent rye and aged in toasted French oak barrels. The grain is milled, mashed, fermented and distilled at Legend Distilling in its gorgeous copper beauty, the centrepiece of the distillery’s front window.
Wyatt Whisky is 40 per cent alcohol and is non-chill filtered which Doug says makes for a more flavourful, full-bodied whisky. To ensure the first release was amazing, Doug waited a year longer than the three-year cycle many new distilleries are on for their whisky programs.
“The art comes into the blending,” he says. “The whisky is stored in barrels from different cooperages with different char levels.” His Canadian-style,”…is not as aggressive as an American whisky which is aged in barrels with a 1/4 inch of charcoal. My style is more subtle. You taste the wood flavour and the fruity notes from the barrels along with the lovely caramel and wheat flavours of the grains.”
For those still working on acquiring the acquired taste whisky drinkers talk of and aren’t quite ready for a neat or nearly neat taste, Legend Owner and cocktail genius Dawn Lennie came up with her own take on a whisky sour in collaboration with Naramata’s Elephant Island Winery.
ON NARAMATA THYME 2oz Wyatt Whisky 1oz Elephant Island Apricot dessert wine 1/2 oz lemon juice 1/2 oz honey syrup (1:1 honey and water) 2 sprigs fresh thyme Ice Add all but 1 sprig of thyme to a shaker full of ice and shake shake shake. Strain into coup glass and garnish with fresh thyme.
If I had made a fine whisky that I hovered over for four years it would be a grand Tom Hanks, “I made fire” moment shouted at full volume. Doug Lennie, in his humble, laid-back style says, “I hope everyone loves it as much as I do.” Give it a taste, take your time.
“October, baptize me with leaves! Swaddle me in corduroy and nurse me with split pea soup. October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins. O autumn! O teakettle! O grace!”
― Rainbow Rowell, Attachments
The honey for these deliciously sweet and tangy tarts is as local as I can get it. It comes from Tim Bouwmeester, owner/operator of Desert Flower Honey on the Naramata Bench (next to Hillside Winery). Buying local is always a good thing. Buying honey locally is an even better thing.
Bit of a honey rant
Most honey comes from China, where beekeepers are notorious for keeping their bees healthy with antibiotics banned in North America because they seep into honey and contaminate it; packers there learn to mask the acrid notes of poor quality product by mixing in sugar or corn-based syrups to fake good taste.
None of this is on the label. Rarely will a jar of honey say “Made in China.” Instead, Chinese honey sold in North America is more likely to be stamped as Indonesian, Malaysian or Taiwanese, due to a growing multimillion dollar laundering system designed to keep the endless supply of cheap and often contaminated Chinese honey moving into North America, where tariffs have been implemented to staunch the flow and protect its own struggling industry.
All the more reason to pick up some local honey next time you are at the farmer’s market.
The recipe is in three parts: Pastry to make the crusts, the filling and whipped cream for topping the tarts.
You will need eight 3 3/4-inch mini tart pans with removable bottoms.
1 cup all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2″ pieces
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp. ice water
Preheat oven to 375 F. Combine flour, butter, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles pea-sized balls. Add egg yolk and ice water and pulse just until the mixture comes together and forms a ball. Don’t overdo it or your pastry will be tough.
Divide the dough into eight small balls and roll each out into a circle with a rolling pin on a lightly floured board. Place your rolled out circles inside the tart pans and using your fingers press the dough up the sides of the eight 3 3/4-inch pans. Place the pans on a cookie sheet and bake about 12 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. corn starch
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. lime zest
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter cut up
1 Tbsp. local honey
1 cup sour cream
In a medium saucepan stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Whisk in the heavy cream, lime zest and lime juice. Cook and stir over medium heat until gently boiling. Cook and stir another few minutes until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and honey until the butter is melted. Stir in the sour cream. Spoon filling into baked tart shells. Chill at least an hour.
Whipped Cream ingredients and directions
Makes about 4 cups. (Halve the recipe by reducing the cream to one cup leaving all the other ingredients the same if you only want enough to finish off these tartlets.)
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup icing sifted icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
dash of salt
Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl with the whip attachment and beat on medium until soft peaks form.
Some assembly required
Either add a spoonful of whipping cream to the top of tarts or fill a pastry bag and pipe the whipped cream on for a fancier tart. Garnish with some lime zest.
For a fleeting time every June, around the time of the summer solstice, the setting sun lines up to shine its dying rays through the Kettle Valley Railway’s Little Tunnel, above the Village of Naramata. Photogenic on any day of the year, this tunnel engineered by Andrew McCulloch more than 100 years was blasted out of a rock cliff that hangs dramatically over the Okanagan Lake.
