Tuesday, August 21, 2012

cherry peach jam

Dear readers:

I am moving tomorrow.

And I just made jam. In a heat wave. 

It's a bit crazy. (In fact, I sense distinct disapproval emanating from my fellow mover.)

Boxes are my life

Anyway, the jam's made now. I've settled it happily in a box, taped it up and labelled it (jam! heavy!). I am sure we will enjoy it in Edmonton, where I don't think either cherries or peaches grow.

I don't have too much to say, because I'm really thinking about how I need to call the mover first thing tomorrow morning, and return my last novel to the library, and go help my mom clean the stove, and – oh, yes – convince my husband that I'm not frittering my time away writing a post.

But I know I promised  you this recipe and possibly some of you even did pit and freeze cherries in anticipation of making cherry peach jam.

It's a wonderful jam: bright, pinky red from the cherries and melting peach flavour. My dad's friend Betty makes a jam like this, not to mention cherry blueberry and raspberry peach. She lives in the Okanagan, where this kind of fruit most definitely does grow.

After a bit of tinkering, I've come up with this recipe. Spread it on your morning toast – try not to upset the husband and mother as they're just sitting down to breakfast surrounded by boxes and you're taking pictures, of all things – and be happy.

The next little while will be overwhelmed by cardboard and packing tape, but I'll try to check in again soon.

One year ago: German groceries
Two years ago: peach crisp and tomato zucchini gratin 

cherry peach jam
yields 10 11 cups

114 g. (2 57-g. packets) pectin
8 c. sugar (1/2 c. + 7 1/2 c.)
3 c. cherries, pitted and roughly chopped
6 c. peaches, peeled* and chopped**
1/2 c. lemon or lime juice

In a small bowl, stir the pectin and 1/2 c. sugar together. Set aside.

In a big pot with a heavy bottom, stir the cherries, peaches and lemon juice together. Stir in the pectin and sugar mixture. Bring it all to a boil over medium heat. If it seems slow, turn up the heat a bit, but keep a close eye on it and keep stirring. While you're waiting for it to boil, get out a cereal bowl and soup spoon for skimming and set it aside.

Once it's boiling hard, stir in the 7 1/2 c. of sugar. Bring it back to a hard boil, stirring often. Once it reaches a hard boil, let it boil for 1 minute. Stir often and watch it doesn't boil over!

Take it off the heat (slide it off the element because it will be too hot and heavy to move anywhere else). Take your bowl and spoon and bring it closer. Stir (to prevent floating fruit) and skim the foam off for about 4 minutes or until there is no more skim or you get incredibly bored.

Fill sterilized jars to 1/4 inch from the top, screw on the lids and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

* Easy way to peel peaches: drop them in boiling water for one minute. Use a slotted spoon to take them out, and run cold water over or place in a bowl of ice water. Slip the skin off.

** I was too lazy to chop the peaches very finely. If you are, too, just use a potato masher or pastry cutter on them in the pot. Works like a charm!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

tarragon three-bean salad

One late Saturday afternoon in August – seven years ago now – my friend Janet picked me up at the ferry terminal at Swartz Bay, near Victoria, and took me right to our friend Caitlin's parents' house.

Now, I must tell you that Caitlin's parents live in my dream house. It's out in the country, a renovated wooden farmhouse set back from the road and surrounded by gardens and fields. Whenever I see it, it seems to have the late afternoon sun bathing it in golden light. 

At the time, I'd just moved away from Victoria to the big city of Vancouver, and was missing the Island.

Janet pulled into the driveway, gravel crunching, and we got out.

In the backyard, Caitlin had set up a little table covered with a pretty French tablecloth. We wandered inside and helped her bring out our dinner: salmon quiche and tarragon three-bean salad.

We talked and ate and caught up as the sun fell lower in the sky. I wrote down the recipes for both the salad and the quiche.

It's one of those golden memories that will always define Vancouver Island for me. The Island, it seems, always draws me back.

Indeed, after a couple of years in Vancouver – just enough time to meet and marry my leading man – and then a year in snowy Ottawa – we moved back to Victoria three years ago.

And now, we're leaving again. This time we're off to Edmonton, where Scott will start graduate studies.

I've never lived on the Prairies before and I know it will be a shock: the flat horizon stretching as far as my eye can see, the cold winters, the flat Prairie buildings, the predominance of country music. But I know there will also be so much to explore: cross-country skiing, the year-round indoor farmers' market, Saskatoon berries, the predominance of perogies.

But this bean salad will always bring me back to the Island. I've made it in Vancouver, Ottawa, Victoria and – soon – I will make it in Edmonton. The mustard dressing is light and the tarragon brings out the fresh beans' flavour, while the chickpeas give it a buttery background. It is, in short, the perfect thing to make on a late August afternoon.

If you can, eat it outside.

A note about the recipe: Caitlin says she found this in a magazine and cut it out. This many years later, she can't remember which magazine it was. She first made it for us in August 2005, which means it must have been published before that. Do you recognize it? If you remember the magazine, could you let me know? I always want to give credit where credit is due.

Last year: Tschüss, Deutschland! and German groceries
Two years ago: rosemary corn butter and peach crisp

tarragon three-bean salad
slightly adapted from an unnamed magazine clipping
makes a big bowl that serves 6 8

3 tbsp. dijon or German sharp mustard
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 c. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. table salt or 1 tsp. kosher salt
3 tbsp. fresh tarragon, chopped roughly
1 red or Spanish onion, cut into thin wedges or strips
450 g. (1 lb.) fresh green beans
450 g. (1 lb.) fresh yellow wax beans
540 g. (19 oz.) canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained

In a small bowl, whisk the mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and salt together to make a dressing. Whisk in the tarragon. Set aside.

Once the onion is cut up, put it into a mug and top it with cold water. Let it sit to mellow while you make the rest of the salad.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Drop the green and wax beans in. Cook them, uncovered, until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes.

Drain the beans in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

Drain the onions of their water.

Mix the beans, onions and chickpeas together. Toss with the dressing. Eat!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

finding jim mitchell lake

James Scott Mitchell was a 20-year-old "six-foot youngster of quiet habits and a good bushman" when he died mysteriously in the bush of Vancouver Island in the summer of 1937.

Jim was a packer for a survey party and was going in alone to meet the survey party. He would relieve another young fellow who was coming out to go to school. On a Tuesday in late August, he began following a marked trail that faded to just notched trees along Upper Thelwood Creek.

He had been over the trail 11 times before, and knew it well. At some point, he set down his pack, maybe to find the best way to cross the creek.

On Friday, D. S. Harris, another packer, found Jim's body washed up onto a sandbar.

After a team came in to pack the body out and brought it to the coroner in Campbell River, it was determined that Jim had died from a blow to the head, just behind his right ear. The coroner thought he had died by slipping on the rocks or falling over a log as he was crossing the creek.

At the time, Jim Mitchell was one of the most promising pupils who had ever passed through Tsolum School. Everyone thought he should go to university, and that's what he was planning to do.

Jim Mitchell was my grandfather's older brother. His death came as a shock to the family, settlers who'd come out from Scotland when Jim was just a baby.

His father farmed a piece of land in Merville that had been rainforest before the lumber barons came through in 1910 and logged it all and burned it. Andy and Henrietta Mitchell arrived in 1920 to 80 acres of flat land where, legend has it, my great-grandmother had to walk a mile to the creek to get any shade. The farming wasn't great, and Andy also had to take up a job at a nursery in town.

Andy and Henrietta lost two of their four children young, but my granddad made it to 74. Their land is still in our family and I love exploring it, walking under towering second and third-growth Douglas firs and red cedars and hunting for huckleberries, while brambles actively try to trip me as they twine across my feet.

Merville, where the Mitchells settled, is near Courtenay, on the east coast of Vancouver Island. Jim Mitchell's body was found dead in the centre of the island, several mountain ranges and almost one hundred kilometres away, near a lake.

The lake used to be called Crystal Lake, but was re-named Jim Mitchell Lake about ten years after his death.

Scott, dad and I have always wanted to hike in there some day. We thought it would be days of rough hiking into uncharted territory.

That is, until I found a path to the lake listed in an Island hiking book. Then Scott found a site that said we could drive right up to it on logging roads and paddle round the lake in a canoe.

Suddenly, our gigantic adventure turned into a very do-able weekend trip. We set a date with my dad to make it happen.

On the last Saturday morning in July, Scott was itching to get driving, but both dad and I wanted to load up with picnic supplies at the Courtenay farmers' market. We tried to limit ourselves to 30 minutes, but were fairly pleased to get out in just over an hour. Amongst other goodies, we found fresh raspberries, bread baked in a wood-fired oven and garlic and chive verdelait cheese.

On the road, we ate warm cinnamon buns and chocolate ginger cookies from the market, and listened to my favourite radio show (which has great satirical lines like: "Canada: America's hair").

The drive down Buttle Lake was gorgeous and – as a bonus – paved. Once the lake ended, we turned on to a winding gravel logging road . . . but we knew we were on the right path because it was actually called Jim Mitchell Lake Road.

It took us almost an hour to drive six kilometres down that road, but then, all at once, remarkably, we were there.

Mountains and rocky cliffs rose almost straight out of the lake, and we could see higher mountains capped in snow and fog just behind them.

We sat on a log and ate our picnic lunch looking out over the lake.

Then we unloaded the canoe and paddled all along the rocky shoreline.

It was dammed years ago, but we think the water level only went up about a metre or so. We could see old tree stumps with their twisted root systems tangling over the rocks under water.

We saw patches of loose rock and little waterfalls where we could imagine Jim Mitchell putting down his 50-pound pack, looking for the best way to cross, and losing his balance. 


We inspected the creeping dogwood, copperbush and penstemon that wound its way over the rocks to the lake. We paddled in and out of shaded little coves and looked down into the clear water. We found a rock for dad to take home for his garden.

We were alone on the lake with our canoe. It was a time of peace and stillness that we will always remember. This is our last summer on Vancouver Island, and I think this was a parting gift for us.

After we'd made our way around the lake – staying well away from where the water suddenly fell over the edge of the dam – we pulled the canoe back onto the shore.

We found our picnic log and sat down again, this time to eat raspberries and drink tea and look out over Jim Mitchell Lake one more time.

last summer: sun tea
two summers ago: rote grütze on ice cream and hop & go fetch it: new restaurants on Salt Spring Island, Vancouver Island and Vancouver