The summer solstice, June 21st, is the longest days of the year for anyone living north of the equator and marks the beginning of summer. If pagan rituals are your thing, how cool would hiking up (or driving) to the tunnel to mark the occasion be?
No one really knows why Stonehengewas built some 5,000 years ago. But one possibility is that it was used to mark solstices and equinoxes. That’s because during the summer solstice, the sun rises just over the structure’s Heel Stone and hits the Altar Stone dead centre. I wonder if McCulloch knew about the solstice magic he created? Bring your camera. Preserved Light‘s Caillum Smith often offers photography workshops at Little Tunnel during the solstice. If you go, don’t touch the tunnel walls when the sun’s rays pierce through it as you will likely be transported through the stone and back in time and find yourself in the middle of the Battle of Culloden. Right?
2. We Love our Public Art
Although I don’t want to reveal the exact location of this amazing art to help preserve it, Naramata has some very special rocks. Some of the most intriguing images of Canadian rock art or pictographs are painted on cliffs in interior British Columbia. The Okanagan Valley of British Columbia is the traditional territory of the Interior Salish peoples, hunters and gatherers who followed a seasonal migration. Their material culture was simple and easily transportable, and they had very little impact on their environment. They did leave behind one sign of their presence however – their paintings on stone, or pictographs.
Painted in red ochres, iron oxides mixed with clay, the designs were applied with fingers or sticks and were thought to be painted by teenagers as part of their puberty rituals or by adults painting images from dreams.
3. We Aren’t Afraid of the Dark
A big part of the appeal of Naramata is what we don’t have such as no fast-food outlets, no traffic lights, no industrial development and very few streetlights. It’s dark at night, inky black in some spots and this is rare today and valuable.
Star gazing, Northern Lights watching and awareness of the phases of the moon are a special part of life here and should not be undervalued according to Elizabeth Griffin, Visiting Astronomer at the NRC, and also Member of the Light Pollution Committee, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada – Victoria Centre. “Light pollution affects astronomy in a big way. Stars are faint and distant and the scattered light from our cities makes them hard to see. Observation now requires costly equipment in remote locations,” she says. “All this light is bad for us as well. We don’t sleep as well when its not dark meaning we have less melatonin that we need to repair our bodies. Light pollution damages sensitive eco-systems like those of insects and birds, and eventually damages the whole bio-system upon which we depend for food.”
(This helps explain why our guests from urban areas talk about how well they sleep here…)
Dr. Griffin tells me a story passed on by the director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. “There was a significant earthquake in 1980 in the LA area and it disrupted electrical cables plunging LA into darkness. The switchboard at the observatory became jammed with calls by people reporting that they had seen something unusual. It turns out that they were able to see the Milky Way for the first time. There is something so sad about that.”
We can see the Milky Way here and many other constellations and planets by lying on our backs on our lawn and gazing up. “You are lucky,” says Dr. Griffin. “Municipalities are doing quite a lot like ensuring street lights are angled down and shutting off sport’s field lights at night but there are no laws regulating the use of domestic lights. All we can do is try to educate people that all this light is damaging and unnecessary and that they are missing out on something special.
“The Okanagan is good for star watching,” adds Dr. Griffin. “You are relatively sparsely populated there and there are a lot of pockets behind the mountains where you are quite well shielded from lights.”
Along with embracing the darkness, Naramatians are also treated to quiet that allows us to hear birds and wildlife. My current favourite thing is opening my deck door early in the morning to listen to a pair of owls talking to each other. Also part and parcel of life in our Village are the wonderful scents of sage and pine that are released in summer evenings on hot days.
4. We Let it All Slip Slide Away
There is a little-known spot on Naramata Creek where a waterfall has some chutes and pools suitable for a little sliding. Tucked away up Arawana, an old forest service road, and along a trail, these rock slides provide a bit of cool fun.
5. We are Internationally Recognized for our Slow Pace of Life
Naramata is one of only three Canadian communities with a special status as a “slow city” bestowed on us by Cittaslow, an international organization formed in Orvieto Italy in 1999. We join Cowichan Bay and Wolfville as places where the pace of life is a bit more human.
To quote from the charmingly translated Italian on the Cittaslow website, “A Cittaslow place is motivated by curious people of a recovered time, where man is still protagonist of the slow and healthy succession of seasons, respectful of citizens’ health, the authenticity of products and good food, rich of fascinating craft traditions, of valuable works of art, squares, theatres, shops, cafes and restaurants. These are places of the spirit and unspoiled landscapes characterized by spontaneity of religious rites and respect the traditions of the joy of slow and quiet living.”
As a way of celebrating our Cittaslow status, Naramata holds a harvest dinner in the fall. One of the organizers of the dinner, Miranda Halladay, said, “ Naramatians have an encyclopedia of reasons why they feel lucky enough to call this place home, covering the spectrum from peacocks (a secret for another day…we have resident peacocks that wander around in our Village) to people. The Cittaslow designation prompts us to think and to talk about these aspects of our community, to protect and foster these elements that are integral to living NaramataSlow.
“Creating and sharing a meal focused on the immense and delicious bounty our community produces with friends, neighbours and visitors alike feels like a natural tradition in the making, and the right way to foster conversation.”
Thanks to Preserved Light for collaborating with me on this post!
How pretentious is it to name your house? Oh, very, so let’s up the ante and choose a latin name.
The Handyman hails from England where house naming is a thing. Think Primrose Cottage, Two Hoots, Crumbledown, Nudgens, Wits End, Tweedledum, or Creeping Snail.
We have neighbours with house names like Ironpost Guest House, Forgotten Hill and the Grape Escape but they are guest houses with a good reason for a name. Also nearby is Rancho Costa Plenty which has been sale for awhile.
We could have chosen another dead language name like Cave Canem (beware of the dog) but that would have dated us our two pals lived to ripe old ages and are now planted in the garden, or Nessum Dorma (none shall sleep) with the idea of discouraging visitors from overstaying.
A week after our gate and name went up a neighbour pulled his car over to chat and said, “You know, I drive by your gate every day on my way to work and think, seize the day, yup, good idea.”
As hokey as it sounds, it’s become a mantra for our house that is often welcoming visitors with wine, a nap in a tree house and evenings on the deck.
The name of our Village is pretty crazy too when you know its history and it has a lot of letters “a”s … although it doesn’t hold a candle to these English villages of say…
or my personal favourite, so much so that if we decide to leave Canada and return to the Handyman’s homeland this would be the spot…
In 1905 Naramata was originally called East Summerland which was too confusing, I guess and a bit dull making us a candidate for sister villagehood with Little Snoring. The postmaster’s wife, Mrs. Gillespie was a bit of a hippie dippie in her day apparently. She was a medium of the American Spiritualistic church and invited some of her gal pals over for a get-together at which she went into a “spiritualist trance.” The spirit of a great Sioux Indian Chief, Big Moose, came to her and spoke of his dearly loved wife calling her Nar-ra-mah-tah, as she was the Smile of Manitou. All and sundry were struck by Mrs. Gillespie’s revelation, a few extra letters were dropped (which was a darn good thing) and here we are. (I wonder if Big Moose every worried about Narramahtah’s faithfulness…)
I also wonder if we should add Please Drive Carefully to our Village sign?
This Naramata take on a classic Victoria sponge is two fluffy sponges lightly flavoured with vanilla and almond with a very special sandwiching layer…Legend Raspberry Jam and a healthy dollop of whipping cream.
Here is a Cole’s Notes version of what went into making that legendary jam:
Grow the raspberries on our farm.
Harvest the raspberries at their peak.
Deliver to Legend Distilling.
Legend makes Slowpoke Farm Berry Vodka with them. (Check out my post about how it’s made minus some secrets.)
Make raspberry jam with some more of our farm fresh raspberries and some of Legend’s Slowpoke Farm Berry Vodka made from our raspberries. It’s like raspberries times three.
A limited supply of this special jam is for sale at Legend Distilling during the Christmas season… You can of course substitute a high-quality raspberry jam but your cake will be slightly less legendary.
Our recent snow fall has put paid to my fresh raspberry supply so it’s time to bring out the jam.
3/4 cup unsalted butter (soft)
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
3 extra-large or large eggs (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups unbleached self-rising flour
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 8″ round cake pans. Cut a round of parchment and fit in the bottom of your pan and grease and flour.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until well combined and smooth.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition.
Add the extracts.
Add the flour, beating gently just until well combined.
Divide the stiff batter evenly between the cake pans; there’ll be 11 to 12 ounces of batter in each, depending on the size eggs you used.
Bake the cakes for about 20 minutes, or until they start to pull away from the edges of the pans. Remove them from the oven, cool for a couple of minutes, and turn out of the pans onto a rack to cool completely.
When the cakes are cool, place one layer on a plate. Spread with the Legend jam or a jam of your choice.
Whip the cream — 2/3 cup cream makes a medium-thickness layer of filling; 3/4 cup cream, a thick layer. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, or to taste, as you whip the cream until it’s quite stiff. Stir in the vanilla at the end.
Pipe the whipped cream over the jam. You could also spread the whipped cream if you prefer.
Top with the second layer of cake.
Sift icing sugar over the top of your cake.
Refrigerate the cake until you’re ready to serve it. It’ll be at its best within 12 hours; but is still quite good up to 2 or even 3 days later. The difference will be the whipped cream, which will gradually settle/compact. Yield: about 12 servings.
Take just picked raspberries from our Naramata berry farm and a craft-distilled slowly infused Farm Berry Vodka from our neighbour Legend Distilling and bottle it. Think toast on a cold January morning in front of a fire slathered with the colours and aromas of a hot summer day – elegant and not oversweet.
This easy jam recipe can be adapted for ingredients you have easy access to if you don’t happen to own a berry farm or live near a distillery. There is no substitute for the Wine Glass Writer pens I used to mark the jars with, however. They are invaluable for canning, as I like to re-use jars and scrubbing sticky labels off is an unnecessary and annoying step. The writers are fun to use and lets you be creative, jazzing up and customizing your jars.
Adding a soupçon of a summer wine like rosé or a fruit-infused spirit like Legend’s Slowpoke Farm Berry Vodka plays well with the beautifully ripe fruit. Legend’s limited release handmade vodka – slowly infused with the best local fruits, is the distillery’s tribute to those who value the slow and steady – acknowledging that all great things come to those who wait.
The berries in Legend’s Slowpoke come from our farm, which is a cool fact I brag about a lot. I think this makes the jam especially nice. Our berries are hand picked in the mornings and delivered to the distillery that same afternoon. Distiller Doug Lennie does his magic and now I’m adding this infusion into more fresh picked berries with some sugar and a dash of lemon juice. It’s like raspberry essence distilled, given a kick and married with yet more raspberries.
I like using a touch of alcohol in sweet preserves to give them a certain je ne sais quoi. It elevates a nice jam to an extraordinary one. A half cup for the jam, a small glass for me…
Like all cooking and baking, the end results are always, always about using the best quality ingredients you can source. Pick your own raspberries, buy them from a local farmer at the market, buy organic ones from the supermarket or as a last resort, use top quality frozen berries. Choose a hand-crafted spirit or a nice bottle of rosé.
Legend Raspberry Jam Recipe
Makes about 12 small jars (125 ml) of jam or six to eight larger jars.
16 cups raspberries
4 cups sugar
Juice from ½ lemon
½ cup Legend Slowpoke Farm Berry Vodka (or another berry-infused spirit, Kirsch or a nice dry rosé)
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Using your hands, crush the raspberries until completely broken down.
2. Transfer the raspberry mixture to a large saucepan and bring it to a boil over high heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium-high and continue to stir until the jam has thickened, about 12 minutes. During this 12 minutes, I like to ladle about the half the jam mixture through a sieve placed over the boiling jam to remove some of the raspberry seeds.
3. Transfer the jam to a sterile airtight container and let it cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator and use within a month.
4. If you wish to store the jam for up to a year as I do, follow these canning instructions.
To check if the jam has set, place a teaspoon of jam onto a chilled plate and place in the freezer for a few minutes. Using your finger, push through the jam. If it wrinkles, it has set; if not, cook the jam for an additional minute or two.
Fill a canner or stockpot half full with water. Place lid on canner. Heat to a simmer. Keep canning rack to the side until ready to use.
Wash jars, lids and bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse well.
Keep jars warm until ready to use, in order to minimize risk of breakage when filling with hot jam or jelly. Set the jars on a cookie sheet in a 250F degree oven.
Boil some water in a kettle and pour over the lids placed in a heat-proof bowl. Set the bands aside in your work area. Use a canning magnet to easily remove the lids from the hot water with out touching them.
Fill your jars
Ladle hot jam into hot jars, one at a time, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe any jam or jelly from the rims of the jars. Center lids on jars. Twist on the bands until fingertip tight.
Place six filled jars in the canning rack inside the canner, ensuring jars are covered by 1-2 inches of water. Place lid on canner. Bring water to gentle, steady boil. Repeat until all your jars have been boiled.
Process jars in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 12 to 24 hours by pressing on centre of cooled lid. If the jar is sealed it will not flex up or down. Store any un-sealed jars in the fridge and use within a month.